How to build up a community of emotional followers who will spread the gospel of your company and its products.
To compete with the titans in your industry, your company needs to find a way to stand out. Low prices alone are not enough; superior customer service won't cut it either. You need fans--die-hard, I'll-sleep-on-the-sidewalk-to-be-first fans. Your company's brand needs to be a de facto religion, one with a dogma that's easy to spread to the masses of lost souls looking for something to believe in.
That may sound over the top, but Ron Faris, the former head of brand marketing at Virgin Mobile, says that all successful brands have fanatics--those people who are willing to wait on lines and pay more to be part of a shared experience.
"Brand religion is particularly important for small-to-medium businesses because it leverages the power of small communities to evangelize the product," he writes in the Harvard Business Review. Below, read Faris's three tips on how to build the fervent following you need.
Create a dogma.
Every successful brand needs a set of principles that its fans can hang onto and rally others around. Faris writes about how religions spread from a few to the masses: "Malcolm Gladwell noted in his book The Tipping Point that religions spread not by the force of their charismatic founders, but by the emotional zeal of its followers that spend their days marinating in the dogma," Faris writes. "The more a community convenes to exchange ideas around the dogma, the more emotional they grow about the ideas. They, in turn, become influencers in that community and grow more motivated to seduce more followers to the religion."
Create communal moments.
Faris says that true fanatics, from European soccer fans to Nike sneaker heads, are guided by emotion. "When a fanatic becomes emotional, he or she is more apt to pay more, wait longer, and share louder--elements of what I call 'irrational commerce,'" he writes. "The key is to create physical and virtual moments for fans to congregate, share their urgency, and reward them with scarce products or experiences they can't find anywhere else."
Your company needs to create exclusive one-time events--flash sales, mobile pop-up shops, limited edition products--that reward the effort of either waiting in line, being in the right place at the right time, or spending money. These moments, which hopefully will be captured by fans on social media, will help recruit others.
Regard them as fans, not customers.
Another key is not to look at your customers solely as a source of revenue. You need to acknowledge the love they show you, and return it. "Like musicians and sports teams before them, brands doing it right regard their community members more as fans rather than customers," Faris writes. "And if you can fuel their addiction to your brand ethos, you'll likely convert them for a fraction of the customer acquisition cost typically associated with winning them over."
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz