Brands should be more concerned about building a community than building loyalists. The rationalization for this is that brands are better off having emotionally connected customers as opposed to repeat customers.
Let’s break this down a bit. Loyalists believe in the product or service that a brand provides. They see value in the product/service compared to other offerings in the market and reward the brand by being a repeat customer.
A brand community member is not necessarily a loyalist that is a repeat customer. BUT, a community member has a vested interest in the brand. They have a genuine interest in what the brand offers and/or what they stand for.
The distinction that I make here is that you get more out of a community member. The community member will help you better shape product/service success by providing continuous feedback (good and bad) and they will also advocate on your brand’s behalf when you deliver excellence. Your community will help you stay on top of the competition. That is if you listen to them. And when you do listen to them, the community members as well as their audience reward you. The added value of a community member is that they will market and advocate on your behalf because they are an emotional bond connection and customer.
While putting together thoughts for this article, I came across an absolutely fabulous article, “The New Science of Customer Emotions.” The premise of the article and supporting study is that if “companies connect with customers’ emotions, the payoff can be huge.” The article states, “’emotional motivators’ provide a better gauge of customers’ future value … including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability.” There is no better way to create an emotional connection with an audience than to make them feel like they are a part of the brand. A community where their comments and opinions are listened to. A community where they can engage with others that share common interest. People just like them.
As a brand’s community builds, there is no better place to understand your target audiences’ needs. You learn from your audience AND you create emotionally connected customers. These customers have greater lifetime value than loyalists, because they provide further word-of-mouth about your brand and help you win new customers.
Two points I will make in closing, hopefully to make you contemplate about my position that a community member is far more valuable than a loyalist.
First, I recognize that it is often difficult to build a community around certain products/services. Could there be a community around soap? The answer is yes. Just look at Dove (both men and women products) and look at the social movements and communities they look to build. This is more about brand imaging than brand features. There are many takeaways to learn from their approaches. Examples you can see are here and here. There are many others as well.
Communities come in many forms. I do not mean a Facebook page or a forum per say. Yes, these are examples of platforms that help to build a community that may or may not be part of the execution strategy. What is important is to create a social movement that aligns to both your audience and your brand values. Then determine the strategy and execution channels.
When I talk about building a brand community, I define this as platforms and vehicles for engagement between brand representatives and the target audience. A community must also allow communication among the target audience without the brand necessarily being engaged in the conversation. BUT, the brand needs to be able to listen to these conversations. Having this audience engage in a platform that is a brand asset is most imperative for a couple of reasons. 1) It allows the brand to listen, and 2) The fact that the conversation is enabled by the brand creates reinforcement and emotional commitment to what the brand stands for.
I have worked on building brand communities for the past 10 years. I confess – it is difficult. It is definitely a new methodology of marketing for winning over an audience. But unequivocally, it pays long-term brand value and financial reward.
Make It Happen,