Hey small business owner, startup founder, early-stage marketer, what do you think could be the best way to sell your product or your service and boost your sales?
The answer is…. by getting your customers to sell for you.
In order to do that, you need to build a community around your brand that will support you, give you feedback, and can become advocates.
To make this article lighter and fun, think of yourself as a startup celebrity— First off, before becoming famous and successful in your industry, you must build your fanbase first who will talk about you, cheer for you, and buy your brand.
Yes, I’m talking about building your diehard fans!
First of all, what is a brand community?
It refers to a community that formed on the basis of attachment to a product or brand and built upon shared values, common interest, and connections.
Whether you’re building a small business from scratch, or you’re working to grow an existing one, building a brand community will not only drive greater
But, building it is not a piece of cake.
Building brand communities a considerable investment in time, and complete commitment to stand a chance.
Think of it this way: your favorite celebrity didn’t become famous after a single tv appearance. It took time and effort. That’s also the case for businesses building brand communities.
There’s a lot of effort involved in building a community around your brand, and it’s not just about creating content or being on social media just because everyone else is doing it. When you’re strategic about community building, it forces you to identify goals and put a solid purpose behind your efforts.
If you’re committed to know more about building a community around your brand as a small business, you better keep reading.
In this article, we’ll dive deeply into 4 steps in building your brand community:
- Customer development
- Use initial customer interviews to build community champions
- Seek insights from proactive and motivated people
- Create online space and forums
- Laser focus on a niche segment or brand audience
- Invite customers to share their content
- Educate and empower future customers
- Find future customers with shared experiences
- Create foundational content
- Listen to your audience
- Show your knowledge and expertise
- Cherish all relationships and foster growth.
- Be more personal
- Acknowledge and show appreciation
- Give your loyal customers valuable rewards
Step 1: Customer Development
Many small businesses today tend to commit the worst mistake in building their brand– they create their product based on their assumptions, guesses, and fantasies.
It shouldn’t be the case at all!
Customer Development is basically a simple methodology and a process for getting out of the building and talking to potential customers, the market — before you start building anything.
You should go outside where the facts are.
This will save you a lot of time and resources, a lot of sweat and tears, on building the wrong things for the wrong people.
Just think about the
The thing is.. Sony understands and listens to the gamers’ feedback— What do they want, what improvements should be done, and what do they look forward before launching another game for them. (Again, all about the fans!)
Same goes if you are about to launch a product in your small business, get them involved in the process. Know first-hand issues and find a way to resolve them. To do this, understand first the market and ask these questions:
- Is this a problem?
- Is this the solution?
- Can we sell this solution?
- Can we repeat selling the solution?
- Can we scale our business?
If your answers to these questions are juicy yeses, it could be a good start! But let’s take a minute to find out if we should actually build it first.
Provide a test version of your product and seek validation from them.
In this way, you are trying to find out if your hypothetical solution will solve their actual problem; if they actually feel and recognize the problem or need.
Yes, that’s right. Listen to their sentiments and figure out if there is a need in the market before building anything.
Also ask yourself: are these types of people (customer segments) that you believe have the problem and need? Have they been actively seeking a solution to the problem or need today or in the past? If the answers are also yes to these questions, you might have found the right customer segment for you to address — your future brand community.
Furthermore, after the customer discovery phase and actually finding confirmation of the real problem, this is the time where you have to develop your product together with your solution, and again, validate your product or service with test users.
Never forget to do your own research.
Once you have a clear idea of the community you want to build, it’s important to do extensive research to find similar, existing communities. Learn about these groups and see how they engage with their members. Maybe even join a few and take note of things that you like and dislike. Pay attention to the content that’s shared and how they operate.
The answers to all of these questions will help get to the root of what you’re working so hard for in the first place. From there, you can determine what you really want to do with your brand community. Then you can identify the goals you’d like to work toward.
To bring Customer Development a step further, here’s a visual breakdown of the Customer Development Process from Steve Blank.
By knowing your potential customers’ needs, their frustrations, and their desires, you are also minimizing the risk of failure in your small business. In this way of getting them personally involved, your future customers will become invested in the process. Thus, you’re already building your community around your brand.
Step 2: Use customer interviews to build community champions
It’s easy to forget that the world doesn’t revolve around your business– particularly when you’re working so hard to build your brand, develop your product or service, build your team, establish distribution channels, and every other hurdle you face as a founder or business owner. The fact is, though, you don’t have to do all the work.
Invite your potential customers on your journey
Integrate customers into the product development process to get them invested in your product.
Again, I’m talking about your diehard fans who can keep your business thriving. These are the types of people who will tell their friends, “Look at this awesome new product!” or “You really have to try this product”.
Before you successfully build your community around your brand, you should first build relationships with your potential and future customers.
At this point, I know you already have people in mind. They may be friends, family, or people you know struggling with the problem your product or service was built to solve.
