Communities Influence The Next Wave Of Customer Engagement Strategies

As more retailers adopt content marketing strategies to differentiate themselves from the pack, they must not lose sight of the goal to connect with their consumer base — particularly those shoppers who already are “fans” of the brand. In fact, embracing the concept of “quality over quantity” can build strong communities, which can promote the brand even further.

Focusing on these top consumers — as opposed to taking time to concentrate on casual shoppers — enables retailers to gain a greater understanding of their highest spenders and, in turn, boost engagement. In building these robust relationships, retailers can create relatable content marketing programs that influence shoppers beyond their current community, and deliver a strong ROI.

Retailers such as Burberry, Duane Reade, ModCloth and Unique Vintage have strengthened their communities with techniques including:


  • Building strong brand advocacy with their most loyal consumers;

  • Leveraging social media in a visual, interactive manner; and

  • Enabling consumers to engage via their own user-generated content.

Building Brand Advocacy

Developing not only a figurative but a literal community among consumers requires building out brand advocacy. In creating advocates, retailers can have a base of consumers that not only frequent the brand, but essentially serve as representatives for the company’s products, services and overall identity.

“Customers want unfettered access to others like them,” said Hank Barnes, Research VP at Gartner. “They value the ability to learn from others, and they like to engage in free-form discussions that help them grow and help their organization get more value from a product. Connecting advocates with each other provides an easy way to enable these conversations.”

Duane Reade “Gets Social” To Tap Passionate Brand Advocates

Duane Reade made an emphasis on connecting its brand advocates to the rest of its consumer base in deploying its “Get Social” program via Twitter. The strategy was designed by the pharmacy to increase brand awareness and engagement through its retail locations.

The company developed a “VIP Blogger” program that enabled a network of loyal consumers to serve as brand advocates for various Twitter campaigns. The “VIPs” were put in charge of creating relevant content, posting blogs, driving buzz to Twitter parties and encouraging followers to share their own media to spread the word.

Open communication with consumers gave Duane Reade the opportunity to further measure the impact and ROI of the campaign. The pharmacy’s brand advocacy strategy resulted in a 6,709% increase in followers year-over-year, according to Twitter. A single campaign centered on the hashtag #DRLegwear drove 19.4 million impressions on Twitter, boosting sales of Duane Reade hosiery 28%.

“Ultimately, fanning the flames of customers who already are fans is a worthwhile effort,” said Jay Baer, President of Convince & Convert, a digital marketing consultancy firm. “For a long time, a lot of brands didn’t feel that way. Brands wanted more eyeballs, more impressions and to reach more people, but now you’re starting to see this reawakening to the power of true advocacy. If you have 100 fans who will do anything for you, they can be stronger than 10,000 fans who like the brand but don’t care about it that much.”

Brand Advocates Are Prime Research Subjects

In addition, with brand advocates positioned as a buffer between the retailer and the mass of average consumers, merchants such as Duane Reade have an easier time learning about consumer shopping habits, which helps in creating more engaging content.

Working with consumers to better understand their shopping tendencies is not a new concept, but it’s one that retailers should rediscover as they seek to get closer to their audience. As many as 71% of organizations already use customer collaborations for market research, according to a report from Aberdeen Group.1 With the creation of brand communities, retailers already have a built-in base to provide the best content experiences, without having to spend extra money on third-party research firms.

“If we’re trying to come up with topics for content, why don’t we ask our most passionate fans to see what they are interested in learning?” Baer said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “That’s a pretty good clue as to what content might be effective.”

Fostering Communities Organically Through Visual Platforms

Now that consumers frequently engage with retailers through social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, the sense of community in marketing has expanded its scope. More consumers can follow their favorite brands to get updates and genuinely feel “closer” to the retailer they are interacting with, making it ever-more-important to capitalize on the proper content delivery. In particular, retailers need to ensure that these programs will visually connect with the audience.

Retailers can take steps to build content such as videos, white papers, eBooks, photos and how-to guides, which not only illustrate some of the personality involved with the brand, but demonstrate how the retailer can provide the best experience to the consumer.

For example, Burberry recently built a content marketing campaign with Snapchat in which it sponsored its own Discover Channel to promote its Mr. Burberry fragrance. The channel included a collection of articles, videos and interviews, as well as grooming and style tips, all centering on the theme “how to be a modern man.” Additional content included guides to wearing fragrance, the steps to a proper grooming routine and a “stylish man’s guide to London.”

