Illustration: Graham Roumieu

In August, Red Mountain Resort in Rossland, B.C., launched a crowdfunding campaign offering equity to the loyal skiers who return year after year. Why? Because the resort’s leaders know that loyal, enthusiastic customers are more than sources of revenue: they are cheerleaders that can extend your marketing reach far beyond your budget.

For online jewelry retailer Victoria Emerson, acknowledging customer loyalty has proven very effective. The Toronto-based company has an enthusiastic body of support on social media, and whenever a customer posts a picture of a Victoria Emerson product, the brand reposts or shares the image. To deepen the good vibes, the company will often include a free piece of jewelry and a note of thanks when shipping orders to highly loyal clients. “It creates organic brand ambassadors, which is great for word-of-mouth marketing,” says founder Jamie Ferguson-Woods.

And word of mouth is crucial for businesses that depend on referrals. Mira Floors & Interiors in Surrey, B.C., keeps track of which clients talk it up most often by using software that records both the source of each referral and the revenue generated by it. The company then keeps its devotees happy with such tried-and-true thank yous as bottles of scotch and tickets to hockey games. “I would confidently say our relationship management efforts improve our business,” says Kevin Bergstresser, Mira’s president and owner.

It all comes down to customers feeling valued. “Businesses of any size can build their fan bases faster by acknowledging people better,” says Stephen Dupont, vice-president of Pocket Hercules, a PR and marketing consultancy in Minneapolis. He recommends giving individual shout-outs in client communications (with permission, of course). He also advises CEOs to meet with loyal patrons and even take customer service calls to really hammer home the “we’re grateful” message. With this tactic, small businesses have an edge. “A lot of bigger businesses want to keep growing,” says Dupont, “but they stop having conversations.”

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