The other day I went to lunch with a group of ladies. We all follow gluten-free diets and met up to eat pizza at a restaurant where everything on the menu is gluten-free. This is the second gluten-free meetup we've had where we've gone to eat at gluten-free restaurants. We spend time in our WhatsApp group in between trading recipes and sharing ingredients we've found for making gluten-free versions of some of our favorite foods. 

From a business standpoint, it got me thinking a lot about the importance of community. Business is about belonging. As you're working to win more customers and find ways to serve them better, one of the ways you can do that is through creating that sense of belonging in a way that helps them be more successful in their quest.

As a brand, you can build relationships for life with your customers by finding ways to become inextricably linked into their worlds.

Creating a community connected to your brand can help you do that. Here are three ways to do it.

1. Host conferences, meetups, and live events.

When I started my business, there was a company I followed religiously. I consumed all its content, bought its courses, and engaged with the people that worked there. I was delighted when they started having an annual conference. I went all three years they had it and developed relationships with people I met there. To this day I am still in a mastermind with three ladies I connected with at those events.

The conferences strengthened our bond with that brand, because they connected us more deeply to the company's mission, gave us an opportunity to build relationships with the people who worked there who we were all learning from, and it helped us find our "tribe of people."

Whether you host a conference, a one-day live event, or even a local meetup, there is power in bringing together like-minded people who are on a similar quest.

The goal of these types of events isn't to sell your products and services. Rather, it is to bring people together to connect, learn, support, and grow together.

You will engender a ton of goodwill for providing the environment for those types of connections and belonging to happen.

2. Establish online communities.

I'm still floored by the number of people I know and call friends, but whom I've never met in person. Most of those relationships have come as a result of private online communities I'm a part of.

Powerful relationships can be built online when they are nurtured appropriately. You can do this through a free group or even a paid membership. It could be as simple as a Facebook group, Slack channel, WhatsApp group, or some other medium you build or find.

You can make the community a more formal place where you provide content on a regular basis, or more informal where the interaction and content happens more organically and is generated primarily by your members.

The important thing is to find a way to allow your customers and the people you serve to easily and quickly interact with you and or your team, as well as each other. The dedicated space to share information, share wins, vent, ask questions, or just to laugh about the latest viral meme will unite your community and strengthen your bonds to each other.

3. Develop a distinct group of norms, jokes, and symbols of belonging.

Common language, inside jokes, rituals, and operating norms are some of the things that help groups of people identify that they are the same. Trekkies have their Vulcan salutation. Sororities and fraternities have specific colors and handshakes. People who work in the same department have their own lingo or ways of dressing.

The more you can create ways for your customers to help identify themselves as a card-carrying member of your tribe, the more it makes them want to be a part of it. The more ways they start to use and enjoy those identifiers, the deeper and more connected they become to the community and your brand.

Maybe it's a t-shirt, a hashtag, or a meme that gets circulated on a regular basis. Perhaps, it's a phrase, a bad joke, a chant, or a saying. It could even be an operating philosophy that dictates how the people associated with your community show up and behave.

Create the community your customers need. Not only will it improve customer success, but it will help you achieve customer loyalty as well.

Published on: Aug 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.