When it comes to encouraging customer retention and loyalty, online brands are relying on the community. Whether that’s materialized through a private Facebook group, a growing email list, or a dedicated platform for customers, brands are finding innovative ways to engage current and prospective customers in discussion.
More e-commerce brands are beginning to build their own customer communities or plugging into existing communities in order to communicate with target buyers, amplify their messaging, and to boost loyalty. Online communities help brand authentically engage with current and prospective customers to sell without really selling.
Unsure of how you can find or foster your own community? Check out the potential benefits of the below marketing and sales methods, as well as some examples of brands that have used this tactic to successfully grow their businesses.
The Benefits of Brand Communities
Depending on your target customers and the type of community you’re looking to create, the potential advantages include:
- Increased customer retention: Engagement generally leads to better customer retention. Communities give customers the chance to engage with brands and each other. Why is this important? Our data shows that return customers spend about 120% more than new customers.
- Decreased support time and costs: When brands foster communities where your customers engage with each other, one side-effect is that both parties often answer each other’s questions and concerns. Almost half of businesses with online communities report cost savings of 10–25% annually.
- Live testing ground: Because brand communities offer a direct line of communication to target customers, you can get feedback on new products and services. About two-thirds of businesses use communities to gain customer insight on products and services, which ultimately lead to increased engagement and retention.
Three Examples of Successful Brand Communities
WeRateDogs is an example of a brand that was ‘community first’ and online store second. What began as a wildly popular Instagram and Twitter profile eventually grew into an online phenomenon that makes pet owners and lovers everywhere smile as they scroll through their social feeds.
As WeRateDogs accumulated more than 5.5 million followers, founder Matt Nelson took the next logical step to grow his brand — selling merchandise. Nelson set up an e-commerce site in 2017 selling shirts, hats, mugs, and other wares sporting blurbs and funny quotes from their social communities. Now WeRateDogs boasts a book, an app and a calendar on top of its other merchandise.
2. WeWork and WeMRKT
Since 2010, WeWork has steadily become a giant in the co-working space. They have created work communities totaling 460 office locations across 90 cities across the globe. Many of the shared office spaces bring together entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small businesses while offering amenities like wellness facilities, workshops, courses, as well as furnished co-living units designed for members who need temporary living spaces.
To further cement its community focus, the company added “retail” to its growing list of offerings. In June of 2018, WeWork premiered WeMRKT, the company’s first foray into retail spaces. Located in New York City, WeMRKT features curated products from WeWork members. Select wares include organic coconut oil, whey protein, and fortified coffee creamer.
The move makes sense for the brand as they continue to build a community and exhibit offerings to entrepreneurs and small business owners. WeMRKT offers members who are makers and product-focused business owners the chance to market themselves to fellow WeWorkers.
“We are really honored and feel lucky to have that kind of instant visibility within the WeWork community,” said Molly Peterson, director of communications for Icelandic Provisions, a startup that’ll be available at WeMRKT, in an interview with Architect Magazine.
3. Lululemon Ambassador Program
Many brands have invested in athleisure — and with good reason. According to research from Global Industry Analysts, the athleisure and activewear market is expected to reach $231.7 billion worldwide by 2024.
Lululemon, one of the category’s consistent leaders, has found success partially due to its community-focused retail strategy. Its innovative ambassador program partners with yoga and fitness instructors in hundreds of communities where the brand boasts storefronts. Lululemon offers these ambassadors clothing and merchandise as payment for teaching fitness and yoga classes in their storefronts.
Because of this partner program, Lululemon is able to plug into hundreds of local fitness communities to not only retain current customers, but also gain prospective customers through hosting free fitness classes and in-store events.
Lululemon has also partnered with external companies like STRAVA to engage new customers who may have similar interests. In the past, STRAVA and Lululemon sent out an initiative to their respective communities where runners were gifted a complementary top and bottom from Lululemon if they completed a certain number of miles in a specified number of weeks recorded on STRAVA.
Create Your Own Community
While working toward customer retention and loyalty can be a challenge, the potential benefits of community building are necessary when growing your brand. As many other online brands have discovered, the rewards for building and engaging with a customer community often far outweigh the effort.
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