Loyalty in community: How customer communities drive long-term loyalty
POSTED : March 8, 2021
BY : Lindsey Trimmer

Brand-offered communities have become a staple in the tech world, something most companies take for granted. In their most basic form, consumer tech communities act as a support hub, answering basic customer questions and concerns by crowd-sourcing expertise from brand aficionados. Being basic just doesn’t cut it anymore; companies throughout the consumer technology industry are realizing the potential of customer communities and are using them to strengthen the bonds between customers and brands.

Brands like FitBit, Apple, and Sony depend on digitally-enabled, brand-offered customer communities to be more than just support. They need to drive connection and engagement that their consumers cannot access elsewhere. For that reason, brand-offered communities are quickly becoming a long-term loyalty play by adding exclusive value to the customer experience. Through habitual engagement with brands and acting as a personalization engine, these communities create an aura of belonging and social connection in what can otherwise be a very transactional brand ethos.

Add exclusive value to the customer experience

Fitbit, a wearable-based fitness company, has a vibrant user community that provides over 1 million community members value through forums and groups based on product type, product feature, platform, and health and wellness. For companies like Fitbit, where the purchase cycle is elongated and members are unlikely to own more than one product at a time, the community also allows the brand to interact with their customer base and provide them value outside of transactions. The Fitbit community provides members an exclusive experience through community-only events, developer opportunities, and a community council for its members. For those who want more from the Fitbit experience, Fitbit also offers Fitbit premium, a subscription that provides members even more opportunities to connect with Fitbit, other Fitbit members, and personalized coaching as part of customers’ fitness journey.

Many consumer technology companies face a similar challenge to Fitbit, where elongated purchase cycles limit customers’ transactional interactions with a brand. However, customer communities allow brands to interact with their customer base outside of the purchase cycle, providing customers a value-added experience that cannot be achieved through other interactions with the brand. Brand-offered communities can provide customers with access to exclusive information and content, intentional opportunities to connect with other customers and the brand, as well as enhanced support to optimize product use. For technology products with long purchase cycles, this low-barrier engagement is extremely valuable, maintaining the customer-brand connection even for those customers who won’t be making a purchase any time soon.

Drive engagement/habits

Communities can also drive more frequent customer interactions with brands, driving habitual engagement. Apple Support Communities incentivize member interactions like reading existing tips, starting discussions, interacting with other customers, allowing customers to gain community status and benefits from those engagements. To reinforce engagement, Apple Community members receive points for these interactions, unlocking additional perks and advanced parts of the Apple Support Community. These members are also identified through different awards and badges displayed on their profile, providing them status and recognition within the Apple Community.

Using traditional loyalty strategies to drive community engagement is not unique to Apple Support Communities. Like Apple, many brand-offered customer communities use traditional loyalty features like points, status, and benefits to drive interactions within their community, incentivizing long-term connections and engagement. Brands use loyalty tactics like point earn, status recognition, and special benefits to incentivize engagements with their brand. These incentives for interaction help to drive habitual engagement with a brand, creating engagement opportunities and keeping the brand top of mind for customers.

Personalization

Brand-offered communities allow brands to learn more about their customers from first-hand experience. Communities are not only an epicenter for customer data feedback and microcosms of customer research but also a tool for brands to learn more through customer data collection. The Sonos Community captures additional customer information not gathered through customer account signs ups. This information includes basic member information like gender, location, and products owned, but also more detailed information like voice and streaming services used and music preferences. Using this information gathered through the Sonos Community, Sonos can deliver more personalized experiences for their community members and member base as a whole. For example, Sonos could recommend upcoming streaming or local music events from their customers’ favorite artists.

By tracking customer engagements in brand communities, brands can discover trends in customer support issues, identify opportunities to enhance products and engagements, and test new products. Brands can also learn more about their customers and community members through community accounts, prompting members to provide additional information about themselves and how they interact with products. The key to asking for more information from customers is to ensure that the process of gathering information has to come with value for the customers. As brands gather additional information about their customer base through their communities, they have more opportunities for personalization.

Three tips for building a brand-offered community

Consumer technology customer communities rely on various levers to drive engagement and long-term community success and provide brands opportunities to add additional value, create habitual engagement and drive personalization. So, how should you go about building a brand-offered community?

  1. Create the community for your customers first and the brand second. Customer engagement in brand-offered communities is not a given. Customers will not engage with a community if it does not provide them the additional value that they see as a benefit and speaks to their needs. This means that when building a brand community, the customer must come first. Build a brand community that values the impact on customers and the business outcomes will come.
  2. Use research to better tailor the community experience to the customer. To put the customer first, brands need to understand the needs of the customers themselves. Research is key to identifying most important to your customers, what key issues they face when using their product or how they want to engage with other users, and build your community based on what you hear, not what you believe your customers want or need. Identify what top questions are asked of customer service, survey customers to see what they’re most interested in, and provide value and engagement opportunities that align with your unique customers.
  3. Expand your brand reach through third-party communities. Brands don’t necessarily need to own their customer communities to drive customer or business benefit, and in some cases, customers create their own communities outside of the brand’s four walls. Lean into these communities and find creative ways to engage and grow these member bases and drive customer engagement on third-party sites like social media, YouTube, and forums. For example, GoPro’s member community not only offers a robust set of engagement opportunities, including product support, a creator consortium, and a customer blog on GoPro’s owned customer community website, but the GoPro community also expands to other sites as well. GoPro has over 2.1 million followers on Twitter, 17.5 million followers on Instagram, 10.8 million followers on Facebook, and 9.88 million subscribers on YouTube. In addition to the brand content shared by GoPro, GoPro users post over 6,000 tagged YouTube videos a day, creating a robust community of GoPro creators across platforms.

Brand-offered communities are a unique way to interact with customers throughout their customer lifecycle, even when they are not making purchases with a brand. These communities offer many opportunities to build brand loyalty through providing exclusive value to members, driving habitual engagements, and offering personalized experiences that speak to customers’ wants and needs.

Learn how to design customer experiences that drive buying decisions and customer loyalty.


About the Authors

Lindsey TrimmerLindsey Trimmer is a senior strategy consultant at PK focused on loyalty strategy and customer experience. With a background in loyalty marketing and subscription models, she is passionate about delivering customer-first experiences rooted in deep customer understanding. Lindsey has worked with PK clients to design and launch membership programs in the United States and internationally.

Brooke BorsBrooke Bors serves as Engagement Manager at PK. She has dedicated her 15+ year career to advocating for customers and building the infrastructure, tools, and strategies to help worldwide firms better connect with and serve those customers. She’s led global teams inside customer success and advocacy organizations, facilitated executive workshops and planning meetings, and built customer advocacy and feedback programs from scratch. At PK, she works with some of the world’s most customer-obsessed technology brands to build durable, differentiated customer strategies and programs.

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