When I was in my early 30’s, I had some injuries that ended my career as a professional dancer. It was a shattering experience, but I emerged with a strong desire to switch mediums and become a filmmaker. I was lucky enough to get into the prestigious MFA program in film production at USC, but if I was going to move to Los Angeles, I desperately needed a car, which was an expense I couldn’t afford.
Then a friend who supported my work as an artist gifted me $3,000—just enough to buy a used Ford Mercury Lynx and head west to pursue my dream. It was an act of generosity that endeared me to my friend, and that I still recount warmly decades later.
Now that I’m a marketer, I look back on that experience and wonder whether a brand could impact its customers just as deeply, and spark the same kind of devotion I feel for my friend.
And then I realize Willow did. And all it took was an exclusive discount.
That’s right, an exclusive discount. Let me explain…
Planting the Seeds of Great Loyalty
A company builds customer loyalty when it’s as generous with its customers as my friend was with me. Willow’s generous act was to give teachers, healthcare workers, first responders, and the military an exclusive discount on its innovative, in-bra pump. This “Everyday Heroes” campaign was the company’s way of showing how much it values these professionals and the work they do.
One of those professionals was Hayley Wombles, an ER nurse living in Illinois. Like me, Hayley had a dream. Hers was to buy a piece of land and build a house in which she and her husband Caleb could raise their two young children. The site would be surrounded by natural beauty, and their home would be a space where the love they feel for their family would grow for generations.
Hayley also dreamed of becoming a travel nurse, a well-paid position that would support her vision. But she didn’t want to make a career move that would hinder her ability to care for her family, particularly her baby daughter, who was still nursing.
Hayley’s dream seemed out of reach—until she heard about Willow’s exclusive discount for healthcare workers. The company’s breast pump was tailor-made for new working moms like her, and the discount made it more affordable. Suddenly, Hayley’s dreams were within reach—a job that gave her joy and an increase in salary she could save to build her family a nest.
Willow’s discount changed the course of Hayley’s life in the same way my friend’s gift changed mine. It touched her just as deeply, and the exchange was just as memorable. What better way to launch a brand relationship?
The Secret to Rewarding a Community
Willow’s Everyday Heroes campaign is an example of identity marketing—a new strategy for acquiring customers in which companies create exclusive offers for consumer communities that align with their brand. It’s a highly effective form of personalization because it rewards people like Hayley for meaningful aspects of their identity, such as their profession.
Hayley was excited to get the discount because it saved her money, but also because she felt honored for her work and the sacrifices she makes for it. Identity marketing is an ideal approach for companies like Willow that want to build genuine relationships with their customers.
The key to identity marketing’s success is to verify that every customer who redeems the offer belongs to the targeted community. This prevents fraud and keeps the offer truly exclusive, which makes it more appealing and shows customers how highly the brand regards them.
Not surprisingly, identity marketing triggers tremendous word-of-mouth because customers get excited about the offer and want to share it with others in their community. And that’s exactly what Hayley did, but on a scale that most brands can only dream about.
Creating a Legion of Brand Advocates
Hayley bought the breast pump and fell in love with it. She began telling colleagues about the freedom it gave her, and they were just as thrilled. Many wished they had known about it when they had young children, and others bought it using the discount Hayley alerted them to.
But Hayley didn’t stop there. She was so passionate about Willow’s product she began making videos promoting it to viewers and educating them on how to use it. She posted the videos to her social media accounts and they went viral.
Willow’s discount inspired one customer and brought in an avalanche of new ones. The company’s Everyday Heroes campaign drove a 40% increase in sales to healthcare workers, and its identity marketing program drives 25% of all its sales.
The Endless Potential of Identity Marketing
Willow isn’t the only company that uses identity marketing to create brand champions and deliver impressive results. Gainful’s student discount on its nutritional products helped a student from Florida International University recover from a skydiving accident and made her become one of the brand’s biggest cheerleaders. Gainful’s discount also brought in 3,000 new customers and drove an 18% lift in first month retention.
ASICS, Comcast, CheapCaribbean, and Unity Software are also among the hundreds of leading brands using identity marketing to reward their consumer communities, acquire thousands of new customers, and launch enduring brand relationships.
What makes identity marketing so powerful is that the value of the offer matters far less than the intent behind it. It’s also what makes it so personal. My friend’s gift was memorable not because of the car it afforded me, but rather the unequivocal support of my life it represented. All a brand has to do is make the same kind of gesture to its customers to become just as unforgettable.
Hayley’s Dream: The Movie
See Hayley tell the story of discovering Willow and how it impacted her life. Watch the short film Hayley’s Dream.