In August 2021, we talked about top brand communities, their business models and strategies, and what you can learn from them in our story, Strong Brand Community: A Key to Success. And today, we will discuss further everything you need to know to build brand loyalty and a strong community.
#1 Founders Should Have Direct Connection with Customers
In our previous story about building brand community, we talked about how a streetwear brand called The Hundreds. It was born out of rebellious stake culture, built its community. The brand built its community by focusing on in-person interaction and authentic voice. They also has fierce dedication to their mantra, “people over product,”
The founder focused on creating a bond between his products and customers via stories. His blog has over 3k articles, telling stories behind each of their collections, and discussing customers’ texts and concerns, making readers feel like an insider of the brand (1, 2).
And that’s what founders can learn when it comes to building community from this brand.
The key strategy is to build direct contact with customers. For instance, The Hundreds offer a direct connection to the founder. If you go to the section named By Bobby, you will find a button that says, “Text Bobby.” which would allow people to add his contact information straight to their phone books and send him messages without getting his basic contact details.
In addition, Bobby, though seldom, has 1:1 interactions with the community members, which spurs a deeper sense of connection.
“I treat every issue that I hear about from a customer as an opportunity to improve,” stated Bezos in the book, Invent & Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos.
Bezos added that most of the emails he gets from customers are complaints; that’s why most people write, we have screwed up their order somehow, and he takes those emails seriously.
For example, if Bezos receives a complaint about any defect, he will ask his team to conduct a case study to find the cause or cause of the issue and fix them.
“So, when you fix the issue, you don’t fix it for only that one customer; you fix it for every person. And that process is a huge part of what we do. So if I have failed to deliver an order or gave a bad customer experience, that’s how I treat it,” explained Bezos.
It has led us to believe that all founders would benefit from having direct contact with their customers.
After all, when you start a business, you are in touch with your customers. However, as you keep on growing, so do your responsibilities. It would not be difficult to lose touch with what it is like to be a customer or your products’ users.
You can easily overcome this by remaining in direct contact with your customers via emails or even building a private group with even select customers where they can share their grievances with you. And since the private space you created is not a public forum, you are hearing your customers.
You never know; maybe you will find out issues without products or gain feedback that you never even thought about. In addition, you also get to know what people are feeling and thinking about your business (5, 6).
#2 Effective Utilization of Brand Ambassadors
While brands have effectively adopted influencer marketing and referral programs over the past decade, brand ambassadors remain the top way to increase brand loyalty (7).
Besides the obvious factor, cost, brand ambassadors beats influencers over several other metrics, and one that often gets neglected is authenticity.
It is because when influencers cross a certain threshold, they often lose connection with their audiences and don’t perform as they used to.
On the other hand, brand ambassadors, who are comparable to “micro-influencers,” authentically champion your products because they are loyal and product customers.
The comparison between influencers and brand ambassadors is similar to short-head and long-tail keywords. When brands focus on long-tail keywords and micro-influencers, they have managed to gain a smaller but more loyal following that is more impactful with short keywords and influencers, which offers a ton of reach but overall less impact (8, 9).
Often people default on referral programs which makes ambassador programs highly underutilized. However, if founders take one extra step and make it more personal via an effective ambassador program, it can go a long way in building brand loyalty.
Meaning, a compelling ambassador program is one that goes far beyond those typically “share with your friend to receive some cashback or discount” referral programs.
Instead, pay your ambassadors in gift cards, merchandise, or products. You can also offer about 10% commissions to whatever they sell after meeting a certain base sales.
You can also arrange weekly/monthly/bi-annual meetings to acknowledge top performers, offer tips on selling the product well, and even welcome newcomers.
The key is to invest in your brand ambassadors and prove your brand worthy of their energy (10).
#3 Effective Utilization of Affiliate Program
Here are some tips to level up your brand affiliation program:
Select the Right Affiliates by Building Exclusivity
Remember, affiliate marketing is not at all correlated to influencing marketing. Instead, it focuses on relatability. Customers are more likely to trust a product recommendation of people they are close to than Kardashian sisters.
Hence, we can say that not all affiliates are influencers and micro-level affiliates; people with about 300 to 2k followers are often your strongest performers.
And one of the excellent ways to attract good affiliates is to create exclusivity. Focus on having an application process that can give users a premium feel, and ask them to make a purchase first to have skin in the play. You can also consider having multi-step onboarding processes like filling out an application, purchasing a welcome kit, intro call, etc.
Create an Exclusive Space for Your Affiliates
Often affiliates are also entrepreneurs themselves. Hence, consider getting to know them, their businesses, and connecting your affiliates.
If your community would help them meet other like-minded individuals, they are more likely to perform to retain their position within the community.
In other words, you can just let it roll and hope for the best. Instead, you need to ensure that your community is being actively managed. Moreover, you need to ensure that your brand is the community leader. And once you have grown your community enough, consider hiring a community manager.
