Trader Joe’s wrote the recipe for turning customers into brand advocates

The year was 2013. I had recently moved from Idaho to Washington, D.C. I was without a car for the first time in my life, relying solely on public transit to get around. So when it came to grocery shopping, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to depend on my usual buy-in-bulk grocery store because whatever I bought, I’d have to carry home. I needed somewhere that catered to people like me – a young professional on a budget shopping for one. Enter Trader Joe’s.

You may be wondering what the hip, quirky grocery store chain has to do with how to turn your customers into brand advocates, but stay with me. There’s a reason Trader Joe’s has a cult-like following and why many have written about their unique ability to inspire brand advocacy. My personal experience with Trader Joe’s transformed me from a regular customer to a die-hard brand advocate because they do the following six things:

Create an experience

With the number of brands competing within the market, one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is to create a unique customer experience. The way customers experience your brand begins when they first walk through your doors, open your email, stumble upon your social media channels or pick up your product. It’s no wonder experiential marketing is on the rise, even in challenging COVID-19 times it’s often called out as one of a marketer’s most impactful tactics. Customers are looking for brands to give them a one of a kind experience. Trader Joe’s nails it with colorful, smart chalkboard decor, Hawaiian-shirt-clad employees, and their creative packaging. From the moment you walk in the door, it’s clear that you’re experiencing a different breed of grocery shopping. Turning an ordinary experience into something unique that surprises or delights your customers can make a lasting impression.

Identify a gap in the market and fill it

Some of the most successful brands were formed when they identified a need or gap in the market and filled it. Think IKEA for furniture, Airbnb for travel and Starbucks for coffee. Trader Joe’s created items well-suited for single people or small families, the opposite of most grocery stores, and people ate it up (pun intended). For your brand, that could mean taking a hard look at your target audience and seeing if there is a way to drill it down further to be more niche. Sometimes, the more niche the audience the more brand advocacy they have. By finding and filling a need for your audience, customers will be more likely to feel an affinity for your brand and become an advocate for you. 

Tailor your offerings to unique customer needs

Ask anyone what their favorite Trader Joe’s product is and they’ll probably rattle off ten. The reason for this? Trader Joe’s tapped into something pretty revolutionary. By tailoring their offerings, customers feel more invested in the products they buy. For example, there’s something about knowing that Trader Joe’s is the only place you can get a bag of Cauliflower Gnocchi that makes it feel special and very personal. Not only will tailored and unique products excite your customers, but they may also get them talking (and tweeting) about their favorite products. And isn’t that the definition of brand advocacy? Beyond meeting customer needs in their stores, Trader Joe’s meets community needs as well through their Neighborhood Shares program. When demand for fresh foods like salads and refrigerated products dropped due to the global pandemic, rather than cutting back on supply TJ’s adjusted by donating unused products to their nonprofit partners to deliver food to people in need.

Rather than earning trust, give it freely

People often talk about the importance of customers trusting brands, but what about brands trusting customers? Turn your regular customers into outward brand advocates by trusting them just as much as they trust you. Trader Joe’s famous return policy exemplifies just how much they trust their customers, allowing them to return opened and even eaten items if they weren’t satisfied. In the end, customer satisfaction is the name of the game, so don’t be afraid to give trust more freely. The extra freedom and flexibility you allow them will likely lead to reciprocal trust. 

Provide top-notch customer service

This may go without saying, but I will go ahead and say it anyway – the way you treat your customers matters. Top-notch customer service can catapult your brand from ordinary to extraordinary in your customers’ minds. And bad customer service can have the opposite effect. According to a report by NewVoiceMedia, sixty-seven percent of customers are willing to switch brands because of poor customer experience. In this tight competitive market, businesses cannot afford to lose out on brand loyalty because they’ve lost focus on what matters most: their customers. 

And finally, be consistent

Brand consistency is a critical part of turning customers into advocates and goes far beyond your logo and branding. Being consistent with your brand means ensuring customers receive a consistent experience at every touchpoint. The other day while checking out at my local Trader Joe’s I asked the cashier why he thought it was always so busy, no matter the time of day. He said, “I think people just like to come here when they’re lonely and to be around other people.” At first, it struck me as sad, but I realized that it wasn’t sad at all. People liked coming to Trader Joe’s because they consistently felt good being there, time and time again. There are consistent experiences, products and energy. Consistency can feel most important during turbulent times and Trader Joe’s, despite facing heightened demand and numerous other challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, remained consistent where it mattered most – with their service and customer experience. 

So what exactly happened when I walked into Trader Joe’s for the first time in 2013? They created a unique experience for me, met my niche grocery shopping needs, tailored their products, gave me a reason to trust them, provided unbelievable customer service and did it all consistently. I went from a brand new customer to a brand advocate, loyal to this day. Many look to brands like Trader Joe’s as the gold standard, and for a good reason! Your customers should be advocating for you. It’s all about creating an experience, service or product for them to support. Want to take your brand to that next level? Contact us here.