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Can We Hug? Six Tips for Getting Customers to Show You Love

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to increase customer engagement and word-of-mouth
  • Six steps to getting customers to "hug" you

I'm a hugger. I'm not sure when I became a card-carrying hugger, but as a teen I spent a lot of time at my buddy's house with his Portuguese family and relatives, who treated me like another son. They always had that huggy thing going on, and it must have rubbed off.

Hugging has a place in marketing, too, at least in a virtual, figurative sense. I thought about that on a recent flight home from London, while reading Gary Vaynerchuk's book The Thank You Economy and thinking deeply about customer relationships and Gary's mantra of listening, engaging, and taking care of all customers.

That flight, and what followed, helped me understand how hugging your customers can be an effective marketing strategy under the right circumstances. Stay with me through the following anecdote, and you might agree.

To Hug or Not to Hug?

I sat next to a British woman who works in Google's London office. For the next 9.5 hours, when we weren't watching movies, reading, working, or listening to tunes, she and I discussed work, European privacy issues, travel, relationships, movies, America, and my passion for English rock music. We had connected and were enjoying conversational give-and-take even though we had just met. Each of us also could sense when the other wanted to disconnect for a while.

Once we landed at San Francisco International Airport and were on our way to US Customs, I wondered whether she would be OK with a little goodbye hug after sharing so much on a 5,000-mile flight.

To my surprise, she offered a hug first as we moved toward our different customs lines. To me, the gesture signified that after several hours learning about and sharing with each other, she was comfortable enough to express her feelings with a public hug.

Have You Hugged Your Customers Today?

In the context of social media and customer relations, hugging is not about getting the conversion. Instead, it's about the conversation and about building the relationship. It's about getting the prospect or customer to the point where she will give your company, brand, product, or service a public "hug," especially without your having to ask for it.

As my airplane anecdote suggests, getting the hug might depend more on customer experience than on a lengthy relationship. Are you listening almost as much as you are talking? Are you providing a quality experience? Are you solving a customer's problem?

Companies that will win in the future will be those that not merely build great products or provide amazing services (or both) but do those things so well that customers and even non-customers will give them hugs in public.

I hug lots of people in my work realm, but I also know that many people are not huggers nor will our relationship ever reach the "huggability" level. Likewise, not all of your customers are huggers, but they still want and expect the level of attention and service that leads to huggability for others.

As a marketer, a growing part of your job will be identifying those customers, prospects, partners, or influencers who are potential huggers.

In a "sideways marketing" world, where getting your customers to do your marketing for you is the new goal, identifying, engaging, curating, and enabling your huggers might be as important as anything else you do.

Six Keys to Getting More Hugs

How can you boost your huggability quotient? Here are six tips.

1. Be huggable

No matter how big your company is, how great your products are, or how funny your Super Bowl ad is, your company just might not be huggable.

Being huggable goes beyond having cool products; it emanates from your company culture, your service levels and responsiveness, and the vibes you send to the market. You don't have to be Apple or Starbucks to get hugs, but you do have to be likeable and approachable.

Among Marketing's crucial roles now are to be the conduit of feedback, to understand the market, and to drive a more consumer-centric focus.

2. Listen

Good marketing can't fix bad products or inferior service, but it can own listening. Listening goes well beyond using social listening tools to actually having conversations with customers.

Early in my career, I learned that the one doing the listening has more power than the one doing the talking. Take advantage of the opportunity to build a culture of listening, communicating the voice of the market, and driving change and action at your company.

3. Engage

Though "engagement" has become perhaps the ultimate marketing cliché in this era of social media, having conversations with customers is a key step to getting public hugs. Don't just react when influential customers tweet about a problem. Talk with them about their interests, or get their feedback, ideas, or reactions to a blog post or video.

The more you talk with customers, the better your relationships will be. You'll also be more likely to have positive conversations that result in a solid hug.

4. Identify

Identify those customers and influencers that show a propensity to be huggers.

In a B2B or service setting, your employees may already know those customers. Once those customers are discovered, encourage them to speak on panels and participate in webinars. Some might be socially active, but they might need acknowledgement and opportunity.

In a consumer setting, find customers who are active on community sites or forums, and those who provide reviews of and post about your brand, products, and services on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites.

5. Hug

Show some love. Send a card, flowers, or a gift. Solve a problem. Offer a no-strings freebie, such as advice to a B2B client, a latte from your coffee chain, or a private tour at your winery.

Hug customers publicly via a social media call-out. It takes two to hug, so initiate the hugging. We've started doing that at Silverpop, where we recently recognized eight clients as "PopStars" with public acclaim and smart little desktop trophies. Contenders nominated themselves in seven categories, and those who didn't win got handwritten notes and copies of The Thank You Economy.

