There’s more to building customer loyalty than just having a great product. Loyalty is born of strong relationships, a culture of mutual understanding and respect. Brand communities are driven by such relationships, or at least they should be. Unfortunately, too many businesses see their community platforms as nothing more than marketing tools for expanding mailing lists, promoting new products and upselling to existing customers. With the right approach, they can be so much more. So, let’s have a look at how you can start building customer loyalty with your own brand community.

Build your brand, not your advertising machine

In many industry sectors, traditional advertising is done for. The age of disruptive marketing has given way to a new era of customer-centric businesses where loyalty is the very definition of a successful brand. Owned communities, rather than social networking profiles and pages, can serve as rock-solid foundations for brand-building. They give people a space to get more out of the products they love and make new friends in the process.

Brand communities are not advertising machines, at least not in the traditional sense. While there’s nothing wrong with using your community for promoting and selling your products, it’s customer success that needs to come first. By building a community that fosters constructive customer-to-brand and customer-to-customer conversation, you’ll have ample insights on how to continually improve your offer. By empowering your customers with a say in the direction of your business, they become more than just customers. They become an integral part of your brand – advocates who will happily spread the good word. After all, most consumers care far more about relationships than they do about transactions. That’s why great relationships are now your most valuable marketing asset and a key for building customer loyalty.

Strengthen your community with reward programs

The term ‘brand community’ might be relatively new on the scene, but it has a long history in the form of loyalty programs. They’ve been around for well over a century, and they still play an important role in driving people towards your community in the first place. Although reward programs don’t necessarily lead to lasting customer relationships, they’re a good starting point. Not only do reward programs show the value of joining up; they can also incentivise further engagement and empower brand advocacy.

While everyone likes perks such as discounts, freebies and exclusive offers, companies also need to remember that they can’t simply buy loyalty. Reward programs should never be seen as compensation for having a substandard product or poor customer service. Rather, they serve as a stepping stone to spark those initial engagements, as well as encourage customers to continue participating. In fact, reward programs don’t necessarily even need to be financially attractive; many businesses use gamification tactics to award active participants with points and ranks. Though rather abstract in nature, gamification offers a proven method to instil a sense of achievement.

For example, The North Face, allows each of their customers to sign up to their loyalty programme.north face customer loyalty program

Instead of just encouraging customer to pay more money, their rewards programme really understands their target audience. The type of rewards on offer are in line with their ethos and brand. This helps build a deeper connection between North Face and the customers.

Empower your customers with a voice

Building customer loyalty comes with two-way compensation. The moment customers get the feeling that you’re not listening to them is the moment they start turning away in droves. No one likes to be ignored or, worse still, be confronted with constant upselling and cross-selling whenever they have a legitimate concern they want to share. Brilliant brand communities are those where customers have the greater voice. Lego, for example, lets members submit their ideas and vote on each other’s proposals. Those which receive enough votes go to market, and the person who submitted the idea even gets a cut of the sales. What could be better than that? Not only is there a financial incentive – Lego fans get to have a direct influence on the development of one of their favourite products.

Giving your community members a voice doesn’t just make them feel like valued customers; it also presents direct business benefits. Customers know what they want, and it’s your job to give them that, not to tell them what you think they should want. The wealth of feedback generated by a community of engaged customers feeds directly into making a better product. Businesses can use this information to continually improve not only their offer itself, but also their marketing, customer support and every other customer-facing aspect of the company. That’s why models like crowdfunding and early access have become so successful in recent years.

Supercharge customer experience success with a wealth of tribal knowledge

Everyone knows knowledge is power, so what better way to ensure customer success than by giving them access to a wealth of knowledge that educates, informs and entertains? Brand communities are as much about content as relationships. They don’t only provide a space for customers to have conversations and leave feedback – they’re also platforms for sharing tips and guides that help customers get more out of their purchases.

From a customer support perspective, brand communities offer a proven way to reduce costs. Rather than having support representatives answer the same questions over and over, brand communities can instead provide self-service access to proven resolutions and tips from other members. With a constantly growing archive of solutions, you can improve your product too.

Eventually, your community will become more than just a platform for users to stay connected. It will become a tribal knowledge base full of brand-published and user-curated content. Add the ability to upvote posts, and you can keep all eyes trained on the most valuable content created for or by your community. This is an important step in building customer loyalty.

Reach your customers where they want to be

Cultivating a thriving brand community helps foster a sense of belonging through relationships that inspire. By giving your customers a place to share common interests, they become more than just customers – but members of an exclusive club. With mainstream social media often resulting in the feeling of loneliness that often comes with huge crowds, brands and their customers are rapidly turning towards smaller, private communities where people can get to know each other. To that end, brand loyalty often stems from having a strong community rather than the product or service itself. Especially for niche businesses that cater to specific interests and hobbies, community venues are exactly where most people want to be.

When you focus on building customer loyalty, you need to reach both potential and existing customers where they already hang out. Social networks and other public communities present opportunities to make those initial connections, but you’ll need to give them incentives to join your brand community. As we’ve seen, loyalty programs can help jumpstart the relationship and increase customer retention, but you’ll also need to factor in user experience. People will only join your community if they see the value in it, so you need to offer a much better experience than they may already be used to. In a time when distractions are all around us, you also need to be consistently present, lest people forget about you and your community become a virtual ghost town.

Today, people check their phones every 12 minutes on average, and the number of mobile-only consumers is rising rapidly. That’s why your community should be mobile-first, particularly if your business is a consumer-facing one. With powerful features like push notifications at your disposal, you can create a truly immersive experience that helps ensure your brand is always at the forefront of customer’s minds. Combine that with value-adding content, strong relationships and conversations between you and your customers, you’ll have everything you need to start building customer loyalty.

Excellent customer service builds customer loyalty

Without excellent customer service or support, you don’t have a chance of building great loyalty with your customers. The thing to note is that customers understand when things go wrong. What customers really want to see is how you respond when something does go wrong.

Customers are much more likely to stay loyal to a brand who has good customer service over one that doesn’t (even if the second company offers cheaper pricing).

For example, car company Toyota offered a public apology to its customers after on of their cars crashed and led to a recall of 3.8 million cars.

Remember, it’s not about how often things go wrong, but how you deal with them that builds strong customer loyalty.

Disciple community management platform helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control. Start building your brand community by telling us about your community goals.