This post is for you if you dream of building a passionate and engaging community of customers around your brand. I touched ‘Community Building’ briefly in one of my articles last year and since then I got the opportunity to discuss different ideas related to community building with some of our clients and readers.
If there is one thing that we all can agree on is that Community Building is indeed of paramount importance for any Online Fashion Retailers if they want to be a great Fashion brand, and that for obvious reasons. The brands who’re able to build-up a community enjoy:
- More Word of Mouth Promotion
- Priceless User Generated Content
- More trust
- Higher Brand Loyalty
- Repeat Orders
- Higher Lifetime customer value
- Higher Average Order Value
- Better Customer Data
- Higher Conversion Rate
- Thus higher ROI on marketing, etc.
The beauty of building a community is that even if they don’t buy from you now, they still have a reason to come back to your website and engage with your brand. Isn’t it so great.
There are many Fashion retailers out there who have succeeded in building-up a strong community around their brand, for example:
Burberry: I know I keep giving Burberry’s example, but I can’t help; the art of trench is indeed a classic work of community building by a luxury brand.
Threadless: Other Brand that comes to my mind is Threadless, which is an amazing community of 2 million artists who design, praise and sell t-shirts.
Modcloth: And then there is ModCloth, which I think is the best example of an online only fashion retailer who has managed to organically build a great community of women who love Vintage clothing. The above wheel diagram by ModCloth illustrates their entire process of how they go about building the wonderful community they have. It’s pretty much all you need to do if you want to build a community. However, if you want know the finer details of community building, then go on and read this entire post.
With this article, I have reverse engineered community building and social shopping practices following by Burberry, Threadless and ModCloth, with a major focus on ModCloth.
So here are 21 principles of community building that you can apply to your business, if you want to bring your customers together and offer them a community based shopping experience.
Position your Business
You can not build a community with a generic business. If you’re trying to please everyone, you will most likely end-up pleasing no one. So the first step toward building a community is to fine tune your business so that it’s favourable for community cultivation.
1) Target a Specific Niche
If you find yourself in the business of selling clothing for women, your business may be too generic for community building. The ‘Journey’ to build a passionate and engaging community of customers starts with finding a niche. Niche in simple words is a group of people who have a common belief, taste, likes, dislikes, style, art, size, body type etc. There has to be something common in your business and your customers.
Being a niche player not only makes your business more targeted but also gives you a distinct competitive advantage. The customers who buy from you will have limited options and thus they tend to be more passionate and loyal to your brand. It enables you to talk to your customers in a way that matters to them. For example – Modcloth sells Vintage inspired clothing for women. While vintage clothing may not excite me or perhaps many other people on the planet who think like me, but it does excite many women who adore fashions from decades past. Now that qualifies for a niche.
2) Know the Size of your Niche
It’s great if you have found a wonderful niche for your brand, however before you commit yourself to this niche, it pays to run a sanity check to be sure whether the niche is big enough to support a profitable and sustainable business. Do your research and try to gather data to support your decision of committing yourself to the niche. If your niche is too narrow, you will not be able to find enough people to form a community.
3) Have a Rock Solid Core Category
Many retailers either don’t know what the Core of their Brand is or they lose sight of it in the changing market situations. You need one rock solid product category and be the master at making and presenting those products on your website. Benefits of staying focussed on your Core Product Category:
- Your core product category works as the doorway of your brand for new customers.
- It helps you penetrate and build market share.
- It will help you be profitable even when other non-core categories don’t perform so well.
- It keeps your brand relevant to your customers now and for ever because great products never go out of fashion, they evolve.
So while it’s important that you keep experimenting with new categories on your website, never lose focus of your Core Category.
For example, ModCloths core product is dresses, Burberry’s core product is Trench Coats, Threadless core category is T-shirts. If you want to build a community, you should define the core category of your brand.
Know your Customers
4) Have a Clear Target Audience
As you put your marketing hat on, to find people to join your community, it’s important that you have a clear target audience in your mind. If you mass market your niche business, your ROI will remain low because community building is not about traffic. It’s about focussed marketing.
ModCloth’s target audience is women who are between 15-30 years of age (with a focus on 18-24 year-olds) who love vintage inspired clothing and accessories. In fact, ModCloth have this policy that they don’t refer to ModCloth customers in plural. Instead, they use pronouns such as “her” and “she”. Know exactly, who your target customers are and who will be interested in joining your community.
Produce Inspiring Content
Once you have sorted your business and have ensured that you have community friendly business, you should focus on producing laser targeted content that inspires your targeted audience.
