Member Exclusive   /   June 5, 2020

How East Fork Pottery maintains customer loyalty during a time of uncertainty

Now more than ever, brands are having to practice what they preach.

Most DTC companies rely on a growing base of core customers — and some brands are struggling to understand how to honestly message and build loyalty during this uncertain time. Running a mission-driven company from the inside out begins at launch, said Connie Matisse, co-founder and chief marketing officer at East Fork Pottery.

“Consider how to bake values into the business from day one, so there isn’t hypocrisy when it’s time to speak up,” Matisse explained at this week’s Modern Retail+ Talk. Consistently defining your company and what you stand for is integral in finding and retaining customers. “It’s a marathon not a sprint,” said Matisse. “You can’t cram for it.”

What we learned:

  • A brand’s values must be considered when making every business decision. For East Fork, its values are: compassion, accountability, equity, sincerity and adaptive tenacity. 
  • Understand that customer loyalty is built on person-to-person communication. This means growing a staff that is communicative and open — as well engaging candidly with customers and community. 
  • Don’t attempt to consolidate your brand’s voice into one uniform tone. A branding style guide makes posts come off contrived when making certain sentiments. “Brands are run by humans who contain multitudes,” as Matisse puts it. 

Don’t be “on brand,” be “on mission.”

  • Always communicate with honesty. “People don’t like being lied to,” said Matisse. For example, since switching to a pre-sale model in March, the East Fork Pottery team has pushed clear messages and follow up emails on wait time “with little complaints so far,” she said.
  • Integrate values through everything you do by making sure they’re clear in every customer communication. Tone is important too; “it doesn’t have to be in your face and obvious,” Matisse said, but it has to feel organic. 
  • Make sure your messaging is consistent — but adapt it accordingly. A company can have a core message but can also tweak language depending on who it’s speaking to. “Choosing the exact words and where they’re said isn’t given enough priority at many companies,” said Matisse, resulting in disingenuous, run-of-the-mill statements sometimes end up backfiring.

Be honest with the customer.

  • Get comfortable with making apologies. Admitting a company made a mistake and promise to do better is the only way to move forward after a blunder.
  • Don’t send mixed messages. For example, having leadership say one thing is possible when the customer service team contradicts it will result in overpromising and under delivering, said Matisse.
  • The customer is sometimes wrong. People pleasing won’t always work, especially when you’re trying to be a brand for everyone. Not everyone needs to be your customers, said Matisse. She has drawn the line with some customers who were angered by East Fork’s statements and felt fine letting them go. This includes sticking up for staff when needed. Don’t let customers abuse and disrespect your customer care and retail teams,” said Matisse. 

Organic growth requires authentic marketing. 

  • It’s ok to be unpolished, which is what many Instagram-heavy brands typically shy away from. When starting out, Matisse — who still runs the social accounts — documented the team’s everyday activities with behind the scenes shots. This unvarnished strategy helped grow the company’s presence. “I’ve become more careful in how I communicate, but I still write the captions in the app,” she said. 
  • Continue the conversation without being overbearing. East Fork communicates its opinions and values as a brand but also tries to hold back when need be. Said Mattise, this can be done by asking “does what I have to say need to be said?” 

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