I get asked often about how a new brand can build customer and brand loyalty and although there is no simple answer, there are some tips to help get the wheels in motion.

First off, no customer(beyond your group of friends) becomes a brand loyalist after one release…no one.  Most of us are not famous and cannot rely on our own fame to engage people blindly in whatever kooky thing we decide to release.

Building a brand is a slow burn and you need to not only put out a high quality product, but you need reasons to continually engage people.  Someone recently brought up to me that they had 6 designs to launch with and wanted to do all six at once.  My advice was to release 4 of them now and to hold the other two to do one each month as new product.  It gives you a reason to re-engage people, let them see that you are active and moving forward with new designs.  If you put out everything you have at once, you are left waiting on the first run of products to sell enough to support even thinking about making a new design.  You can only post the same X number of designs so often on social media before people start ignoring you.  Having a new item gives you a reason to email, instagram, facebook, tweet, etc.

Your brand needs to have a cohesive message/theme.

Being in a niche is not a bad thing and when choosing what your brand is about it can help you stick out in an over saturated market. Picking something you are passionate about beyond general t-shirts is very important to building loyalty.  When a customer goes to the miles to go site, they know my designs will be inspired by literature and thats the crowd that buys my products.  If I were to start releasing random designs that had nothing to do with my brand’s theme, it would confuse people on what the brand is about.  It’s not to say that some random customers may stumble across a design they like specifically, but for the core repeat customers you need to build for growth, they enjoy the comfort of familiarity.  We all have brands we buy and feel apart of and a lot of that is either based off of a lifestyle association or an additional link to the subject matter.  Most brands I see that come out with a wide blanket approach do not make it very far.  The brands you see in major retail have evolved beyond their niche and into general population.  Obey didn’t start at Macy’s, but the swell of the brand ended up opening it up to Johnny Consumer who shops at places like that and is wanting to appear part of the brand vision that started a long time ago.

Maybe someone likes a design of yours, buys a tee and they decide to come back and everything looks like a totally different brand…you just lost a customer because they can’t identify with who the brand is now.  It’s important to evolve, but side shifting is an easy way to disengage people who have supported you.

DO NOT print a ton of logo shirts on your first run!!!!

It takes a while for people to want to walk around like a billboard advertising the name of your brand.  I’m not saying to leave your logo off as I have with miles to go, but doing a release of 6 designs and 4 are variations of logo tees is a good way to fall on your face.  The same goes for taking a design and doing a ton of color ways for the same thing.  I often will add in a limited color in addition to the regular one, but in the beginning, making 10 on blue doesn’t mean much when you are a new company.  Limited items don’t have a draw unless you have built a following of customers who will desire the extremely limited version.  What would it take for you to walk around with a shirt that just had the name of a new company on it?  You haven’t linked yourself with the brand yet and for someone like the hundreds or johnny cupcakes who have established their brand already, buying a logo tee can be a status symbol. It took a long time for that to build for them and didn’t happen overnight.

In the end, you really need to serve as an art director for your brand to give it cohesion and a specific feel.  Hiring an artist and saying, do whatever with some skulls on it or buying an old design someone has intended for someone else doesn’t give your brand a specific look.  All that does is just make you look like a mess.  I hire designers all of the time for miles to go, but I hire them to create original art based off of what I want for the brand and when I choose how to print it, that allows me to make it look miles to go.  It is almost impossible to build loyalty from a jumble of randomness in your store.  Curate the look and offer a strong vision of what your brand is about.  Having a consistent feel to your brand will in time allow people to develop a bond with your brand.  It takes time and you need to stick to your guns and your vision for the brand.  Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight and you need to recognize that just because you release a bunch of t-shirts doesn’t mean people will attach.  You need to give them something they want to align with consistently.  Trust and consistency lead to loyalty and growth.

Greg Ker has run Miles to Go since 2007.

Now has helps companies manufacture pins through pingamestrong.com

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