Today, brands seek to gain a deeper bond with their customer base, but the task can be overwhelming with so many competing brands.

Loyalty360 CEO, Mark Johnson, spoke with founder and CEO of Vesta, Susan Frech, about how communities can strengthen the bond between customer and brand, and the organic growth of consumer advocacy from those relationships.




The Most Valuable Tool a Marketer Has is its Consumer
 
When the customer advocates for a brand, more customers listen. It’s that simple. But how can brands get consumers to advocate for them? In the growing age of personalization in customer loyalty, it is imperative for marketers to have the software tools they need to elevate their relationships with consumers and increase engagement.
 
Vesta CEO Susan Frech explains, “When brands mobilize their most valuable consumers, it helps create advocacy, capture insights, and reach sales potential.”
 
There are so many choices in loyalty programs today, and consumers are more fickle than ever about where their loyalty lies. One wrong move or one wrong message can be detrimental to a brand. Today, consumers are savvier, not to mention more skeptical, with the ever-growing influx of brand communications.
 
“If a brand says one thing, and does something else,” says Frech, “consumers are going to figure it out and shy away from that brand.”
 
It is equally important for brands to not only have integrity, but to communicate a message that resonates on a personal level with their customers. If a brand stands for something, it needs to communicate that and empower its consumers and advocates to share that message.
 
Adds Frech, “It’s not so much as a cool tagline or a cool ad, it’s about being able to authentically share the purpose behind your brand and that’s what can really be an opportunity for marketers.”
 
COVID Opened Communications with Consumers on a More Personal Level
 
When the pandemic closed the door on so many brick and mortar stores, and consumers were confined to their homes, there was a sense of camaraderie among everyone impacted. Businesses were able to reach consumers on a personal level, sharing many of the same fears and frustrations. The sense of community went beyond that of a simple exchange of goods and services.
 
One of the greatest benefits the brands with communities have seen since the onset of the COVID pandemic is the ability to gather insights into the consumer and track feedback. Brands were able to communicate with their online community members during the most challenging times and engaged and built relationships with their most valuable customers through that feedback.
 
Says Frech, “The online community helped brands with their messaging, marketing and product launches during a challenging time, and they were also able to help communicate when the brand was having a challenge like a supply chain or inventory issue.”

Mobile Wallet Technology Gives Brands Deeper Insight into Customer Behavior
A recent report by Forbes indicated that by 2022 mobile engagement will grow by 70%. This trend will only continue to grow.
 
75% of loyalty members engage through mobile devices, and while most brands have adopted a mobile-first mindset, marketers need to be aware that every consumer action should be approached as mobile-first. In addition to landing the consumer on the brand’s app, the UX needs to be seamless, easy to navigate, and informative to retain that consumer.
 
The mobile wallet is another trend that is growing exponentially. Says Frech, “We want something right in your wallet on your phone or device. The mobile wallet is a very powerful marketing tool to deliver targeted promotions, offers, free product samples, coupons and discounts. All of these tools get dropped in one place and drive consumers to a specific retailer.”
 
The data captured from the digital wallet is more than purchasing data. It gives brands insight into each consumer on a more personalized basis, allowing for a more targeted marketing approach with each transaction. Mobile technology will continue to grow, especially in the brand loyalty landscape.
 
Consumer Communities are Imperative for Growth of Emotional Loyalty
 
“Marketers are the brain, and consumers are the heart,” says Frech.
 
Even the best marketing ideas can die without consumer endorsement and approval. Start-up brands are known for their loyal followings, but they lack the scale of the big brands. But big brands may lack the passion and emotional connection that the start-ups have with their consumers.
 
Frech explains, “Your consumers are your megaphone, let them talk about you, let them share their testimonials. Their recommendations are so powerful that they will inspire others to try your products and services. Recommendations from a consumer who has tried your product and loves your brand has a greater impact than any media in driving customer acquisitions.”
 
Consumer communities allow brands to build authentic relationships. They can gain real-time feedback from consumers and in turn, recognize and reward the brand advocates.
 
Consumer Communities Build Loyalty for Any Brand That Wants a Deeper Relationship
 
Every brand that wants to build a deeper relationship with its audience is well suited to build an online community, and there is a wide variety of technologies that can help a brand do just that.
 
Says Frech, “At Vesta, we deliver an all-in-one solution to help reduce the number of tools a brand needs to build and grow that consumer relationship.”
 
It is imperative for brands to stay top of mind, particularly between purchases. Additionally, they need to look for ways to constantly identify and activate their advocates. Reviews, ratings, UGC, and testimonials are critical to capturing attention and sparking buzz and to driving both in-store and online sales.

Brands Leverage Communities to Collect Data to Improve Customer Loyalty Strategies
With the added privacy regulations and the removal of online cookies, consumer data is going to have a competitive advantage.

Frech explains, “It’s going to continue to be a high-priced ticket, and the more third-party channels are growing and building their audiences, the more they are going to charge for marketers to reach them.”
 
By building an online community, brands are able to collect more in-depth demographics, psychographics, behavioral, social data and purchase behavior. Constant feedback allows companies to understand what the consumers want and need.
 
The data collected is proprietary and gives the brand a competitive advantage. It is also predictive and enables brands to understand and make better business decisions.
 
Frech elaborates, saying, “It’s not just about engaging community members, but how can you leverage the proprietary data that you are collecting in the community and integrate it with your other data?”
 
Brands need to continue to leverage that data to deliver personalized experiences and relevant offers because that is what will create a higher engagement and deeper emotional loyalty.

Online Community is Quality Over Quantity
If a brand has millions of consumers, but the majority of those consumers do not promote the brand, the numbers mean nothing.

“Start small,” Frech stresses. “It’s not about millions of consumers.”

Brands need high-quality advocates and evangelists. Those are the consumers who will provide authentic feedback to ensure successful product launches and amplify the brand’s overall message. These are the community members who will act as the brand megaphone and create advocacy.

Loyalty programs innately have a strong value exchange. There needs to be a benefit that only comes from being a part of the community, whether it is early access to new products or promotions, or earning points toward discounts. In return for these perks, these community members are writing reviews and making recommendations, giving the brand the constant feedback needed to foster a strong loyalty program.

Says Frech, “The most successful of these align their community activations with their overall marketing strategy. It is imperative for marketers to view the program through the lens of communities. Everything that is done, from new products and partnerships, to promotions and sponsorships, everything should be looked at through the lens of the community.” 
 

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