5) Have a Personality
Your brand has a voice and it’s talking to your customers 24 x 7. It can be Polite, Stern, Classy, Royal, Nasty, Old, Strict, Young, Funny etc. If you want to build a community, you should take charge of the impression that you want to give to your customers. Your customers will not engage with your brand, if they find you boring. The voice of the brand is greatly determined by the personality of owners of the company:
- Your choice of products
- People you hire
- Your website design
- Colours you choose, graphics, product descriptions, etc.
Don’t worry about being good or bad, right or wrong. Just be yourself and have a strong personality, your community will automatically find its audience.
6) Produce Inspiring Content Consistently
You have to create high value content on a regular basis in order to inspire people and cultivate a passionate community. That’s a lot of work. However, if you’re focused on a niche and have a clear target audience, your job will be much easier as you would know what matters to them. When you know who they are, you should publish content related to things like:
- What movies they watch
- Who are their favourite actors
- What music they should listen?
- The bands they may love.
- What places they should go etc
In this article, we have curated few examples of how fashion retailers are using content to inspire their customers into becoming raving fans.
7) Always be New
Online Retail businesses that thrive on community are always ‘active’. Each time a customer returns, there is something ‘new’ for her. This ‘new’ can be in the form of new products or new editorial content published by the retailer or a fellow community member. This gives your business a momentum, which creates a feeling of excitement in your customers and encourages them to engage with your brand.
Have the Right Values
Apart from right business positioning, content, engagement initiatives, you can not succeed in building a community if you don’t have the right values in place.
8) Be Open
Being open is one of the important values that you will have to instill in yourself and your business, if you want your customers to engage with your community. Being open means that your customers and community members should know the people running the show personally. So as the owner(s) of the company, you will have to be little bit open about your personal lives. Have a place on your website (like blog) where you as owner share your thoughts, ideas and things you’re up to in your non-professional lives.
9) Don’t be a Control Freak
You should know that once you form a community, you will never be able to take business decisions without thinking of its ramifications on the community members. If you’re not comfortable with giving away control, you will not be able to involve customers in your business, which is the most important part of the community building process. So if you’re trying to build a community, start involving your customers in the business decisions which you know will directly impact them.
For example, if you want to re-design your website, don’t do it without involving your customers. Get the feedback of your customers, share it with other customers in the form of blog post and ask them to vote on design options. You have to make them feel that they’re an important part of your business. This is how you will build passionate community base for your brand.
The good news though is that while you might think that you’re losing control of your business; on the the flip side, it’s also making things faster. When you involve your customers, you will get immediate feedback and it takes guessing work out of your decision making. So start acting like community facilitators instead of company owners.
10) Be honest
To build a community, you have to be honest with your customers. If you make a bad decision, let your customers know. If a product is getting bad reviews, don’t hide those reviews. Let your customers see them. Your objective behind showing reviews shouldn’t be to just sell products but to help your customer make a wise buying decision, even if it means allowing negative reviews about the product that you’re selling.
This will help you win trust of your customers and trust is what you need if you want them to form a community. Moreover, returns & refunds are expensive. If you allow your customers to know both positives and negatives about the product before purchasing, you will be able to save money from return orders and refunds. So being honest with your customers is also a wise thing to do from your business stand point.
11) Think Long Term
The process of community building is organic in nature; you will have to give time to nurture. You can’t just blast a bulk email and expect them to come and form a community. If your motive is to make short term and you’re only interested in making a quick buck, it will show to your customers and they will not engage with your brand. Be patient and persistent.
Find New Ways to Engage with your Customers
As a community facilitator, your role is to offer your customers different ways to engage with your brand. In this section of the article, let’s talk about the initiatives you can take to make users engage with your brand and other members in the community.
12) Show Real Human Pictures
Show lots of pictures of people wearing your products on your website. These pictures have a distinct psychological impact on the way your customers engage with your brand. But remember that communities are made of real people. You can’t build community with model pictures who look just too perfect to exist in an imperfect world. Real Communities are built with pictures of real people. Any product picture that’s taken by your customer from her iPhone is far more valuable than the one taken by your production team.
13) Reward them for Engaging
There has to be some kind of emotional or a tangible reward for customers to join and engage with the community.
- Emotional Rewards: You can offer ratings, rankings, votings and point system to give user a chance to get social recognition as a reward to engage with your content.
- Tangible Rewards: You can mix-up your reward system, by offering tangible rewards like – Gift coupons, cash benefits, free give aways etc to offer tangible rewards to your customers to engage with the community.
