Standing out from your competition feels really difficult in today's cutthroat marketplace. Barriers to entry are the lowest they've ever been in many industries, and there are very few products or services that can't be replaced or recreated by a competing brand.

That's why the significance of community-building, incredible branding and word-of-mouth marketing is at an all-time high. Why? Well, the reality is anyone can recreate or copy a product. No one can copy the relationship a brand has with their audience or how the brand makes their customers feel.

Want to know a simple way to build community that's too often overlooked? Increase customer-to-customer interactions. By creating more customer-to-customer interactions, you'll naturally be scaling your customer service and sales team. 

The main reason for this is because your most engaged and loyal fans will both sell your product for you (through word-of-mouth) and could even go as far as to answer other customer's questions via forums, on Facebook groups, Slack channels and more -- saving time and energy you'd otherwise spend doing it yourself.

By having a thriving community, you'll have the support of your customers for the long haul just by cultivating a relationship with them that goes beyond a mere financial exchange. According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers trust reviews from their peers on a company more than they do advertisements from the same company.

This clearly illustrates people value the opinions of other people more than they do a faceless brand or logo. What could provide more proof your brand is top-notch than a handful of devoted fans who speak highly of your company to their friends and family behind closed doors?

Here are four ways to make it all happen:

1. Make your company mission-driven. 

By having a grand mission or purpose your company rallies behind, you'll naturally attract like-minded individuals to support your brand's cause, helping to increase the likelihood these people talk to each other and create a tight-knit community.

This is one of the primary reasons why charitable brands like TOMS, Bombas and Warby Parker have such enthusiastic followings. Fast-growing sock startup, Bombas, for instance, utilizes a buy-one-give-one business model similar to TOMS, and has already donated more than 7 million pairs of socks since its 2013 launch--resulting in a ton of press along the way.

If you're looking to make your company more mission-driven in 2019 and beyond, you can start small by listing out your values, then finding creative ways to help causes related to those values. For example, if you own a local bookstore, consider donating a book to a child in need or to a charity related to literacy, for every book you sell in your store.

2. Host events.

Hosting an event is expensive and extremely time-consuming. From the planning to renting an event space to coordinating with vendors to marketing your event to ensure people actually show up, the list of moving part is long. This is exactly why entire departments at companies exist solely to handle event planning.

Yet, if you have the resources and bandwidth to carry them out, nothing will help build up your community faster than holding in-person events. By hosting local meetups, conferences or something similar, you'll increase customer-to-customer engagement and subsequently develop an affinity towards your brand in the hearts of members.

3. Create Facebook groups, Slack channels, and Subreddits.

Don't have the resources to build community through events? Then go digital. 

Today, there are tons of tools available to make driving community discussion easy. Whether you decide to launch a Facebook Group, make an engaging Slack channel, or create a Subreddit related to your company's mission or values, taking advantage of these tools will make help you stay top-of-mind with customers without directly pitching to them.

4. Gamify your customer experience.

Gamifying your customer experience is a surefire way to build community, and can come in variety of forms. For example, consider developing a "point system" where the most engaged, active community members can unlock exclusive perks and benefits--whether that's simply holding a certain title, organizing a local meetup, visiting company headquarters or something else similar.

You can also create a loyalty program, much like Starbucks and other leading brands have. However you choose to gamify your customer experience, making it fun and challenging will naturally result in customers talking to each other to share tips, talk about the process and more.

No matter how you twist it, building a community around your brand, and creating space for customers to interact with one another is crucial to your long-term success as an entrepreneur -- and it's only growing more important as the years go by.

Best of luck.

Published on: Jan 31, 2019
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