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Creating a Brand Community Among Your Customers

Everybody loves to be loved, right? Your brand’s community is the following of loyal customers that surrounds your products. A strong community can be an excellent resource for your brand, as it strengthens your retention rates, boosts repeat sales, and provides you with advocates who can help promote your products and support you during a crisis.

Why is community essential for building loyalty?

Brands that want to stand out and survive need to avoid falling into the trap of interchangeability. You don’t want customers to view you as a commodity. You would want them to notice if your brand suddenly disappeared, rather than just moving on to the next available option.
To put it simply, having a strong brand community will both save you money and lift you out of the “commodity zone.” According to the Harvard Business Review, “On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do.”
Pay attention to that distinction between true emotional connection and simple satisfaction. Satisfaction can be fleeting and forgettable, but people remember experiences that elicit emotion, whether positive or negative and make future decisions based on those emotions. This is how brand loyalty is created.
Humans also connect with others through common emotional experiences. Personal recommendations from fellow shoppers often carry a lot more weight than advertising that comes straight from your brand, or even your online ratings and reviews. The connections your customers make with each other through their common interests and experiences bring authenticity to your brand experience that you cannot manufacture on your own.

Who has a successful brand community?

The outdoor recreation retailer REI is a great example of a brand with a strong community presence. Through its co-op membership program, REI provides its loyal customers with benefits such as access to exclusive in-store events and discounts, as well as the feeling of being a contributor and shareholder in a community that is built around their lifestyle and values. With language such as “Why it’s good to belong” and “Members like you make us who we are” throughout its website, REI is striking an emotional chord with its target customers and inviting them to take part in something that is about more than simply purchasing outdoor equipment.

How do you turn your customer base into a brand community?

Find ways to connect with your customers. You can’t make up a loyalty program if people don’t have an emotional connection with your product. Figure out who your most loyal, die-hard fans are and what they’re talking to each other about. Then, go there. Figure out a way to authentically contribute to the conversations and experiences they’re already having.
Remember, the emphasis should not be your customers’ relationship to the product. It should be on their relationships and experiences within the community. Kenyatta Cheese, co-founder and CEO of Everybody at Once, explained this concept as it relates to fandoms. A fandom is not a group of people directed towards the thing they love, he explained. It’s a group of people directed towards each other, near the thing they love. Your community should be the same way, with the thing members love being your product.
However, be careful about letting your community feel entitled or take too much control/ownership over your product. Don’t be at the beck and call of the community. Your job is to surprise and delight them with new, relevant ideas and experiences, not just respond to their demands.
To learn about more of the experiences your customers are looking for, download our free guide, The 5 Essential Retail Experiences.

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Michael Newberry

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