Why an active brand community is key to customer loyalty
Human beings need community. It is a need that goes beyond our social behaviors in our purchasing decisions – almost a quarter of consumers identify a strong sense of community as the main driver of loyalty to their favorite brands.
While investments in loyalty programs demonstrate that many brands recognize the value of community, building community through a single channel is impossible. Instead, brands need to nurture a sense of community across multiple channels and provide relevant experiences both digitally and in person.
Community is not created by accident. Although every brand is unique, the process of building brand community is one that can be studied and replicated. By taking a closer look at thriving brand communities, retailers can learn how to grow their own communities that drive loyalty and a better customer experience.
What thriving brand communities look like
Consumers do not make purchasing decisions based solely on convenience. They want to understand your brand values, feel understood, and create an emotional connection that transcends dollars and cents. If you are able to forge this kind of relationship, you can turn a regular customer into a brand evangelist who will sing your praises to friends and family.
The two main activities consumers enjoy to build community with a brand are join online groups (34%) and attend in-person events (32%). This statistic makes it clear that the community is not unique. You need to deliver offers to both digital consumers and experience-based consumers. Here’s how several well-known brands have diversified their offerings and built communities specific to their missions:
- Gymshark: value-based offers
Gymshark is one of the fastest growing fitness apparel brands in the world, in part because of how varied it is in its community building efforts. Online, Gymshark’s blog content provides value to its audience in the form of fitness tips and athlete profiles, with a focus on self-improvement and not just selling. The brand is also associated with Whitney Simmons and other fitness influencers who align with Gymshark values to promote new product launches.
Gymshark wants its audience to lead active lives. He proves it by taking in-person pop-up events across the UK, where its audience can train alongside Gymshark influencers and trainers.
To follow in Gymshark’s footsteps, consider how each of your offerings naturally leads to the next. Each Gymshark offer is a different manifestation of the brand’s values, described in its slogan: We are Gymshark. We exist to unite conditioning community.
- Starbucks: Live Your Values
If you ask five people to name a company with a loyal following, chances are one of the brands they name is Starbucks. The global coffeehouse chain has built a thriving community through top-notch customer service, investments in social justice initiatives and a successful loyalty program.
Starbucks is also a master at leveraging user-generated content with promotions like its #redcupcontest, which encourages customers to use Starbucks cups as their own personal canvases. These enticing kickbacks drive Starbucks’ online following and build brand advocates who connect with their products. Starbucks understands that for a community to thrive, its members must be enthusiastic about growing it themselves.
Starbucks also places as much emphasis on its social justice efforts and the well-being of its employees as it does on connecting with its audience. One example is Starbucks’ investment in empowering women in coffee, tea and cocoa growing communities around the world. The brand has distributed more than 40 scholarships to advocate for women’s leadership, economic opportunity and improved sanitation in 17 countries. After reaching its goal of helping 250,000 women and girls, Starbucks has set a new goal of one million by 2030.
The lesson here is that community is not a one-way street. Your brand needs to embody its values behind the scenes before you can effectively communicate your values to your audience.
- lululemon: creating a community hub
Regardless of your brand’s niche, fostering a welcoming environment is key to growing your community. Athleisure brand lululemon has perfected this ethos by offering new customers free yoga classes to try out its selection of leggings and tank tops.
Like Gymshark, lululemon also emphasizes the in-person experience. In 2019, the brand announced its intention to convert 10% of its pitches in experiential stores, including its 20,000 square foot location in Chicago. This location includes a store, two workout studios, a meditation studio, and a restaurant on the second floor. Physical community is cultivated at lululemon’s experiential stores through concerts, workout series, and other special events.
The brand also connects its audience through its premium loyalty pilot program, where members not only get free shipping and products, but also access to exclusive classes to connect with other members.
Community hubs attract Lululemon’s most dedicated supporters. But it’s important to recognize that customers who visit experiential hubs have varying levels of engagement. For example, lululemon communicates differently with a customer who shows up every week for Wellness Wednesdays only to a buyer who bought a single pair of leggings. Understanding your audience allows you to develop relevant experiences that get to the root of what they really want.
Building a loyal and enduring community
Consumers want loyalty programs, online content, and face-to-face experiences that engage and connect. More broadly, your community should be founded on a desire to truly connect with your audience. By learning from successful brand communities and applying their practices to your own organization, you can attract consumers who are committed to your brand’s mission, not just your product, to build lasting loyalty.
Tom Caporaso is the CEO of Clarus Commerce, a leading provider of end-to-end customizable loyalty solutions. He has worked in loyalty and subscription for over 25 years, enabling brands to build better relationships with their best customers over the long term. A recognized thought leader in retail and loyalty, Caporaso has been quoted in national publications such as CNBC, Reuters and US News & World Report. In addition to his loyalty expertise, Caporaso has also received a 2020 Leadership Award from the Hartford Courant and has helped Clarus Commerce win the Connecticut Top Workplaces award every year since 2013.