If you’re looking for the best way to cultivate lasting consumer relationships that drive advocacy and insights, look no further than an online brand community.
In a study by Nielsen 360 Audience Analysis, it was found that the lifetime value of a community member is 13 times(!) greater than other marketing channels. And a whopping 86% of marketers believe that having a branded online community will positively impact core operations.
In modern marketing, the name of the game is to not be left behind – by trends, by innovation, and most definitely by customers. Harvard Business Review states communities will become a key competitive advantage, saying “Communities are going to change the nature of how we interact with brands, products and other people.”
What is a brand community (and what is it NOT)?
Every brand has an audience of consumers. A brand community is cultivating an online destination for consumers to interact with your brand and with like-minded users.
“Community” is a loosely used word and its definition is abstract. Many in the industry rush to calling certain channels a community when it lacks the key components of creating community such as 1) relationship ownership; 2) robust interaction; and 3) shared values.
For most of the last decade, marketers have considered their social media fan pages as their defacto community. While these channels do provide advertising value, they are extremely limited in community-building. There are several ways that an online brand community differs from social media groups and even some ways that the two can work together to provide more value.
Sites like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and ones on the horizon like BeReal, are ultimately gatekeepers. They own the relationship with consumers, not you, and you will always be at the whim of their business decisions, not yours.
Other channels like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or a loyalty program are often substitutes for community, but again, they lack some of the most important ingredients.
When your CRM becomes nothing more than a database desert for emails and your loyalty program relies on transactional incentives to keep customers, marketers miss a huge opportunity to build emotional connection and loyalty.
Emotional loyalty is the jackpot in marketing. It produces higher customer lifetime value, makes consumers less sensitive to competitive promotions, allows for premium pricing, lowers costs of advertising, and builds brand advocacy which secures new customer acquisition.
There is no doubt that a brand community is the secret sauce to getting you endless servings of emotional loyalty.
How to build a brand community?
First, know that there are already people out there who love your brand. A brand community is simply a way to mobilize them in one place. Communities offer enormous value to any business.
The real question most marketers ask is how do I build a brand community that works? Here are some quick steps we recommend, or you can read more in our 8 Tips for Building an Online Community That Works.
1. Identify your community purpose
As amazing as your brand is, few consumers will want to join a community just to help your particular business needs. Instead of looking at your brand as the star of the show, think of your brand as the backdrop, with the community members being the main event.
Focus on the lifestyle, lived experience and shared values of your consumers and find out how those needs align with your business goals.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the community’s purpose?
- What would excite a consumer when joining and participating in the community?
- What lifestyle(s) does my audience exhibit?
- What are the biggest topics my audience is concerned about?
- How does my community help my consumers communicate their values?
2. Prioritize business goals and metrics
Communities are an excellent way to help achieve a wide array of business goals. But it helps to prioritize what is going to be most important.
Organizing your priorities will also help determine how best to engage with your community.
Are you looking to drive brand advocacy to fuel new customer acquisition and brand awareness? Here are some metrics that you can use or learn more about how to measure brand advocacy
- Increase Net Promoter Score
- Drive ratings & reviews on key retail websites
- Boost trial through targeted sampling
- Spark social media shares and user-generated content (UGC)
- Generate word-of-mouth conversion (i.e. offer a discount or sweepstakes to friends and followers of your community members)
- Achieve lift in competitive online share-of-voice
Are you looking to achieve brand loyalty and higher customer lifetime value (CLV)? Here are some metrics you might use:
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Boost household penetration
- Increase brand touchpoints through engagement
- Drive emotional loyalty and brand affinity
- Reduce and troubleshoot customer issues and inquiries
Are you looking to gain consumer insights to future-proof your brand from changing trends and stay ahead of competitors? You might have these goals:
- Optimize audience targeting with consumer insights
- Increase qualitative product feedback through Market Research Online Community (MROC)
- Lower costs of innovation research
- Increase efficiency in producing on-trend messaging, creative and content
3. Select your community platform
Practically speaking, a brand community is often an extension of your brand website, becoming a living and breathing place amidst your digital ecosystem.
This can be created either in-house or through technology vendors (hey, that’s us). You should always ensure the technology partner you choose best aligns with your business goals, budget, and overall organizational fit. Technology decisions like choosing a community platform software can easily swamp you in technical jargon, so we know it always helps when you can see a community platform software “come to life.”
The three biggest elements of a high-quality community platform software are:
- connection touchpoints with other community members
- community activities
- brand communication & gamification
Read more about how to select the right community platform software.
4. Engage and optimize your community
When you have engaging, relevant activities and conversations in your community, it will take your community investment from a marketing “win” to a marketing knock-it-out-the-park-get-you-promoted kind of win.
At Vesta, we believe that freshness and discoverability are an important part of community and that’s why we have dozens of activities from discussion forums, to surveys & polls, to product sampling, promotional offers, events, and more that translate into hundreds of business use cases.
Consider our checklist for optimizing your online brand community, which breaks your community engagement strategy down into simple tasks that deliver big results.
Top Communities to Watch
Sephora’s Beauty Insider Program
Always a fan favorite in marketing circles – Sephora’s Beauty Insider program has a very strong value exchange for shoppers. They do a great job of providing a tailored experience to shoppers and also have a robust forum available for shoppers to exchange ideas and tips. Each element of the program is integrated across their entire shopping experience both online and in-store.
Sir Kensington’s Taste Buds Community
Unilever’s Sir Kensington’s Taste Buds community isn’t about just buying condiments. It’s about connecting “evolved eaters” – people who are conscious not just of their health, but also of the source of their food.
With a shared purpose, co-creation with fans builds a feedback loop that ensures Sir Kensington’s is offering eaters what they love most about the brand, as well as fostering passionate participation and a true two-way relationship.
Hero Cosmetics “Hero Skin Squad”
The Hero Skin Squad was the perfect way for the brand to mobilize its customer base’s intense passion for the brand. One of the key ways Hero activates its community is through product sampling programs, an incredibly effective marketing tactic for any cosmetic brand to drive trial and acquisition. Hero delivers tailored samples and then prompts consumers to share their experiences via their social channels and retail websites.
In addition to their community activities, the Hero Skin Squad has a vibrant community discussion channel, chock full of hundreds of conversations on all things skincare and makeup. Consumers can connect with like-minded people and exchange tips, advice, and recommendations for dozens of topics.
Almost every marketer struggles with how to balance the need for bold investments that impact a brand’s long-term trajectory with the need for short-term strategies that deliver wins today. One of the linchpins to achieving this is investing in solid consumer relationships. That’s where brand communities come in. Find out more about what an online community can do for your brand.
Interested in more?
Check out our Community Marketing 101 eBook and discover how to harness the power of online brand communities to take your marketing strategy to the next level.