The channel remained live for 24 hours within the app, but the retailer is encouraging its fans to continue unlocking the content for the next two months by scanning Burberry Snapcodes.

“It’s a pretty innovative way for Burberry to get their message out there,” said Jordan Teicher, Senior Editor at Contently, a content marketing agency. “A lot of these brands are on Instagram and Snapchat, they’re using user-generated content, they have their hashtags and they’re going through the playbook to stand out and appeal to both the loyal customer and people that don’t know much about them. They’re getting publicity for the mere fact that they’re taking on this project, and then the content itself — if people are interested — should drive premier customers to the funnel.”

In building a sense of exclusivity through its time limit, Burberry’s social activity aims to create value for the campaign. Loyal customers that already use a Snapchat account to follow the Burberry brand are likely to be the first ones to take notice of the sponsored channel, while more casual consumers can get a sense of the program via word-of-mouth or in-app ads.

User-Generated Content Puts Spotlight On Shoppers

Once they have gained a loyal following, retailers can turn to consumers themselves to create content for them. User-generated content (UGC), whether displayed through an e-Commerce site, an online publication or a social network, enables consumers to share style ideas, inspirations and photos with each other. Unlike traditional marketing campaigns, which often focus on spokespersons or even celebrities to deliver the brand message, UGC-focused campaigns appeal to the average shopper because consumers’ own opinions drive the interaction.

Women’s apparel and accessories retailer ModCloth has built out its own fashion community, one which enables shoppers to send UGC contributions, including product reviews and Style Gallery photo submissions, to its web site. The community enables the retailer to leverage community feedback to take numerous actions, including:

  • Creating its own in-house monthly collections;

  • Assisting the merchandising team with buying decisions; and

  • Further fostering interaction with individual consumers, allowing them to combine market research and customer service initiatives.

“We went through what the consumer likes, what she doesn’t and what she’s drawn to,” said Nicole Haase, Senior Director of Merchandise at ModCloth in a previous interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We looked at the star ratings that focused on fit, product quality and length to make sure we were iterating on things and updating them appropriately.”  

The community is also beneficial in that it gives consumers the opportunity to spread the word about their feedback and Style Gallery submissions through numerous social media outlets, potentially reeling newer consumers into the program. Consumers showing off the ModCloth merchandise in selfie photo submissions are essentially creating social proof that reflects positively on the brand’s image.

Antique dress and apparel retailer Unique Vintage has built a community through its image galleries, which enable shoppers to upload photos to both the e-Commerce site and its social channels. Shoppers can then click the shared photos, which are posted throughout the site, and be directed to buy the items (or similar items) worn in the photos.

Consumers have submitted as many as 6,000 pictures to Unique Vintage in a single month, with the posted photos inspiring the retailer’s #iamunique social media campaign. Like other community programs, the #iamunique campaign sought to interact with the brand’s most engaged, passionate consumers, with the intent of illustrating that their clothing line can be worn by any consumer.

“For any fashion brand, being able to tie in that visual inspiration is a key factor to success,” said Courtney Lear Wallace, Director of Digital Marketing and E-Commerce at Unique Vintage. “For us, it’s even more important, because while we are a vintage-inspired clothing line, we’ve discovered that our customers come from all different walks of life. There’s not one way to wear these clothes.”

Successful Communities Don’t Need Too Many Cooks

One pitfall retailers may stumble over when building out their communities is the potential to expand departments and responsibilities as they take on more marketing initiatives. Baer noted that while many retailers are building their own content marketing department, they are also creating community and social media teams as well. While the added manpower definitely serves to cover more bases for the retailer, the introduction of numerous managers can create differing accountability structures and conflicting metrics.

“Retailers are going to have to start thinking about their communities as one ecosystem, where they’re not separating one community from another,” Baer concluded. “It’s working all these moving parts together to drive a particular set of objectives and tie everything back to the content marketing team and its initiatives. The customer does not care about your work chart, they just want to love your brand, and you cannot let your own internal structure get in the way of that.”

Whether building communities through brand advocacy, social interaction or user-generated content, retailers are pointing themselves in the right direction to create relationships focused on customer service as opposed to strictly sales. As retailers develop their own internal communities, they can tell more authentic stories to their consumers and, in turn, enable these shoppers to relate to the brand in a more interactive manner. This personal touch makes content marketing less about “marketing” and more about “engagement,” and can further fuel the passion that consumers feel for their favorite brands.

1 Why Have ANY Hands Tied Behind Your Back? And Other Rhetorical Sales Enablement Questions:

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