6. Enable

Your hugger customers need a channel to display their public affection for your company. Make it easy for them.

For B2B clients, provide standard marketing avenues, such as case studies, webinars, videos, and speaking opportunities. B2C customers can offer testimonials, product reviews, and user-generated videos; and they can become acknowledged experts in your community forum.

Enabling huggers involves having conversations with them on your blogs, communities, Facebook page, and Twitter account. If you don't offer those avenues, or if you don't respond to customer comments, don't expect a lot of hugs.

* * *

The future of marketing is not about you. It is about ensuring that your customers do your marketing for you and enabling them to do it.

It all starts with a hug.

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Loren McDonald is vice-president of industry relations at Silverpop, an email service provider for B2C marketing initiatives and B2B lead-management processes. Reach him via

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  • by Clelia Mon Oct 10, 2011 via web

    we all need a hug nowdays :D

  • by Kenton Mon Oct 10, 2011 via web

    I'm sorry, I don't find this very useful.

  • by Loren McDonald Mon Oct 10, 2011 via web

    Thanks for the feedback Kenton. Would love to hear your suggestions on how I could have made the article more useful to you.



  • by Lou Mon Oct 10, 2011 via web

    I am a huge proponent for customer engagement. Customers are the very reason we exist & the cost to retain them is usually very low when compared to acquiring new ones. 'Hugs'....touch points are extremely effective and often cost just a little of your time.
    Another effective touch point is the 'I'm Sorry' hug when something has not gone right or maybe terribly wrong for the customer. We, as a society, are very forgiving and most cusomers just want to know that they are valued. In fact, the louder they are, the easier they are to 'save' I find. If, in fact, they didn't care, they would just disapear and you would never hear from them again....until you realized they were gone and then it might be too late as they've gone to a competitor or have realized they can live without you. A good & meaningful 'hug' can be priceless.
    I often use the phrase: "You have a friend at the Commercial Appeal" and every time I say it....... I MEAN IT. 8-)
    a yankee in Memphis

  • by Loren McDonald Mon Oct 10, 2011 via web

    Lou - thanks for your comments and a really great point. As you say, often times customers that have a bad experience can become your biggest advocates if you resolve the situation well.

    A few years ago British Airways gave my seat away for a flight from London to SFO. I was not happy as you would expect. But they were very courteous and put me on a later flight in Business Class (you know those pods), access to the first class lounge and a nice chunk of cash.

    I quickly forgot that they gave my seat away and was able to get a presentation done on the long flight home - that I couldn't have done in coach.

    So yes, hugging your unhappy customers can sometimes create very powerful advocates.

  • by Lou Lambert Mon Oct 10, 2011 via web

    I totally agree about advocacy Loren........ & the effect that it can create, good & bad, with the very viral nature of 'word of mouth'.

    I remember when I first came to Memphis some 5+ years ago.
    We were having system issues at the time and a very popular radio station started having problems with the delivery of their newspaper....& further started bashing us pretty heavily on air. It also happened to be the station that our publisher listened to on the way to work. He came in particularly upset one morning & I happened to be the first person he saw. He told me to FIX IT! (but, as I remember, it was phrased quite differently) Anyway, not only did I get to the bottom of it, I became somewhat of a folk To this day, I am still known as Philly Lou, on air, to Drake & Zeke - 98.1. How about the viral nature of that?
    After which the publisher insisted I handle all the 'tuff ones'.....which again, I maintain are not that tuff at all when people care & are passionate about their product or service!
    (Turns out that another DJ was taking the paper thinking it was his. So not only did we sell them another subscription, I also got them to advertise with us 8-)

    I posted your article & link on my LinkedIn page. Good Stuff!

    a yankee in Memphis

  • by Loren McDonald Mon Oct 10, 2011 via web

    Thanks for the great story Lou (Lambert). You raise another really important angel to this is that very often when a customer is unhappy with your product or service it is due to their own user error, mistake, unrealistic expectations, etc.

    So getting to the bottom of it speedily and in a professional manner - usually creates a situation where the customer will do a public thanks and mea culpa. So your company looks good all around. And now they feel a bit indebted to you and willing to go to bat for you.

    Cheers Philly Lou!

  • by Kietcao Tue Oct 11, 2011 via mobile

    Thanks for your hugging advices. If we all care for the others life will be better. I appreciates for the care offering from your talk but I wonder could 24 hs a day we have could could done that for all followers.

  • by TranNg Sat Oct 15, 2011 via web

    Thanks for this! It is very useful information, which makes me review my products. Thanks again.

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