As the poet John Donne said, “No man is an island.” Even the most anti-social among us occasionally feels the desire to connect to others. Humans just have a natural inclination toward community. Likewise, invested consumers naturally gravitate toward the communities of their favorite brands. But why?
Some seek community to feel understood and accepted; if a company does its job in building brand love, its community provides a forum for like-minded customers to bond over their shared interests and lifestyles.
Others do it to find safety in numbers; when something goes wrong, the voice of thousands of unsatisfied customers is much louder than a lone malcontent.
And don’t forget the “it takes a village” mentality; the community can provide a consumer with valuable guidance and validation in crucial decision-making. After all, most people don’t trust advertising or marketing nearly as much as they trust the opinions of their peers.
We know that the best brand communities use these very human emotions to get people to participate and communicate, which (hopefully) leads to lifelong connections, lots of conversions, and bonus exposure for the brand. But that’s only half of the story.
In our last post, we discussed the internal community formed by your company’s employees, and the benefits of their passion and enthusiasm. But your internal community isn’t just your staff — it’s the aforementioned impassioned customers, too.
In truth, your internal community includes everyone that is connecting around your brand and its vision. Whether on your payroll or not, these folks support you, and will go to bat for you if need be.
But relying solely on your internal community for brand building is kind of like dating solely within your group of friends. Sure, the built-in trust and familiarity can lead to a beautiful, low-maintenance relationship, but there are lots more fish in the sea. Sometimes going on Tinder dates can be more exciting, eye opening, and ultimately rewarding than having a friend-with-benefits.
Similarly, it’s important to also explore external communities in order to gain perspective and grow your large-scale appeal.
An external community draws people in on the promise of a common interest that ISN’T your brand. Ideally, it’s only tangentially related to your brand.
A monthly sponsored happy hour at the local watering hole
A family-friendly street fair in your business’s hometown
A charity fundraiser for a worthy cause
Just as internal communities create emotional benefits to attract members, external communities also aim to tug at the heartstrings.
Perhaps attendees of your happy hour are enamored with your hospitality (and the generous drink specials) and they form positive emotional associations between your brand and “fun”.
Maybe families at your street fair see how much their little ones are enjoying the kid-safe activities, and they begin to associate your brand with “trust.”
And FYI, a recent Nielson survey found that 55% of surveyed customers are willing to pay more for products from cause-supporting brands — so it would be safe to assume your fundraiser would help connect your brand to the ideas of “compassion” and “responsibility” in the hearts and minds of your new friends.
Eventually, these freshly recruited fans may cross over from the external community into the internal community. This is the best possible outcome.
Because their introductions to your brand happened in “real life” rather than in “consumer life,” the emotional associations they’ve made feel more genuine, and will likely last much longer. It’s akin to a relationship with a great origin story.
Admit it — ‘We met in the crowd while seeing our favorite band’ is somewhat more romantic than, ‘We were friends in high school.’ While both can lead to great things, a storybook beginning will set the tone for the entire relationship.
It may be time for your brand to explore new ways to make those impactful, genuine introductions that build external communities, so you can bring even more brand lifers on board.
Follow this advice, and you may soon be ready to identify your Brand Ambassadors. We’ll be talking about that — and much more — in our next installment.
In his classic self-help book n his classic self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie lays out his multi-part system for getting people to like you, getting people to agree with your ideas, and getting people to follow your leadership. Surprisingly, it’s not that complicated. The entire 300-page book can be boiled down, roughly, to three simple (and, honestly, kind of obvious) guidelines.
Empathize with people, recognize their accomplishments, and make them feel valued.
Don’t make it all about you.
You could apply this wisdom to almost any social or professional exchange. Most people do it without even realizing they do it. But when it comes to their customers, some brands forget to follow these rules. Granted, some brands don’t need to. In fact, some brands would consider it bad for business. Comcast, for example, is totally fine with being decidedly uncool and treating its customers poorly, all while making it entirely about Comcast. They are repeatedly voted to the top of Worst Company lists, they do nothing to change public opinion, and yet they continue to prosper. But that’s the exception to the rule.
Your brand isn’t Comcast (thank goodness). Your brand understands that its customers can be its greatest asset. Your brand knows that — if you apply some of the TLC that Mr. Carnegie highlighted when his book was published way back in 1937 — regular customers can be converted into mighty brand ambassadors.
A Brand Huh?
A brand ambassador is a customer or user from your community that has agreed to take action in order to contribute to your brand’s prosperity. They do this partly because of the brand love you’ve helped stir within them, but also because you have agreed to reward them in some way. The specifics vary from brand to brand, but many huge companies have activated brand ambassadors with great success.
