American Idol was such a game changer in the way we look at building an audience of raving fans. As the viewers, we got to "meet" charismatic young people with raw talent and live vicariously though them as they lived out their biggest dream. We were there as they were being shaped into real artists and we had the power to choose who we wanted to see move further in the competition and ultimately rise to super stardom. And when the idols released their first album, we felt like we had something to do with it - because we did!

This kind of emotional investment is priceless - so it's no wonder that some of the most recognized startups also use consumer collaboration to build powerful products. Today's example is Chobani.

Fun fact: Hamdi Ulukaya, the entrepreneur behind this household name, had no prior experience with yogurt before he purchased a defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York - but in under five years, Chobani became a billion dollar business and Ulukaya was named World Entrepreneur of the Year by Erst & Young. Many credit this success to the unique relationship the brand has built with its customers.

In the spirit of customer collaboration, the Chobani Café was opened in New York City in 2012 as an incubator of sorts. According to the company's CMO, Peter McGuinness, many new products are tested there before they ever make it on to the shelves. Fans of the brand really love being a part of the development process and as a result, the Chobani Café has become the most followed on Instagram out of New York's 13,000 restaurants.

Building this kind of collaborative community of loyal fans not only establishes a brand in the market, but also gives it longevity. In a recent video interview about marketing and product design, I asked McGuinness how other entrepreneurial companies could go about creating this kind of raving fan culture. His answer was simply, "One consumer at a time."

Here are some pointers:

Creating an Element of Surprise

Everyone likes getting free stuff. Especially when they're not expecting it. Chobani is constantly "gifting" customers with free products to try at the café. This immediately creates the expectation of more surprises to come, generates a warm feeling towards the brand, and keeps people coming back.

Think about Chobani's tactic as you develop your own marketing strategy. How will you go above and beyond for your potential customers? If you don't have a huge budget to do a bunch of giveaways, think about offering them a unique experience when they visit your location. Remember, sometimes having limited funds leads to increased creativity. And creativity is what really counts!

Igniting Collaboration

Again, it's like the American Idol effect - when we feel like we're part of the creation process, we become emotionally invested in the product. The Chobani Café constantly experiments with "limited time" product offerings or tests out new flavors, asking customers for their opinions. They really listen to their customers and the products that receive positive reviews in the café actually make it onto supermarket shelves.

How will you collaborate with your customers? You might not have a physical location like Chobani or be able to interact with your customers face to face...but I bet you have access to social media. Use those platforms to generate feedback from your customers and let them know they're being heard. Find fun, unique ways to engage them in the development process - then call them out and graciously thank them for their support. Again, creativity is your most valuable asset. Use it.

Creating "Share-worthy" Experiences

McGuinness and his team obsess over social media and only post when they have strong, relevant content to share. The artwork for each post is carefully shot and designed; the content used is edited multiple times to ensure it resonates.

Social media can be really exciting to read or really annoying to read - and the experience is entirely up to you. When you constantly post for the sake of posting and don't really have anything to say, it turns people off. But when you're more thoughtful about your posts, you gain an element of trustworthiness that makes your audience sit up and listen to you.

As you establish and/or grow your own community of raving fans, keep it collaborative. Think about how you can invite them into the creative process and don't be afraid to experiment! You might just find that your customer collaborators actually become your biggest advocates.

Published on: Oct 3, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.