Customer loyalty: a beginner’s guide to brand communities

Alyssa Jarrett, director, brand & content marketing at Iterable, highlights five core principles of customer loyalty.

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In light of COVID-19, many marketers have changed how they interact with consumers by leading their communications with empathy.

In fact, in our recent survey, a staggering 83% of respondents said they were more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to. The message has become quite clear: to be a brand of the people, you have to be a brand that cares about people.

With this shift, it’s become more important than ever for brands to focus on their most loyal of customers, ensuring that they are continuing to get the exclusive experiences they deserve.

The trick here is about creating an inner circle; an elite brand community that is rewarded for their unyielding loyalty. By giving preferential treatment to customers who frequently purchase your product or services, you increase customer lifetime value – a key to any brand’s success.

There are five core principles of customer loyalty for brands to follow to ensure their most loyal fans remain loyal.
This journey guides the loyal customer from the ‘boundary’ of the brand community, right the way through to the ‘inner rings’ of rewards for the most loyal customers.

1. The Boundary Principle

Not everyone can be a part of your brand community and it’s important to define a set of criteria on who is eligible to join your loyalty or rewards programme and who isn’t. First time purchases or application forms can be used as a gateway to the brand community.

As wonderful as your loyalty programme might be, it’s highly unlikely that every customer you interact with will sign up.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to determine who your ideal customer segment is and then target them accordingly. A personalised invite into the brand community is a great way to show you’re going the extra mile.

2. The Initiation Principle

This initiation is not as daunting as it sounds – in fact it’s the exact opposite. Once your customer has crossed the boundary into the community, it’s important to remind them exactly why they’re there.

While an initiation can be as simple as a loyalty-specific welcome email, you’re likely to have more impact if you include a physical gesture.

For example, a loyalty card is an inexpensive and effective way to initiate your customer into the inner circle – a tangible reminder that they enjoy a special status for being a loyal customer.

3. The Rituals Principle

Once customers have been initiated, ensure you mark customer milestones and celebrate annual sales in order to maintain this special relationship.

By inviting members of the brand community to view sale merchandise before the public, not only does it alert new members that this sale is an event or ritual to look forward to every year, it also rewards members for their continued loyalty and patronage.

4. The Temple Principle

Communities need a space to come together, participate in rituals and ‘worship’ at your brand’s alter. Temples are important to communities because it where like-minded members can talk to each other and share their values.

For e-commerce-only brands (and retailers affected by lockdown restrictions) this space could be an online forum or chat room. Once we are safely out of the pandemic, retailers with a physical storefront can encourage their customers to visit a nearby location to view new products or attend an exclusive event.

5. The Inner Rings Principle

Last but not least, a thriving brand community needs to have an inner ring, otherwise known as the tiers or levels in a loyalty or rewards programme.

It enables customers to progress their status within the community and be rewarded for their advancement.

Final Thoughts Setting up a loyalty programme for your best customers is a no brainer for any marketer. In this time of uncertainty, brand communities are more valuable than ever.

It’s too easy to focus resources on acquiring new customers and reducing churn. Having a successful loyalty programme will set your brand apart from the rest, and help to build lifelong relationships with your most loyal fans.

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