Hootsuite launched its “Hootup” program, encouraging users to organize free events for fellow social media enthusiasts, where they’d learn about best practices for Hootsuite and the various social media channels that plug into it. The reward? More visibility and leadership opportunities in members’ local communities, and a chance to do some networking with folks in your field. It’s not the most enticing benefit, but it worked because Hootsuite got out of the way, and made the event about its users. They also made users feel important, by handing them the reins in planning the Hootups.
Whiskey label Maker’s Mark recruited its ambassadors to spread the word about its product to bar owners and patrons, as well as friends, family, and coworkers. How did they turn Maker’s Mark fans into walking advertisements? They offered entry into an exclusive online fan club called The Embassy, where members received their own business cards along with a variety of great perks; their names engraved on a whiskey barrel, invites to VIP tastings, free swag, and tons more. Again, the brand strengthened the trust and loyalty of scores of customers by making them feel like equal partners. They also offered some generous rewards to make their ambassadors’ work feel worthwhile.
Winning Over the Skeptics
Once your ambassador program is in full swing, you’ll likely have a large group of customers that are on the fence about getting involved. This group could be all yours — all you need to do is get out of the way, and let your ambassadors do the talking.
Give existing ambassadors a forum to share their stories. Let them explain why the ambassador program is a win for fans of the brand. Let them point out reasons why it’s worth their valuable time. And let them give a glimpse at the cool perks they’ll have access to. Remember: 43% of consumers are more likely to try a new product when learning about it on social media, and 77% are more likely to try a new product when learning about it from friends or family. Thanks to that nifty evolutionary skill known as “mirroring,” we humans feel much more at ease with a choice when we see our peers making that choice too. When they see their fellow fans acting as ambassadors and endorsing your program, they’ll hop off the fence and join the party.
Converting the Naysayers
Under every bridge there inevitably lurks a few trolls. No matter how much good you think your brand is doing through your community outreach and ambassador program, there will always be naysayers — people who seem dead set on dissing your brand. How do you get rid of them? You don’t. You convert them.
The key to changing the hearts and minds of the haters is to get to know them. Reach out to these malcontents on Twitter, Facebook, or even over the phone (if they’re amenable to it). Break the ice by showing them the actual humans behind the brand. Find common ground between you and them. Listen to their complaints — really listen, and refrain from arguing when they voice their grievances. That display of respect and understanding can go a long way in turning detractors into evangelists. It may not always work how you want it to, but it’s nearly guaranteed to extinguish some of their ill feelings toward your brand.
Making It WORK
Even though your brand ambassador initiatives are not about you, realistically the program must offer some measurable business benefits in order to get your stakeholders to sign off. Luckily, there are lots of pluses to highlight. Hootsuite, for example, gained entry into new markets and spread its product far beyond is original North American base thanks to its Hootups, according to its CEO Ryan Holmes. He also points out that the company’s user base grew from zero to 5 million people in its first three years without a marketing budget — thanks in large part to its brand ambassadors. And it isn’t an isolated case; a recent study concluded that live branded experiences drive 65% of people to recommend a brand to others, and 59% to shop a brand in the future. The takeaway is that brand ambassadors can help you do a whole lot with very little resources (which is music to stakeholders’ ears).
Above All, Be Cool
Your brand ambassador initiative could be a meet-up program, an exclusive club, or something completely unique — the specifics depend on your brand identity, your business needs, and the desires of your community. But as long as you begin with a desire to recognize your most passionate advocates and make them feel like equal partners, you’re already on your way to success.
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” — William Shakespeare
“Love is all you need.” — The Beatles
“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.” — Haddaway
Today we’re going to talk about love — the most splendid/confounding/infuriating of human emotions. Don’t worry; we’re not turning this blog into an advice column. We’re going to discuss a very special kind of love: the kind that exists between a brand and its consumers.
Can a person truly “love” a brand? Of course! Granted, no one is going to pick a trip to McDonalds over their child’s birthday party (at least we hope not), but certain brands can inspire feelings of loyalty, comfort, and even intimacy — emotions most would recognize as hallmarks of a loving relationship.
Think about the feelings some people have about brands like Apple, Sephora, Drybar, or SoulCycle. Each of these inspires its customers to be more than just consumers of products — they are part of a lifestyle. You could precede each brand name with the phrase “The cult of…” and you’d be accurately describing a real movement, in which members enjoy a shared sense of identity and passion for the brand. So all you need to do is to emulate one of those companies, and it’ll be love at first sight, right? If only it were that simple…
The Ritual of Brand Love
Much like building relationships in the real world, establishing brand love is a gradual process with its own rituals. Think of it like dating. First, you do some primping on your own so you can look and feel your best. This is your basic surface branding work — the look of your site, the voice of your editorial content, etc. When you catch the eye of a potential partner, their first instinct should be, “Oooh, this is a possibility.” But appearances aren’t everything. You’ve got to show them you’re more than just a pretty face.
