Nearly 100% of Gen Zs own a smartphone. 90% of Millennials actively use two to three devices a day. Well over half of people in these generations use the internet and social media to learn about products, interact with brands, and even influence the buying decisions of others. Easy mobile internet access has made it more convenient than ever to stay connected, with almost half of these generations’ members are connected for +10 hours a day or more. The digital age has taken hold of America’s future consumers.
Savvy brands have capitalized on this behavior by leveraging the most highly engaged members of their digital communities—people who are willing to interact with others and participate more personally with the brand’s wider community. Through their online forums, these businesses are able to foster the sharing of ideas and experiences, as well as encourage real users to share product feedback. By doing so, they’re able to transform passionate consumers into online brand advocates.
Sephora established their Beauty Talk and Beauty Board in order to do just this. Loyal member make-up lovers can participate in their forum to ask and answer questions, share ideas, and post pictures of themselves wearing Sephora products with purchasing links. Nielsen data reveals that 92% of consumers trust “real” peer recommendations over brand endorsements, even if they don’t personally know them. Sephora has successfully turned brand community members into authentic ambassadors who effectively sell the products for them, without corporate interference. Similarly, Xbox is also leveraging ambassadors to interact with the wider Xbox member community. These devotees qualify by attaining a certain Gamescore and having an active Xbox and Live Gold membership. Rewarded by merchandise, and other perks, these passionate users support the brand by hosting forums and shows, creating YouTube videos, and providing feedback, experiences that allow them to engage and connect with Xbox and each other. Building a productive community presumes that the brand also identifies with the values their customers collectively value.
By creating brand communities, companies can leverage free or low-cost brand ambassadors, credibility and social proof through other consumers, valuable insight on new products and services, and heightened engagement to drive greater customer retention and loyalty. The authenticity of the member community is one of the most important aspects of this strategy. Today’s consumers are savvier than ever, and they understand and can recognize the difference between cheap marketing tactics and true authenticity. Over 86% of consumers think authenticity is an important motivating factor when deciding which brands to support.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of brand communities is that it breaks the “us vs. them” or “brand vs. consumer” mentality and stigma that often accompanies “corporate” advertising. Instead, companies are creating human to human connections. One can imagine a potential customer’s thought process: “If this product works for other people who like and want what I like and want, it must be good and it will work for me too.”
A brand community must exemplify the characteristics that the brand wants to promote and proves that it embodies them, demonstrating this all-important authenticity while connecting the brand to its ideal consumers. By creating a community that does just that, businesses will drive long-lasting growth and build a loyal fan base.