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What Apple Loyalists Can Teach Us About Business

Have you ever watched a documentary on a cult and wondered how in the world people were ever so attracted to something so wild? Have you read about a product so popular that people flock to eBay to find it once it’s sold out? Do you remember when people stood in line for days when the iPhones first came out?

And be honest—have you ever felt a tinge of jealousy that no one stands in line like that for your company’s services or products?

You’re in the majority. It’s so extremely rare that a cult following is successfully created, be it for a product or a literal cult. 

If you could have just a slice of that undying loyalty that allowed you to focus on your current clients and their repeat business, instead of always hunting for the next opportunity to fill your pipeline, wouldn’t you?

Of course you would!

Let’s examine what successful businesses do to build customer loyalty so you can use this knowledge to grow your own business.

It Costs Five Times More to Earn a New Client

Historically, it costs any business five times more to earn a new client than to keep an existing client. Even major companies struggle to balance these two efforts, typically leaning towards seeking new business.


Because we’re conditioned to constantly seek out new business rather than cultivate clients and earn repeat business. 

We go to networking events with a goal of landing three new contacts. We install new email tools to speed up new sales. We read about the newest shiny thing that will find new opportunities. We obsess over innovations. These days, if something isn’t new, it isn’t worth pursuing.

Retaining current clients isn’t as sexy to talk about, so most just ignore that. It isn’t innovative, it isn’t shiny. The Instagram influencers get paid to shill products, and there isn’t a silver bullet product in existence that makes current clients clamor for more—that’s on you.

Doing the work to keep customers coming back might seem a bit intimidating, but it’s not. The truth is that a tiny shift in your mindset can take your books from red to black, all without having to invest all of your savings into yet another tool in hopes of striking gold. 

A Tiny Tweak that Changes Everything

If you think back to the lines at the Apple store waiting for the release of their new phone, does it inspire you to grow, or does it make you feel defeated that you’ll never be Apple?

Either way, it is worth noting that Apple didn’t just start out as a mega-brand, and comparing your current status to theirs helps no one. That’s like starting a work out regimen, and feeling inferior because The Rock is working out next to you. The Rock was born a squishy baby just like the rest of us—he just works out every day. Apple was born a squishy baby company, just like the rest of our businesses, and it took decades to become a global force.

To expand and reach a higher status, you’ll need to put more effort into keeping current clients happy rather than focusing exclusively on the next client to fill your pipeline.

That process begins by shifting your mindset.

And we have a statistic that will help you to begin the shift…

The probability of an existing customer buying from you is 60-70%, whereas a new prospect is only 5-20% likely to buy from you, according to the book Marketing Metrics

Really think about that before you continue reading.

That is a mindblowing difference and one that even the biggest companies still fail to recognize in their quest to grow their customer base.

Imagine you have two people sitting in front of you and you can only speak with one: an existing customer (who is 60-70% likely to buy from you), and a potential customer (who is only 5-20% likely to buy from you). 

Because you have a brain, we already know which one you’ll talk to.

So why don’t your marketing efforts reflect this reality?

Because you too have been duped into filling the pipeline with quantity over quality. 

Realizing the importance of your current customers is a life-altering mindset shift that will have a tremendous impact on your business. Commit to visualizing the two people sitting in front of you. It doesn’t mean you ignore the potential customers, it means you begin to focus more on your current customers. 

Your Mind is Changed—Now What?

You’ve read this so far, so you’re ready to simplify your work life and focus more on your current customer base, their needs, and what keeps them coming back. 

Apple didn’t earn long lines by putting out a cool phone—otherwise, there would have been lines years prior for Palm or Motorola (which there absolutely were not). Apple never really invented anything original. Instead, they focused on building a loyal following. And it worked. 

Those folks in line days before the first iPhones launched were not just there for a phone, they were camped out so they could say they were first. They wanted to be able to roll their eyes at people that had last year’s iPhone, and they wanted to tweet that they were early adopters, cutting-edge cool folks. 

But Apple’s brilliance was knowing that it wasn’t about the bragging rights. This whole movement was about people wanting to belong. When the first iPhone came out, if someone pulled out their new smartphone in a crowd, anyone else that had one in their pocket immediately gravitated to them. And then other people would want a demonstration. 

Apple had tapped into the most basic human emotion—the idea that we just want to be seen, heard, and recognized. It never had anything to do with a phone, but about consumers joining a movement.

Now, admittedly, this has become a broader challenge as fatigue has set in, and people now just pay a few extra dollars to have their new phones shipped to their homes the day before they’re available in stores. And the “Apple vs. Android” debate no longer rages on as we all settle into a world where nearly everyone has some sort of sophisticated device in their lives.

