It is generally accepted that it costs around five times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. It turns out that repeat customers tend to spend more: up to two-thirds more than new customers. The most loyal 10% of your customers spend three times more than the other 90%. Repeat customers are also far easier to sell to. Research suggests that there is a 65% chance of selling to an existing customer, compared with just 13% to a new prospect. 

Repeat customers are also valuable advocates for your business. They refer 50% more people than one-off buyers. There is evidence that an increase of just 5% in customer retention can result in increased profitability of up to 75%—and some sources say 95%. Estimates suggest that 80% of future profits are likely to come from just 20% of existing customers. 

In the subscription economy, keeping and growing customers is even more important. Unfortunately, many marketers are still a little lost about how exactly to do this. The answer—as so often—lies with thought leadership and content marketing.

Earning and maintaining trust

Many people see content marketing and thought leadership as a way to attract new customers. However, this is to miss more than a single trick. It is more or less to miss the entire point of thought leadership.

The Cluetrain Manifesto, published more than 20 years ago, set out that markets are conversations. Who would you rather have a conversation with about a problem: someone you knew was an expert, and whose views you trusted, or someone new, with untried expertise? Effective thought leadership means building a long-term relationship of trust with your audience. Along the way, some of them will probably become your customers. 

The relationship does not end simply because they have bought some of your company’s products. In many ways, it becomes more important, because they (hopefully) see that you were right that your product would address their problem. They will therefore trust your opinions more in the future.

Validating the original purchase decision

In a subscription world, customers need inspiration to help them get more value from the subscription they have already purchased. You are very likely already providing that with content about the benefits of the subscription, and how it can solve problems. However, you might well add value with information about how to use the product or service more effectively. This might be how-to videos or blogs, but it can also be providing demonstrations of successful product use in the form of case studies. 

You have one big advantage with existing customers: you already know them. You can therefore reach out to them and ask them what content they would find useful. The only step left is to provide it.

The other issue that matters with existing customers is your chosen channel for thought leadership. You can and should continue to use general social media channels. However, it is also worth considering adding your own community platform. This is where your existing customers will go for new information about your products and services, and to engage more fully with your brand. That is therefore where you need to be, providing answers to their questions and issues. 

Make it about their job, not your products

It is important to remember that customers, especially post-purchase, don’t necessarily want to know about products. However, they do want tolerant about making a bigger impact in their workplace, and build a stronger relationship. Social media offers unparalleled opportunities for this. Brands are knocking at an open door here: people want to know more, and they actively choose to follow certain brands on social media. It therefore makes sense to monitor engagement with social media—and actively try to grow it. 

Work by SproutSocial found that 64% would like to see brands connecting effectively with customers—but they don’t want marketing emails or content. Instead, more than 70% of them want to see brands make a positive contribution to society, with 64% saying that brands should use their power to help people. This means that thought leadership by itself is not enough. You must ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’.

So here are the crucial questions for every brand, B2C and B2B. What are you going to do to make the world a bit better? When you’ve done it, how are you going to tell your customers? And finally, how will you know whether they have engaged with what you have said and done? Over to you…