Community engagement is crucial for brands – after all, getting customers is just the first step. Brands need to continue engaging with consumers even after they’ve purchased their product or service. It’s important to keep customers informed and up-to-date, but in order to create a successful relationship, it’s critical to listen in return. Listening lets you learn about the consumers’ likes, wants, and needs, allowing you to position yourself as a brand that gives the people what they want. Here are some reasons why you should emphasize community engagement and examples of brands that have mastered it:

It shows customers that they’re valued

Customers feel special because you’re taking the time to connect with them. You’re not trying to sell anything, instead getting to know them as a person rather than a consumer. Michaels does this exceptionally well. Not only do they offer free classes and events, but they also provide endless resources on what people can make with their products. Their site is filled with craft inspiration and DIY videos, easily searchable by categories like kid-friendly. One thing in particular sticks out: The Maker Gallery, which features crafts made by Michaels customers. Mixed with Instagram posts that use the hashtag #MakeItWithMichaels, it creates connections both between Michaels and its community and within the Michaels community itself.

It shows customers that even after they shop at Michaels, the brand is still there for them long after they’ve left the store. They want to help you create something you’re proud of by offering free resources and a supportive community. Consumers feel valued because they feel like they’re the priority, not profit.

It leads to customer loyalty and retention

Rewarding customers for their business is a great way to engage with them. They feel appreciated and are more motivated to return. This tactic is used often, but only few take full advantage of it, with Starbucks being one that does consistently well.

The Starbucks Reward app launched in 2001, and up until a few years ago, had more users than Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. Last year, they reported a whopping 22 percent of transactions were from mobile. Their secret? The app keeps people engaged with exclusive offers, points-based reward system, and challenges like ‘Double Star Days’ where customers receive double the points. But Starbucks takes it a step further with their limited time games, with chances to win points, sweepstakes, and even a free year’s worth of non-dairy drinks for their current game. Simply put, they know what keeps their customers coming back, and they run ever changing and unique promotions to continue to engage them.

Once a strong relationship is formed, consumers are more motivated to share it with people they know

The brand is no longer viewed as a company – as an integral part of the consumer’s life, they’ve become more like a friend to introduce to others. Lululemon in particular knows how to make them feel like family. Pre-COVID, they had yoga classes, weekend retreats, and other events for free. These were fun ways to connect with and expand their community, since people would bring friends along. They smartly put the experience over their products, meaning consumers were less pressured but more open to purchasing from them.

Lululemon also has an ambassador program with people who share the same passion and values as them. Anyone can apply as long as they uphold the brand’s pillars of “sweat, grow, and connect”, so leaders across all industries rep the title. As a result, people create niche groups of their own within the already strong Lululemon community. This motivates, inspires, and empowers them, which in turn makes them want to share the Lululemon experience with others in their lives.

Consumers are turned off by cold and corporate. They want a genuine, human connection with brands. Community engagement is the key in building a strong foundation for your business. If you were having a one-sided conversation with someone who was disinterested, you would talk to someone else who cared. Same thing goes for brands – be interested, engaged, and a good listener, and consumers will want to continue your relationship.

Loren G. Dalton has spent over 27 years of his career helping small businesses compete, grow and win in their respective marketplaces. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and has been the president or CEO of five different companies, including the Pennysaver. Currently, he is the co-founder and CEO of WhutsFree.

Community engagement stock photo by fizkes/Shutterstock