You will also have to offer resources your community will need to become your brand ambassadors, including shareable content, creatives that can increase their conversions, killer copies, and sell sheets to ensure that your community members fully understand your product and brand messaging.
Use Tier System and Monthly Bonuses to Create Brand Recognition, Inspire Growth, and Build Long-Term Relationships
The affiliate marketing space is highly competitive, with many brands offering as much as 50% commission to gain brand awareness (13).
And stats suggest that most of your affiliate revenue is made by about 5% of affiliates. So, what you can do is create a tiered system for that 5%.
When you make commission tiers to incentivize your affiliation program, you build a healthy competition within your community. There are primary approaches you can take:
- Regular Affiliate and VIP Affiliate
- Graduation Structure where commission gets increased over increased referrals
You can also consider giving your top 5 or 10 performing affiliates a bonus. Depending on your budget, it can range from free products, services, cash or gift cards, or even paid vacations. It is recommended to keep your budget about the estimated profit your top five or ten affiliates make in a month.
Connect With Your Affiliates to Get Them Excited About Your Products – h3
The key is that the more your affiliates connect to you and your brand, the more likely they will be excited about selling your product.
Interact with them and tell them your story. You can connect with them in many ways, like webinars and in-person events to educate your affiliates and allow them to network among themselves.
When it comes to building a brand, you can’t rush. Instead, make your every move carefully without any rush and focus on nurturing your initial customers to make them your loyal brand ambassadors and key community members (14).
#4 Effective Utilization of Facebook Groups
Of course, while we emphasized private space for gaining feedback from customers, at the same time, you will also need a space where your customers can post publicly and gain a mass amount of feedback and information about your product and brand.
These groups allow customers to connect, feel heard, and even unify their voices or vote on things like new payment options and flavors. Moreover, it also allows them to feel like they are a part of the community, making them more loyal.
In addition, a private group on Facebook is also easier to land in users’ news feed since group posts get a high inventory allocation compared to other posts as per the current Facebook algorithm (15).
#5 Knowing What Kind of Loyalty Will Steer Your Customers to You
Founders often mistake thinking that brand loyalty only has one meaning. However, there are several levels and types of brand loyalty in reality. There are also concepts that loyalty is different from one person to another. However, at the same time, anyone’s loyalty can change as per the situation.
Customers dominantly have one thing in mind when they compare offers between you and your peers, value for money.
Of course, you can easily build it by offering a bargain deal for the first time, second time, third time, etc. However, such brand loyalty will only last as long as your offering. Once your competition drops their price, your customers may move on to them without a single blink.
In other words, such loose attachments don’t work in your favor if you wish to retain and expand your market share in the long run. However, it also works in your favor to increase the market share of your new product.
After all, this customer segment tends to first engage with any new product, especially if offered at an unbeatable price. If you play your cards spot on, for example, Tesco, you can gain loyal customers once you retain their attention.
While there is an overlap with price-loyalty, the emotion behind it is fairly different. While there is the truth behind discounts and promotions carrying all-important financial aspects, they are not the only way to attract the customer segment, as mentioned earlier.
Even though these customers may only select your product over your peers because it makes more sense financially, exclusive benefits programs such as loyalty benefits, memberships, or referral bonuses may turn them into your loyal fans. Primary examples can include frequent flyer programs of most airlines or certain credit cards that allow you access to airport lounges, points on every purchase, cashback, etc.
In this segment type, customers simply purchase from because your offerings are more convenient for them. We all know that life can be really tough, and suppose you make your customer experience a little smoother than your peers; kudos to you. You have probably also ended up with devoted fans.
Such customers don’t say no to good offerings for a few extra bucks. Meaning, this segment is not particularly price-sensitive. You can earn their loyalty by offering more eco-friendly packaging and better customer service. There is also an option to support a cause they believe in to earn their loyalty. And you don’t even have to be the cheapest offering in the market.
We believe Starbucks perfectly fits this section since it makes it easy for people to make a purchase. Their mobile application, with its Order & Pay features, multiple other loyalty benefits, and features like showing your previous order, suggesting pairings you may like, and even guessing where and when you would like to pick up, has transformed how you get your morning coffee.
Customer satisfaction is the ultimate “loyalizer” that can help you build a cult brand community. Overall, people who are happy with your offerings and services are more likely to come back without any extra incentives. Offering a high-quality product and service will earn you such loyalty with no extra cost.
However, you will have to be careful since it can be easier to lose their trust than the time it took you to gain it.
Such customers will take no time to go to your competitors if you make a mistake. You will need consistency to acquire and retain such customer loyalty.
Brand loyalty and community building are a shared responsibility between all your business departments. It is needed to make a complex constellation of business decisions.
At the same time, investing resources towards building brand loyalty and community will always pay off. Meaning, you can capitalize on your leads and nurturing efforts in the long run. It would stabilize your revenue stream and sustain your growth.