This is where you must put your best mental and emotional foot forward. Through community-building interactions, you strike up conversations, being extra careful not to make it all about you. You find common ground. Your interactions become more flirtatious. Soon you’ve won them over. Lucky you! But remember, we’re talking about LOVE — not a one night stand. It’s not enough to get customers to pick you. They need to keep picking you (and only you) time and time again.
The Recipe For Long-Term Love
The biggest brand love success stories have been forged over years and, in some cases, decades. To create the perfect recipe for turning casual customers into true brand champions, all the ingredients must come together. Sometimes, it begins with a need (“I need to get in shape”), progresses to a realization of value (“SoulCycle looks more fun than the gym”), is fueled by the discovery of a unique experience (“The energy here keeps me coming back!”), and culminates with a sense of belonging (“I love my SoulCycle family”).
Other times, the brand delights by over-delivering for its customers (“Wow, my Amazon delivery arrived in less than 24 hours!”). Occasionally, the brand itself drives demand (“I’m always the first person in line when new Apple products launch”). In other cases, more personal feelings may play a role.
Airbnb does a great job of this; by bringing together hosts and travelers from all over the world, they tap into very human touch points like culture, belonging, friendship, exploration, comfort, and personal space. These feelings are built into every positive Airbnb exchange in some form, so an emotional experience (and an accompanying warm-and-fuzzy feeling for the brand) is almost guaranteed. They differentiate themselves from their competitors by providing a unique experience that builds authenticity and consistency — two more crucial factors in the courting of potential brand lovers.
But just as love can lift us up where we belong, it can also become a wicked game. When ClassPass recently hiked up their rates, their otherwise adoring community was outraged. “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken!?” they seemed to say. Whether or not ClassPass recovers from this perceived betrayal all depends on how carefully they handle the backlash, and how thoroughly they make make amends to their community. After all, brand love means always having to say you’re sorry.
Just like in the real world, every single relationship is different. But there must actually be a relationship. Making deep connections earns brands the advocacy, trust, and loyalty they need to keep customers for life.
Does all this talk of emotions and connections leave you feeling a little lovesick? Fear not — in our next installment of this series, we’ll discuss the first practical step towards brand love. We won’t give the clichéd advice that every awkward teen gets: “Just be yourself!” Instead we’ll say, “Just love yourself!” — because, as you’ll soon learn, brand love begins from within.
In our first post in this series, we learned the basics of Brand Love—why it’s important, what it looks like, and how some notable brands came to acquire it. Now, as we ride this vessel deeper into the Tunnel ‘O Brand Love, we must begin to look within. In actual, person-to-person relationships, self-love is one of the most important cornerstones of a healthy partnership. If you’re not confident with who you are inside, it doesn’t matter if your significant other is a perfect glowing angel from on high—the whole operation stands on shaky ground. A lack of self-love can lead to obsession, mistrust, jealousy, power struggles, and sundry other toxic byproducts. On the other hand, a relationship based on trust and respect, where all parties are comfortable with their contributions and confident in a shared future…well that’s just beautiful! (more…)
Okay, this is it. The final installment of our Community series, in which we will wrap up by covering every other aspect of community management and tying it all up with a pretty pink bow.
Well, not exactly. In fact, we have only scratched the surface of community management and what it can do for your organization. But if you’re at all intrigued by the idea (and you should be, by now), then these posts can serve as a primer for your first steps into this incredible 24-hour people-powered party centered on your brand.
If you’ve been following our previous installments in this series, you’ve learned about the power and potential of community. Now it’s time to put those learnings into practice.
First, you must make a plan. If you’re going to submit a solid case for building out a community for your brand, you need to know what success looks like, how to quantify it, and how to demonstrate it to stakeholders. Strap on your thinking caps, folks. We’re about to get analytical.
In our last post, we learned that it takes more than a social media account to build a devoted community that will go to bat for your brand. But why go through all the trouble? Because focusing on brand community won’t just give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It will generate significant, measurable revenue benefits. In this installment, we’ll identify three common marketing goals, explain why community is essential to achieving them, and provide tips on how to get there.
Happy Birthday, reader! Oh, it’s not your birthday? That’s okay. Just for fun, let’s pretend that it is. And on this momentous day, you want to spend time basking in the love of your friends and family. You want a party. But it’s no fun throwing your own birthday party, right? Ideally, you want your loved ones to remember your birthday, and care enough about you to confer and collaborate in the planning of your celebration. The process should feel organic, and (in this perfect world) you shouldn’t have to contrive any component of it.