14) Give them a Nice Profile Page
It gives your customers a sense of pride to have a profile page where they can show how they have contributed to your community. Make sure you give them a nice profile page where your users can show their ratings, rankings, comments, points and the rewards they have earned. By doing so, you’re rewarding your customers for their passion for your brand and you’re giving them a platform for expression.
15) Run Contests at Regular Intervals
Running contests is a great great way for you to break the ice and invite new customers to engage with your brand and be part of the community. It’s so effective because your customers see a direct benefit to engage with your brand.
With ‘Be the buyer’ program, ModCloth enables its customers to either vote a product into the inventory or skip it.They simply post a product from places like ETSY on their blog and let their customers comment vote in its favour or against it. If it gets thumbs-up from the community, they go ahead and actually get it made.
Similarly, with programs such as ‘make the cut contests’, the message Modcloth gives with their ‘Make the Cut Contests’ is ‘you came, you sketched and we produced’. They give a theme to their community and ask them to submit sketches of creative, wearable styles that fit the theme. The rewards they offer is engaging too – $500 per winning sketch and the product is named after the winning customer who designed it.
16) Give them Real Reasons to Sign-up
The way many retailers talk about their registration process, it seems to have lost its meaning. When a customer is asked to register on a store (instead of checking out as a guest), the benefit offered to him or her on the registration page are mostly usability related, for example: Save credit card details for faster checkout, Managing order history, Add products to wish list, Order tracking etc. These are only shopping related benefits.
If you want to build a community, you will have to go a step further and invite them to be part of the community. It’s not that the above benefits are not important but these benefits are not enough to build communities. A customer won’t come back to a store just because he/she won’t have to enter his credit card or billing information again. Of course, this helps in retaining customers but it may not be as helpful in building a long-term relationship with them. The projected benefit of registration by an Online retailer should go beyond usability and give users an opportunity to be part of the business. Your real job starts after they have registered, see how you want to engage with them.
ModCloth invites its users to ‘join’ the community’ instead of just saying ‘register’.
17) Hire People from your Target Audience
We keep saying it all the time. If you’re serious about building an amazing fashion brand, you should hire people from your target audience. It can play a big role in your community’s growth if you hire people from your target customer segment. If you’re selling to women, aged between 20 to 35 years, who love vintage fashion, hire from the same demographic & psychographic. There should be a definite match between your customers and employees otherwise your employees will never be able to understand what your customers want and thus they will fail to fulfil the role of facilitators of the community.
18) Show them Behind the Scene Action
People who’re selling behind the scene need to be excited and this excitement and passion for the business must show on the website. Customers want to know with whom they are dealing with and they appreciate transparency. Show them the people behind the brand, who are running the show with the help of behind the scenes photos and videos.
19) Look for Creative Ways to Collect Customer Data
If you’re serious about building an engaging community, you have to know your customers closely. Your customers engage with our brand and community, on your website and also off-site on social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instragram etc. They share the products they love. This is important data. You can use this data to offer a more relevant and personalized experience. So in order to build a community, you need to collect a lot of customer data in order to have a good understanding of what they really want. Whenever you have the opportunity, ask intelligent questions which you think can help you improve the shopping experience on your website. Equip yourself with data to support your community building initiatives.
Shoedazzle collects customer’s shopping preference in the form of Quiz before giving them personalized shopping experience and product recommendations.
20) Use that Customer Data to Offer Personalized Shopping & Community Experience
When customers register on your store, they give you a consent to collect their personal information. It’s then up to you how you use the information wisely to enrich customer’s experience. When a user registers to your store, treat him or her as a member and not just a user. Come-up with innovative ways to use this information to provide a personalized shopping experience.
21) Join Hands with Relevant Bloggers in your Niche
Even though, the whole process of community building should remain organic and you should let your content (editorial and user generated) and user engagement initiatives attract new member sign-ups. However, you can fuel this process by joining hands with the relevant bloggers in your niche. You can reach out bloggers in your niche and invite them to join your community. You can offer them additional benefits for signing-up with your community. It’s a win-win situation for you and the blogger because they get more exposure for their blog from your community and you get high quality editorial content from them and also some exposure from their followers.
Modcloth regularly features various bloggers who are relevant to their niche, on their blog.
While community building for Fashion Retailers is a longer route to success and glory, it forces you to stick to the basics. If you want to build an amazing community around your fashion brand, you need to be creative, honest, persistent, humble and real. The good news is – it’s not all that hard to build a community if you have the right team and values. And the rewards are bigger than you would expect.
It’s my most sincere hope that this post sparks new community building ideas in your brain and motivates you to grow your business into something more meaningful. Feel free to share any tips you may have about community building via. twitter, email or comments section below.