Santa Claus is one of the world’s most popular figures — and has been for generations. You could argue that jolly-old St. Nick ranks among the strongest brands on the planet, with global name recognition, a universal story, a massive fan base, and unparalleled customer loyalty. His gift this year to small-business owners this year: five lessons in company leadership.
- Build a consistent brand. Would people still love Santa if he shaved his beard and lost 100 pounds? Maybe, but it’s best not to find out. Consider what happened when Tropicana ditched its iconic “straw in orange” image for a generic orange juice glass: Sales dropped by 20 percent. The company switched back to the beloved image less than two months later.
- Offer free or low-cost delivery. High-quality, on-time delivery matters to consumers, especially around the holidays. A 2010 study by Great Britain’s Royal Mail [PDF] found that 73 percent of consumers said that free delivery for online purchases was a top priority. Other important considerations were online tracking, customer service, and being able to specify where the product should be delivered. Santa offers free door-to-chimney service. What about you?
- Communicate with customers. St. Nick only delivers once a year, but he gets his orders right by regularly corresponding with children about their wish lists. (We have a hunch his elves are writing some of these notes.) Beyond answering customer-service emails, small businesses should make the effort to keep in touch with customers on a personal level. Send out regular communiqués, such as email newsletters, to update them about company offerings and events.
- Be reliable. Santa Claus would likely disappoint a lot of children if he showed up three weeks late this year. To satisfy and retain customers, make sure that your company, your products or services, and your partners all live to their promises. Offer money-back guarantees and maintain a simple returns policy in the event that your customers are unhappy with a purchase.
- Love what you do. Santa Claus always has a smile on his face. Find joy in your work, and your customers will appreciate your enthusiasm. Take a page from Zappos CEO Tony Hseih’s book, Delivering Happiness, and learn how to build a company culture that focuses on happiness for both staff members and customers.