RIC17: Communities Build Strong Retail Brands

Today’s consumers take stock in peer feedback. That’s why many brands are realizing the value in building a community in order to build a brand. But despite the growing popularity of social media, building a community of loyal fans is not as easy as it seems.

“You can buy a lot of Facebook likes, but that’s not a community,” said Marta Wohrle, Founder and CEO of Truth in Aging, in a panel discussion during the 2017 Retail Innovation Conference. “Building a community is generally a one-on-one process.”

When Wohrle first built the Truth in Aging brand, which sells skin care products for women and offers product recommendations, she would personally respond to every single shopper comment left on the site in order to create a dialogue that went beyond the product. The continuous dialogue fostered a feeling of authenticity.


“There’s so much faux-blogging out there,” Wohrle said. “There’s so many faux-web sites, so you have to say, ‘This is a real woman here. This is an actual person that is creating this content.’”

Kelly Stickel, Founder and CEO of Remodista, moderated the panel discussion. In addition to Wohrle, three retail executives shared advice on building flourishing communities for e-Commerce brands:

  • Katherine Brodie, Director of eCommerce at Draper James;

  • Jennie Baik, Founder and CEO of Orchard Mile; and

  • Michelle Cordeiro Grant, Founder and CEO of Lively.

Brand Partnerships, Events & Experiences Generate Shopper Buy-In

When complementary brands partner on community projects, everyone wins, according to Orchard Mile’s Baik. These partnerships can lead to more focused event planning, which can generate hype among potential shoppers for an upcoming collection or promotion.

“We did an interesting pop-up last year at Brookfield Place in New York, where anyone that walked into our Gift Box could actually enter to win to the entire contents of that gift box,” said Baik. “Our brand partners participated because there was an email acquisition share. Maybe each brand partner in and of themselves would not have gotten the wherewithal to partner with Brookfield and open up a pop-up on their own, but perhaps a platform like ours can set them up in a way that’s completely easy and seamless.”

Lively also opened a pop-up store on a summer weekend on Long Island, using the event to generate customer feedback and gain ROI from organic traffic.

“We actually watched how many people walked over to our booth and we asked questions as to why they attended,” Grant said. “We also saw a repeat rate on that weekend’s two days and counted how many people came back the next morning and purchased again. It’s turning the community and those events and interactions into business, and understanding the ROI on how to build a community that much faster.”

Brands Tap Content And Celebrity Influence To Build Communities

Both Baik and Draper James’ Brodie pointed out that editorial content can play a key role in building brand authenticity. Baik highlighted her brand’s “Walk the Mile” blog, which often includes guest posts from fashion influencers. She indicated that brands mentioned within blogs and videos often cross-promote the content on social platforms, generating more conversation among a potential new audience.

Brodie noted that while the Draper James brand has plenty of recognition and cross-promotional opportunities due to ties with its founder, actress Reese Witherspoon, the company still needed to build a customer base on its own.

“We’re really tailoring the content that we’re putting out on her channels because all those people might not love Draper James, but they all love Reese,” Brodie said. “We’re getting smart about how she’s talking about the brand and realizing that when she’s pushing out something it has to feel organic and authentic.”

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