Achieving customer loyalty is the holy grail of branded community success. Now that consumers have so many options to choose from, having a great product alone is not enough, even if it is backed up by a rewards programme. Today, building customer loyalty isn’t just about selling products; it’s about selling experiences. That’s something that goes beyond offering crucial extras such as great post-sales support, free shipping, and exclusive discounts for your best customers.

As the prevalence of social shopping only increases, consumers are more likely than ever to base their purchase decisions around experiences and relationships with their peers. Brands can no longer attribute their success solely to their products, but to their customer communities and brand advocates. Often, however, these communities are fragmented across a range of social networks, peer-to-peer review websites, and support forums.

A branded community consolidates experiences under a platform that’s owned and controlled by the brand. A far cry from the vacuity of things like Facebook groups and business pages, these communities are smaller and driven by a singular purpose – to build loyalty through elements like peer-to-peer support, product ideation, and feedback. They also serve as close-knit environments where people with something in common can come together and forge meaningful relationships without all the digital noise of mainstream social platforms diluting the experience.

What is customer loyalty?

The term ‘customer loyalty’ has been around since the dawn of modern commerce. Despite this, it remains commonly misunderstood, and it’s often confused with brand loyalty. Customer loyalty refers to the purchasing power a customer has. It’s about what you offer them in terms of exclusive offers and prices, customer loyalty programmes being a perfect example. Brand loyalty, on the other hand, is all about how people perceive your branded community, and it has very little to do with money. In fact, a brand advocate might not even spend much at all, but their influence may encourage others to spend more. A loyal customer, however, is largely defined by how much they spend, which naturally makes customer loyalty a far easier metric to track. They’re both just as important, but each must be addressed in distinct ways.

A branded community can help build both brand and customer loyalty. It helps nurture brand advocates through meaningful business-to-customer and peer-to-peer relationships while also offering a platform that can be monetised to build customer loyalty.

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Here’s how to encourage customers to spend more with a brand community:

Build your community

Online communities come in a multitude of different varieties ranging from Facebook groups to website forums to bespoke social networks that are exclusive to a brand. We’re going to talk about branded communities, since they’re by far the most effective for many industries – the brand has complete control over features and functionality, and smaller, more purpose-driven communities also enjoy much higher engagement rates.

To build your own brand community, you’ll need to choose a platform. User experience is the single most important factor here, so you’ll want a platform that’s highly accessible, easy to use, and provides the functions necessary for customers to complete your desired goals. For accessibility, consumer-facing businesses should always be mobile-first, since that’s where consumers spend most of their time in the digital space. For ease of use, you’re going to need simplicity and familiarity, which means it’s good to build upon the core features found on major social platforms like Facebook. Insofar as functionality is concerned, you’ll need to think about what you want to achieve with the platform. That’s what we’ll be looking at below.

Sell your customer community as a service

While there’s nothing stopping you from building an online community that’s entirely gated behind a paywall, it’s generally not a good idea, particularly for consumer-facing businesses. A brand community is also a great place to provide peer-to-peer support, which is something you should make available to all your paying customers. But there are many other great things a brand community can achieve. They can also serve as a place for product ideation by giving people an inside look at your business and have a direct impact on the development of your products. Another is to access exclusive events, products, and extra services, which is exactly what many owner’s clubs have been doing for decades.

Your biggest fans will often happily pay a membership fee to join a more exclusive section of your community if you can deliver enough value. By offering this as an extra service, you can monetise your community and add an extra stream of revenue to your business. For example, a software developer might offer exclusive access to a closed beta, allowing enthusiasts and early adopters to test-run pre-release software and provide feedback. In the travel sector, a large hotel chain might offer bonuses like room upgrades or discounted meals in return for a modest monthly fee. Companies across many industry sectors also provide premium support communities with faster response times and more personalised support.

Charging for membership is by far the easiest option, provided you can pack your community with additional value. On one hand, you’ll have fewer members but on the other, that means more dedication and higher engagement rates. However, it’s important to tread carefully when using the freemium model when your customers are already buying your products. People are increasingly wary of up-selling and cross-selling, so it’s essential to be transparent about your prices and ensure you’re delivering the value your customers demand.

Sell directly to your customers

When people are browsing Facebook, Twitter, or any other major social platform, they’re not usually in ‘buying’ mode. Rather, they’re more interested in keeping in touch with their friends, which is Facebook’s official reason for changing their newsfeed algorithm (although we all know it was really just to encourage businesses to invest more in sponsored advertising). But that’s not to say that social shopping isn’t still a thing.

Once you get people away from the increasingly ineffective social shopping experiences on the major social networks and into your own community, it will be your brand at the centre stage. That means they’ll be in ‘purchase’ mode, and thus far more receptive to spending their cash.

At this point, it’s crucial to remember that a branded community shouldn’t merely be a platform for selling. It must also offer value in its own right by giving people with shared interests a space to interact and derive value from one another through peer-to-peer support and the like. If you can deliver that value, you can build both brand and customer loyalty.

Your community is also a great place to sell your products or any additional services, including those exclusive to your community members (whether they’re paying for a membership or not). By integrating online shopping and payments with your brand community, customers have an easy way to purchase from you from the convenience of their smartphones. Add things like live streaming into the mix, and you can even sell online courses, seminars, podcasts, and virtual events through your community.

Once you’ve built your community and you’re able to offer value through it, your customers will be more willing to buy from you. At that point, it will become an invaluable asset for building and nurturing both brand loyalty and customer loyalty.

Disciple social spaces help brands enjoy all the benefits of community with an independent, valuable, and trusted platform in a safe space that they own and control. Start building your brand community by telling us about your community goals.