It’s been a strange week here in wine country. We did have a dark and stormy night (or two), which is unusual this early in October. Harvest feels like it’s moving at a glacial pace with the vast majority of crop still on the vine ripening. And we lost a visionary much too early who truly had reshaped how we communicate with one another across many mediums.

I’ve never had a Mac. You may find that strange since it was a given for many years that graphic artists had to have a Mac to produce their work. But by the time I started using graphics software, the programs had long been developed for both Mac and PC platforms. So I just added the software to my PC at that time and haven’t changed since then (except for upgrades).

I have an iPod. So, of course, I have iTunes, but I’m not a heavy user of it. That’s it for me in Apple products.

I have, however, been a long admirer of Steve Jobs and his tremendous ability to bring Apple out of the doldrums (when he first returned to it) and into the technology and communications leader it became this past decade. What a shame (and sadness) to lose him at so young an age.

No doubt the legions of Apple fans will continue to flock to its newest products, snatching them up with great fervor.

Unlike the temporary demand for Cabbage Patch dolls (long ago) and limited edition Barbie dolls (seasonal), there’s been an astonishing loyalty and demand for new products from Apple that seems unsurpassed by any other brand.

Of all the many tributes to Steve Jobs this week, the one that got my greatest attention was by Tom Wark, who writes Fermentation, the Daily Wine Blog. Unlike me, Tom is a long-time Apple user and devoté. And while I can only sympathize with Apple diehard fans, I was hooked by Tom’s focus on Jobs’ ability to build such tremendous brand loyalty since it made me think about what I could do better in my own business.

You don’t have to be in the wine biz to appreciate Tom’s blog posts. Drop in your industry name whenever you see “wine” in his marketing and business posts, and his advice and observations may apply to your business as well.

In Tom’s tribute to Jobs, he zeros in on Apple’s extraordinary legion of brand loyalists and asks the questions: What does Apple do so much better than other companies to garner this loyalty? And What can you do to create stronger brand loyalty? (Okay, he didn’t ask those questions exactly in those words, but it was the crux of what he was going after.)

As an example, Tom goes on to discuss the differences between a brand ‘touching’ a customer to maintain loyalty versus ‘caressing’ the customer to foster loyalty. (No smutty thinking here!) In the latter, you send your best customers an email: “30% OFF to our top customers through Friday on all….” In the latter, you pick up the phone to each of your best customers: “Bill, I remembered how much you liked our [fill-in-the-blank] last time. So I wanted to give you a call since I see they’re almost gone. Let me know if you’d like me to hold some for you.”

Even better than that personal phone call is: “Bill, if you’d like me to set some aside, let me know. I could even drop them off at your home if that’s convenient for you.”

In honor of Steve Jobs legacy, here are a few ideas to help you develop better customer ‘caresses’ and foster greater brand loyalty in your business:

  1. Birthdays, Anniversaries and other Special Days – What can you do to add the personal touch to your business? Mail a birthday card? Make a phone call on a special day? Send flowers? Can you celebrate your customer’s anniversary date of their first purchase with you?
  2. Managing the Details – To make the aforementioned special days’ program work you’ll need a system (CRM – customer relationship manager). Some businesses can manage with a tickler file, Outlook or Google calendar with reminder dates. Others require more elaborate systems such as or ACT! Then decide what personal information you want to track. In the wine business, it’s much easier to obtain birthday information since folks must prove they are of legal age to accept wine shipments. It won’t be that easy if you sell light bulbs to get a client’s birthday!
  3. What can you give your customer? In determining what you can do to ‘go the extra mile’ for your customer first look at the composition of your business. If you make a product, can you give it away on special occasions? Can you give away an ancillary product that enhances one the customer has already bought? If you’re a restaurant, can you give her a free meal or a special dish? Maybe it’s free drinks. But if you’re an auto repair shop, the extra free oil change or tune up may not be needed for several months. (A gift wrapped solenoid just doesn’t have the same cache unless the recipient loves to tinker with cars.)
  4. What will be most appreciated by your customer? This question goes hand in hand with the previous one. Just because you can give away a bottle of wine or a meal doesn’t mean that’s what the customer will most appreciate. This is where your powers of observation come into play. If you heard the customer discussing how she couldn’t get tickets for an event she wanted to attend (and you can), perhaps that would be most appreciated.

The key to building strong brand loyalty is putting in careful thought on what your customer most values. Maybe your customer mentioned a desire to learn some Italian before her trip there in two months. And maybe your best friend IS Italian. Perhaps you can finagle some personal tutoring?

What can you do ‘above and beyond’ to turn your customers into raving fans?