Whether you meet them one-by-one in a coffee shop and have a meaningful conversation in finding a way to circumvent their problems through your product, or you invite a
Invite your customers to come along for the ride. This will provide purpose to the content you create and share. You’ll share the inner workings of your brand — your brand’s perspective and purpose.
To dig deeper into building your community champions, you can consider these strategies:
Seek insights from proactive and motivated people
I’m not talking about your ADHD friends here (well, maybe… but not specifically).
Invite proactive and motivated people to meet and talk with you about your product or service. These are people who can provide valuable feedback and can become a huge part of your community.
These people tend to be those attempting virtually everything under the sun to solve the problem your business aims to solve.
You can often find these people in specific subreddits, Quora, or another forum-type platform looking for and sharing hacks or solutions. The subreddit or Quora thread can be your initial access point. Piggyback off that community and provide them with value.
If these people feel like they are on the frontline of the product development process, they could also turn into your loyal audience who will advocate for your business.
Think about all the crazy fans you know. They’ll stick with their team through thick and thin. They feel a sense of community and pride in having been loyal through the process.
You want this for your business.
More importantly, you NEED this for your business.
Beyond fanatical loyalty, you also stand to gain from their unique and often creative insights. Some of these potential fans have thought, talked, blogged, and hacked their way through these problems and likely have a treasure trove of hard-earned knowledge you should do anything to get from them.
Embracing the knowledge from these people is going to push you to be more creative, innovative, and agile. It’s going to open up opportunities that you didn’t even realize existed. But that won’t happen if you don’t dedicate the time to it on a consistent basis.
Create online spaces and forums
Give your diehard fans something to talk about and a platform where they can talk about it (hello, social media). Get them rolling, keep them engaged!
Private Facebook groups, Slack channels, LinkedIn groups, Telegram groups, or any other place you can create private channels where people can feel apart of a community should work fine for this.
As people in the community
Make sure you’re monitoring the conversations in your community. If messages go unanswered or requests go ignored, you will lose members. Strive to reply quickly to comments and don’t shy away from reaching out to members using direct messaging, emails or even text messages.
Moreover, bring the online community offline. Incorporate face-to-face events and gatherings so your online community can meet each other in real life. It makes people excited, gives them something to look forward to and helps your community build bonds. Be sure to be part of it. (Yes, your meet-and-greet with the fans!)
The closer you are, the stronger their bond will be with your product, and the more likely they are to share your product with everyone they know.
Laser focus on a niche segment of your brand audience
Starbucks reaches out to coffee lovers; Apple engages with tech lovers; LinkedIn engages with social professionals. Do you get what I mean?
Focus on interacting with highly-engaged individuals who can become brand advocates. Interact with people who are giving sincere and earnest reviews of the products they enjoy.
When done right, you can generate ridiculously strong brand community engagement by being focused and targeted in your actions. Tackle a specific niche audience, with a specific need, on a specific channel, in a specific way.
This should lead to a mutually beneficial community experience and based for you to grow your brand community.
Invite customers to share their content
Communities revolve around sharing — sharing photos, videos and experiences — so you’ll want to encourage that in the communities you create for your customers.
When your audience (or your fans) feel part of something, they will be naturally incentivized to share their own content and imagery that focuses upon your products and your brand. These strategies work because they offer openness and transparency. When you make great products, people take ownership and pride from that ownership.
As an added bonus, if you’re lucky, you might find your community functions as your help center. When something breaks or someone needs advice, your community can save the day.
The best communities are ones where customers want to connect and interact. They’re there because they want to be there. Your fans support and cheer for you because you give them something that they like, and your goal is, simply, to hold space for them.
Encouraging engagement, communication, and sharing— this is how you make your community CHAMPIONS!
Step 3: Educate and empower future customers
Creating engaging content that educates and empowers future clients can be a valuable tool for any business, but it’s critical for service-based businesses.
You probably already know who your target market is. Maybe your target market consists of businesses with between $500k and $10M in annual revenue, less than 30 employees, without a CPA, attorney, or software developer on staff. Maybe it’s high-level athletes.
Either way, at some point, you’re going to want to produce content for your future customers that haven’t reached the level of maturity needed to fit into your target market. We’re talking about customers that aren’t ready for your product or services yet.
For example, we at MKTR.AI provide technical marketing and growth marketing services to small and mid-sized businesses. In order to build a relationship with our community, we provide content like this article, as well as customized roadmaps, free consultations, free advisory sessions, software advice, data reviews, introductions, and general aid to businesses. These actions build trust, loyalty, and strong word-of-mouth marketing for us.
Find future customers with shared experiences
We advise startups, e-commerce businesses, and small businesses from all over the place, but tend to focus on businesses that have a mission and vision which closely align with ours. This allows us to hone in on our target audience and future clients.
