Is the constantly changing consumer journey throwing you in too many directions? You may struggle with maintaining loyalty among existing consumers. You are likely challenged in achieving efficient consumer acquisition. And you are almost assuredly under constant pressure to keep up with a rapidly evolving market.
Consumers are more discerning and more empowered than ever before, and brands need to rethink how they engage with consumers. This is why community building is a must-have tool for every brand.
What is community building for brands and why should you care?
Community building for brands is defined as a dedicated business strategy to cultivate a cohort of consumers to engage with a brand and to foster a sense of connection that aligns with brand values.
Online community building is a critical component of forming deeper relationships with consumers. And it can help serve a wide range of business objectives. Three key areas it can best serve are driving loyalty, generating new consumer acquisition, and ensuring brand resilience.
Community building secures emotional brand loyalty.
If you’re like most marketers, you’ve been battling eroding brand loyalty for years. And with the radical behavioral shifts that the pandemic has caused, the situation has only become more difficult.
Traditional loyalty strategies often focus on incentivizing repeat purchases through rewards and discounts. While this is a popular tactic, it, unfortunately, creates a transactional relationship with consumers that can be fickle and easily swayed.
Marketers who invest in driving emotional loyalty will find that emotionally loyal consumers spend more money, keep the brand top-of-mind, and promote the brand to their friends.
Community is a core tenet in emotional engagement that you can use to increase basket size, purchase frequency, and maintain wallet share.
Community building drives efficient consumer acquisition.
Every marketer knows how powerful word-of-mouth and peer influence can be for brand awareness and new growth. User-generated content, ratings and reviews, and recommendations from friends are considered the most trusted forms of advertising.
The challenge many marketers face is how to generate measurable word-of-mouth at scale while still maintaining the authenticity and trust that provokes conversion.
When done right, community building enables your brand easy access to an army of passionate, emotionally loyal consumers who are eager to share about your brand.
Community building “future-proofs” your business and ensures brand resiliency.
There is a reason why “innovate or die” is a popular business quote. Adaptability is the key to true brand resiliency. If you don’t stay ahead of the pace of change, your brand will fizzle out.
Community building is an excellent strategy to collect product or service feedback quickly, without lengthy research studies from expensive firms. Community building is also a goldmine for learning about your audience of consumers. You can use this information to help inform marketing messages and optimize advertising targeting and spend.
Finally, community building keeps your business on the pulse of new trends. Flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants was forgivable for brands in 2020. But today, consumers expect brands to be aware of changing habits. Community building empowers you to be agile intentionally and effectively.
How does community building work?
Community building can be done in many different ways. It starts with mobilizing your audience in a central place, offering relevant activities, and promoting a shared vision.
For those ready to fully engage and unlock the sales, advocacy, and insights potential of their audience, establishing your own digital brand community is the way to go. Those who are still testing the waters with community building might use a third-party social network to house their community.
Online Brand Community Building Trends You Need to Know
Trend #1: Consumers are looking online for community, especially with the disconnection from COVID.
Over the past decade, online sharing was centered around individuals broadcasting about themselves. However, in the past 18 months, there’s been a sea change as consumers used the internet as an outlet for interaction and linking shared experiences with others.
Marketers have a huge opportunity to foster a sense of belonging that isn’t contrived or self-serving, but is helpful and appreciated.
Trend #2: Companies are moving away from using social media sites for their community-building goals.
With sites like Facebook under scrutiny from the public, many companies have decided that social media sites are too big of a risk. And at the end of the day, the highly valuable data that can be generated by community building will be owned by the social media company, not your brand.
Additionally, with constant algorithm changes, Facebook and other sites require advertising spend for your community to even view your content. Read our guide on the difference between a Facebook group and an online brand community.
Trend #3: Brand purpose and values are highly relevant to consumers.
In a global study, consumers shared they are four to six times more likely to buy from, trust, champion, and defend companies with a strong purpose.
Brand values and purpose are hard to communicate in an authentic way. Community building is an effective way to bring your brand values to life by having consumers do the talking for you.
What does good community building look like?
Community building is like any other marketing strategy. It requires intention, investment, some patience, and a little love. After all, fostering brand love is the goal, right?
Here at Vesta, we follow our proven commU-N-I-T-Y model, informed by 10+ years of experience in community building. Let’s break down how this model unifies all of our learnings to ensure online brand community success.
U – Uninterrupted Engagement
Successful community building offers regular engagement opportunities. It will meet the “Goldie Locks” zone for outreach – just right. “Just right” outreach can look different for each brand, but it offers a combination of timely activities and evergreen engagement. It also reminds community members of existing opportunities that are available.
N – Nimble Growth
It’s important to remember that community building should be thought of as gardening, not carpentry. Successful community building means embracing change and evolution as the community ages. It also welcomes opportunities for co-creation of the community identity and culture.
Community growth can begin small with inviting consumers from existing brand properties. Promoting your community can be done through your brand website, packaging, and other marketing messages. Additionally, the community itself will become a huge referral engine.
I – Impactful Motivators
Incentivizing your community in the right way is key. In our research, we’ve found five personas that accelerate community building and what incentives they respond to most.
Ultimately, a community is about helping its members project a unique identity and feel a sense of belonging. Successful community building also helps its members feel a sense of excitement and gives them confidence in the future.
By offering a variety of engagement opportunities, you can hit each of the impactful motivators. This includes ongoing discussions, surveys, polls, sampling opportunities, focus groups, promotional offers, public recognition, VIP experiences, and exclusive content.
T – Trusted Environment
For community building to be successful, its members must trust the platform the community lives on. It means having a user experience that is reliable, modern, and simple. The community must also be transparent with its data collection and privacy practices.
Beyond usability, creating a trusted environment means the brand that hosts the community is accountable to its members. The brand does what it says it’s going to do and listens and reacts to feedback.
Y – Yields Value
Lastly, successful community building offers value to consumers. Personalization is a key way to make sure consumers feel valued and heard. Personalization can also lead to discoverable experiences that foster education and inspiration for a consumer.
What community building is NOT
Community building can be wildly helpful for your business, but there are some clear pitfalls to avoid.
Community building is NOT broadcasting one-way messages.
To build community, you must give consumers a way to interact, voice their opinions or express themselves.
Community building is NOT about talking solely about your brand.
While an online brand community does serve a business, its priority should be to serve the people who are a part of the community. The brand should play a supportive role, but the community members should be the stars of the show.
Community building does NOT work without a shared identity or sense of belonging.
Whether it’s a small gesture like a fun moniker, special emoji or hashtag, or a larger message related to a deeply considered purpose, community building is about creating connection.
Community building does NOT work when there is no clear benefit.
Consumers are savvy and they can tell quickly if there is no real difference between being a community member and a regular customer. Make sure there is something unique to be gained from joining the community.
Getting started with community building
Remember; community building doesn’t have to happen in one day. You can start small and grow.
At a time of seismic change, community is the single most important tool to drive customer acquisition, retention, and sales. Companies that understand how to leverage its power are uniquely positioned to disrupt their industry and dominate their market.
Right now is the perfect time to begin. Your audience is waiting.
Interested in more?
Check out our Community Marketing 101 eBook and discover even more about harnessing the power of online brand communities to take your marketing strategy to the next level.