The concept of community isn’t new, but the way brands can leverage it has changed dramatically over the last decade. Previously based on geographical location alone, countless communities now exist and operate online. With 80% of consumers more likely to try friends’ social media recommendations, online communities have developed the potential to make or break a business. So, what is the best way for brands to engage with online communities in a meaningful way? 

Modern strategy

Traditional marketing methods have proved to be ineffective in today’s digital economy. In fact, only 1% of millennials feel that a compelling advertisement would influence them to trust a brand. And if you are looking more broadly across all demographics, only 14% believe what brands say. As a result, brands need to rethink the way they interact with their audiences. 

So what makes a consumer choose a brand like TopShop over a similarly priced fashion retailer like H&M? It ultimately boils down to a brand’s reputation – this is their USP, what makes them stand out. The deciding factor for a potential customer to choose between two shops is often based on loyalty and the notion that they are buying into something bigger than the brand. 

Experience will define the brand

Consumers don’t make purchasing decisions solely based on the product or service offered, so to engage with them effectively, a brand needs to demonstrate that they are more than just what they sell. And when taking into consideration that 79% of consumers consider brand reputation to be integral to their purchasing decisions – it’s undeniable that a brand’s fate lies, not what they sell, but in what they stand for. 

For consumers, the difference between shopping experiences at two similar highstreet retailers has very little to do with their outward appearances. A differentiating factor could be something as small as a prompt customer service response on Twitter. Consumers are very in tune with brand offerings and expect consistent experiences – from highstreet, to online store, to mobile apps – they take note of brands that are tuned in to social communities.     

Get connected

Another way to engage audiences is by making them feel part of the brand, rather than just another customer. When consumers feel a sense of belonging to a certain brand, they are more likely to remain loyal and advocate for them on social media.

With the information overload that customers face today, their attention span for a product or a brand is very short and being generic in your communication just won’t cut it. The notion of “one size fits all” branding is no longer applicable. And that means brands need to tailor their approach to highly specific demographics. 

When cosmetics brand Sephora realised its audience was asking the same questions about make-up on its Facebook page over and over again, the company created a dedicated forum for customers to debate and reference archived conversations. By investing time and creating a personalised approach, a business can demonstrate its value to target audiences. To put it simply, customers that feel special and connected to a brand will pay them back with trust, loyalty and finally, higher customer life time value.

It’s not enough to simply sell products anymore, brands need to embody their customers and become a social extension of their lives. By engaging with customers, and seeking to genuinely understand their likes, wants, and ideals, you’ll be more likely to have a customer for life.