Cultivating Brand Advocates – Four Remarkable Communities

Perhaps the pinnacle achievement in marketing today is to build such a strong relationship with your brand’s biggest fans, that they become true advocates – speaking so enthusiastically and positively about your brand, that others might think they actually work for you.

It is, indeed, a rare accomplishment to develop such a relationship. In part I believe that many companies do not recognize the opportunities and benefits associated with nurturing and enabling fans to become true advocates. Nor do they fully realize the path they must embark on.

Serving as a guiding light, here are five brands that have done it right:

Fiskars

Hands up anyone who would’ve thought that Fiskars, a scissors brand, would be able to develop a successful online community? They make scissors! Scissors! But guess what? They recognized a core and common passion that many of their fans have – scrapbooking – and they built a community around it. In fact, the thriving community has evolved to include a variety of different artistic categories. See www.fiskateers.com.

The lesson: A successful community doesn’t need to be centred around your brand. Find a common passion your fans have, related to your brand, and build a community that truly unites your fans provides them with value.

Intuit

Intuit is an award-winning developer of business and financial management software, having developed a variety of leading products including TurboTax, online income tax software, as well as QuickBooks, accounting software for small business. The company truly has excelled in developing a customer-centric approach to their business. For example, when using TurboTax, people have access to an entire community of other TurboTax users – to ask questions and gain insights as they fill out their tax returns. Moreover, people can also enter into a private chat with income tax professionals, before they have even paid for TurboTax!

The lesson: Brands should do what they can to pay it forward. Provide value to people before they have even paid for your product or service, and imagine the loyalty, enthusiasm and sense of community that can be be generated.

Genius Crowds

Here is a company and a community with a big twist. The community creates the company’s products, and in essence, the community is the brand. Genius Crowds is a community through which people can submit their ideas for products they’d actually like to see manufactured and sold on store shelves. The community collaborates on product ideas submitted, in an effort to help improve them, and then they vote on their favourites. Genius Crowds then reviews top voted ideas, and selects a few that have the potential – based on a manufacturing and marketability assessment – to be sold in stores.

This is a great example of crowdsourcing. In fact the first product, the Speed Bather (a dog squeegee) is now ready to hit store shelves!

The lesson:  Companies can benefit from letting their customers collaborate and participate in the development, and evolution, of their products and services. By tapping into the collective intelligence of their customers, they create opportunities for innovation.

Disclosure: I was a Community Manager for Genius Crowds when I worked at Chaordix.

Vancouver Canucks

Sports franchise brands and social media go hand-in-hand, as social media provides an amazing opportunity for fans to bond with their favorite team – regardless of where they are in the world. Canucks fans have turned to social media to share their experiences and emotions, expressing themselves through compelling content ranging from short tweets to engaging videos. At the same time, the organization itself has really excelled at leveraging social media to encourage fan participation and build loyalty – and there is little doubt that the strength of the Vancouver Canucks brand has been significantly augmented as a result.

The lesson: Be open to having your fans generate content, and help them share it on social platforms. Doing so will result in increased loyalty, and will aid in building your fan base.

Are you aware of any remarkable online communities that have helped a company cultivate true brand advocates?  Does your company have one, or have you considered developing one?

Ignite Passion and Word of Mouth: Connect Your Customers!

Buoyed by eagerness to reach customers on the social web, many businesses have endeavored to build personable, direct relationships with customers and other stakeholder groups using social media. Businesses realize the potential to create deeper connections and loyalty, which should ultimately lead to sales over the longer term customer life cycle. However, many businesses are uncertain how to participate and consequently, in my opinion, few truly take full advantage of the business potential associated with social media.

One key is to create a strong and vibrant online community of ambassadors for your brand. It’s true that the web has made building individual relationships cheaper and faster than what was previously possible. However, scaling such deep relationships over a broad base of stakeholders is, in most cases, neither feasible not effective.

Alternatively, companies that focus on building brand loyalty with a small subset of customers might find that their efforts have an exponential impact.

Here are several companies that have done this successfully:

Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark is a small batch bourbon whiskey that is distilled in Loretto, Kentucky by Fortune Brands. For a number of years now, they’ve been running an ambassador program that is all about passion for their brand of bourbon. Maker’s Mark ambassadors receive access to a private online community, appropriately named “The Embassy”, through which they can receive a number of perks – including personalized business cards (ideal for handing out in bars), as well as having their name engraved on an actual barrel of Maker’s Mark bourbon. How cool is that? Additionally, amongst other things, ambassadors receive access to VIP tasting events and exclusive gift shop access.

Yelp

Recently, while on a group hike near Toronto, I asked a fellow hiker if she had any recommendations on Toronto events and restaurants I should consider checking out. Immediately, she provided a few thoughts and strongly suggested that I create a profile on Yelp – a social networking, user review and local search website for members to post reviews and get user feedback on local businesses and restaurants. She’s actually a member of Yelp’s Elite Squad – a program through which Yelp rewards it’s top users, providing them with exclusive offers and access to members-only events. In addition to rewarding loyal users, the program provides a great incentive for other members to post additional reviews, making the site content stronger while keeping the broader community active and engaged.

Fiskars

In an earlier post on Community Management Best Practices, I referred to Fiskateers.com. Fiskars, a well-known brand of scissors, created a vibrant online community by focusing on a shared passion for many of it’s customers – scrapbooking. The company started by recruiting some of its most loyal customers to the community – branding them as Fiskateers. Fiskateer ambassadors receive a number of benefits, including access to exclusive meetup events and the opportunity to share their passion for scrapbooking with others in the private online community.

So, what did these companies do right? They built strong connections with the most passionate segment of their customer base. In doing so, they essentially put their customers to work for them – spreading word of mouth through their personal networks, inspiring new customers and spurring community growth.

Building connections with customers takes both commitment and recognition that social media can be a great tool for achieving businesses goals. In oder to attain a tangible return, business must be willing to make an investment – online and offline – as Maker’s Mark, Yelp and Fiskars all did. They didn’t just focus on counting Facebook Fans, they created social communities that generated value – for themselves, the ambassadors, and other customers.

Do you know any companies that have connected their most loyal customers through innovative brand ambassador programs? If so, please share!