And this is why Apple has struggled, most recently blaming their customers for no longer upgrading annually (although they haven’t offered much of a reason to, nor kept the “movement” going. Instead, they rest on their laurels). It can happen even to the most successful brands. 

Ideas for How to Build Loyalty

You can learn from Apple’s successes by giving your customers a reason to be loyal to you and/or your company, even if it is a different process for every brand.

Let’s brainstorm some ways to start a “movement” without the ethical hangups of accidentally starting a cult!

  • If you own an organic makeup line, send out weekly emailers about how different you are and how impactful your brand is—feature customer success stories and empower people to connect with the makeup for reasons other than “it’s makeup, wear it.” Instead of emails to potential customers, focus on existing customers—they’re who are subscribed to your email! Praise them and their choices, show them how they belong to a broader community, and talk about the importance of organic products in global citizenship.
  • Let’s say you founded an app designed to help addicts find recovery centers, and in that scenario, your income comes from addiction recovery centers that advertise. You’ll be tempted to focus your days on signing up more recovery centers, but instead, you can boost your bottom line by keeping current partners happy. Make it wildly simple for them to keep their ads current, and on your website, set up a page for advertisers that offers stats on what has worked, present actual ads that have produced positive results, and update this information and examples monthly (then email current advertisers when you do, letting them know of any design updates or demographic shifts). 
  • Perhaps you are a freelance videographer, and your specialty is event videography. Don’t just tweet your most recent videos, blog about each one! Tell a story about them and let people connect with you and learn more about your craft. Expressing the challenges of a specific shoot allows you to share how you overcame them, noting that in your early career you wouldn’t have been as successful addressing the problems. (This will allow you to organically tout your expertise versus competitors that are less experienced.) Blogging allows you to share notes on what design choices you made and why, and even brag about coming in below budget or delivering video ahead of schedule. With your blog, you’re not only promoting a client’s event, but you’re also promoting your services and showcasing your capabilities. Make sure all clients are subscribed to your blog, and they’ll be reminded of your services in a human way that they can connect with. 

What Do All of these Ideas Have in Common?

The above examples are all focused on retention rather than acquisition, and they all build loyalty by making everything about the customer rather than about themselves.

It’s a subtle change to existing marketing, but remember how Apple built its loyal base? They appealed to the simplest human need to be recognized, which then makes them feel included, which ultimately allows people to feel deeply loyal. 

Focusing on the long-term relationships in front of you while also appealing to new customers is a tricky balancing act, but it is possible.

And while you focus on the customer rather than just send out sales emails or make it all about you or your company (which is the norm in business today), take the time to communicate. 

In fact, over-communicate. 

Communication is Your Secret Sauce

That’s the other key component to the examples listed above. It’s a pipe dream to think customers will always think of you or even remember you just because you once earned their business. Communicate frequently, putting them and their needs at the forefront. Not just during the marketing process, but at every stage of your relationship. You’d be surprised at how setting expectations and then meeting them can build intense loyalty. 

Chicken announcing sales on megaphone

When you get stuck, think back to Apple, even if you weren’t a customer. Think back to people in tents in a mall, hoping to be part of a movement that just happened to involve a phone. 

For every tweet, email, website update, or Facebook comment, envision just one existing customer. Build trust organically through your social media efforts. Think about just ONE customer’s face whenever you’re typing, and use these mediums as if they were physically sitting next to you over a cup of coffee. Always have a great customer in mind when you’re communicating, and focus your words on their needs.

That will force your tone to be considerate, respectful, enthusiastic, and most importantly, human. Their time is important, so recognize that. Their human need to be seen is important, so affirm their choice of your company as something bigger than just a financial transaction. Their desire to be part of something important is natural, so commend that. 

Nurturing existing relationships and building loyalty is the most timeless way to keep customers coming back for more, whether you’re a solopreneur or a massive brand. And no matter your company’s size, your power to connect is equal—it’s as simple as acknowledging others as human, yet exceedingly rare in the business world. 

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Let us know whether you intend to focus more on the 60-70% of people likely to buy from you (existing customers) or the 5-50% likely to buy from you (new customers)—and how you’re going to do it.

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Tara Steele avatar

Tara Steele

Tara Steele is a national writer, dedicated to giving entrepreneurs and small businesses a competitive advantage. She watches way too much garbage television for someone with an English Literature degree, but does dream of the day when she can be a curmudgeon that writes novels on a typewriter. More articles written by Tara.

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