For example, we work with the incredibly diverse startups out of Founder’s Institute in Oakland. We do this because as a team of oddballs, we understand how hard it is to raise venture capital if you don’t look or sound like the investors.
We also work with military veteran entrepreneurs because our CEO, Mike Nemke, was a Green Beret in the US Army Special Forces before becoming a Data Scientist and startup founder.
We understand the plight of the teams coming from the less traditional path, and this has helped up build a thriving brand community, and consequently, a rapidly growing business.
So what does this mean for you?
It means you should find the future customers you can connect with in the most meaningful way. Look for people with shared experiences who also project into your target market. Be willing to provide value without expectation of immediate return, and stay in their corner. It will pay off in the long run, and it’s also incredibly rewarding to help businesses and people grow.
How do you create content that will help you build your brand community?
Create foundational content
We’re talking about foundational content like websites, articles, or pages that explain who you are and what can you do for them (establishing your brand). The problem with most foundational content is, let’s be honest, that it kind of sucks. It’s really focused on self-promotion instead of being geared toward the needs of their clients.
Listen to your audience
Take for example the Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea. The My Starbucks Idea works on the same principle as the old customer “suggestion box” for the global coffee chain’s 150,000+ members.
In the last six years, suggestions from My Starbucks Idea community members has led to the implementation of nearly 300 innovations – from digital tipping, peach green-tea lemonade, to the hugely popular ability to enjoy free Wi-Fi.
You see what I mean here?
Listen to them, get suggestions, and from there, you can effectively create more valuable content based on their desires. It’s also a great way to create the content and resources that will benefit others.
Note: If you have any suggestions for us, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Show your knowledge and expertise
Show your fans what you’ve got!
Educate your customers about the problem and agitate them with it. Use resources like videos, case studies, and infographics to provide an engaging and value-packed experience. Make your contentworth reading.
The purpose of creating engaging content is to help your potential customers understand your knowledge and expertise and indirectly promotes your brand, establishes trust and credibility, and helps foster relationships. Your secret goal is to capture these audiences without them realizing it.
If you effectively create content that actually educates and helps your clients, they’ll pass it around to their friends and come back later for more. OR… you’ll help them look good at work or in play. Either way, you’ll become indispensable to them and be well on your way to building a community around your brand.
Step 4: Cherish all relationships and foster growth
This is the part that never, ever ends.
Once you’ve managed to put people together to listen to you, give feedback, and advocate your brand, you have to cherish all these relationships. Building and fostering community is tantamount to building and growing your company. You’ve got to work at it. ALL. THE. TIME.
Start by building intimacy with your audience and become a useful guide for them. Sitting down with your client, listening, understanding their vision, and giving them a voice to bring that vision to life should be part of your business routine. In other words, talk to your fans!
There are lots of things that you can do to foster and grow your community. Here are just a few:
Be more personal
Authenticity plays a key role in building relationships. By giving your undivided attention to your potential customers, you will build loyalty with them. You will earn their ear. People will listen and buy from those they trust, as well as stay engaged because they feel they are more than a transaction.
It’s important to cultivate relationships with people personally. It’s an integral piece to building your community. When you form a bond in person, it’s even more powerful than online. So go to events and hold events. Ask people to meetups and attend conferences. Meet people face-to-face and learn more about them.
Acknowledge and show appreciation
Never forget that a community comprises living, breathing people who are supporting you. There are lots of great ways to show your appreciation. You can do it recognizing their participation in the process, sending them a thank you message, value their opinion, or asking how you can help them in a deeper and more meaningful way.
By doing these little things for them, you are showing them your genuine appreciation and it can be more impactful than you imagine.
Give your loyal customers valuable rewards
Put them on the VIP list, offer them discounts, give them points and privileges! Rewarding your loyal customers don’t just help you start a brand community, they also help you sustain one.
When you offer your existing customers rewards for sharing their experience with others, you can make your community even stronger by easily encouraging more customers to join, engage with, and share your community with others.
Lastly, you empower them to become advocates. This will prompt them to invite other like-minded customers into your community, strengthening it from the inside-out without increasing your advertising spend. They key is… be generous! Even a small reward can make every action feel incredibly valuable.
Building a community around your brand as a small business is not an easy task, but when you allow your customers to feel invested in the business process, you are on the right track.
It takes time and requires consistent dedication to
You have to go a level beyond your product or service into the customer’s life and emotions, talk about their things, and have faith that this creates a relationship that makes them a big part of your community.
When you keep these four steps of community building in mind, you can deliver a more complete customer experience. Each stage helps you put your best foot forward and helps show customers the value of joining, engaging with, and sharing your brand community.
If you have any ideas on how to build a community around your brand, we would love to hear more in the comments below.
Also, if you’re a small business or startup looking for help with marketing or software, we’re always available to point you in the right direction! Leave a comment below, or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.