Treat them like part of your brand (because they are)
Your brand exists because people want and need what you’ve created. These people become your customers, and they are not separate from your brand – they are your brand. In today’s world, building a great brand requires engaging with and including the people whose lives you’re impacting through your products. Most things (including what you’re selling) exist as commodities. To stand out, you have to view your customers as co-producers. They’ll be the ones who truly write your story.
With the democratization of information and narrative-building brought about by the internet and social media, you get to lay the foundation of what your brand is and what you stand for, but you don’t get to control what it becomes. That lives in the court of public opinion. In this way, your customers are the real influencers, as they don’t only influence people they are connected with to buy your product, they are also influencing your branding, marketing, and product decisions. This is why it’s so important to bring your customers closer to your brand and change the relationship with them from transactive to interactive.
What is the Sharing Economy
This ideas isn’t new – it’s just more important than ever.
If you Google “viewing customers as co-producers”, you’ll come across a great article from the European Journal of Marketing that was published all the way back in 1996 titled The Customer as Co-producer by Solveig Wikstrom. The argument Wikstrom makes is more relevant today than when it was written 26 years ago due to increased competition and the need for differentiation. Here is an excerpt from the article that I thought explains the idea very well, if a bit academically:
“The idea is that when the customer is conceived as co-producer, the interaction between the parties should generate more value than a traditional transaction process, during which seller and buyer meet briefly, exchange finished products and services and then go their separate ways. Above all the new business logic presupposes a very much longer relationship between buyer and seller, and a highly refined distribution of roles. It is assumed that this will create more value in several ways. In particular it is assumed that the deeper relationship will create opportunities for acquiring more knowledge, thus making the company better able to adapt to the customer and to provide higher quality.
The whole process can move more quickly, since the different stages in the sequential transaction process (idea creation – production – marketing – consumption) shift ground and assume a new shape. Furthermore, the deeper interaction between seller and buyer improves the level of creativity on both sides; this in turn is likely to give birth to new ideas and to new ways of doing business. In other words co-production can be seen as a way of acquiring generative knowledge as well.”(1)
Put more simply, by shifting the relationship with your customers to become more interactive, the creative ability of your brand increases.
How to Listen in and Engage With Your Customers
So how do you make your customers co-producers? How do you create a feedback loop that makes both the life of the brand and the lives of the customers better?
There are a lot of ways this can be done, with two main pieces: listening and engaging.
Ways to listen include:
- Tracking what is posted about your brand
- Reading reviews
- Watching product trends
Ways to engage include:
- Community building (such as Facebook groups, Discords, in-person meetups, etc.),
- Lines of feedback for the company (product reviews, beta-testers, suggestions boxes, and more)
- Loyalty programs (rewarding for purchases over time)
- Thanking and rewarding customers for sharing about you (affiliate codes, influencers, and customer rewards program)
5 Customer Co-Creating Brand Examples
These brands highlight their customer’s as co-producers that drive product innovation and user-generated content. Here are examples of customer communities where customers can vote on ideas, share their outfits, and recommend products through online forums, hashtags, and brand apps.
Into the Gloss: The Group
Originally Glossier was a beauty blog that grew into a $1.2 billion dollar company due to its online beauty community that helped co-create products. The blog used its readers for crowd-sourcing ideas and product recommendations. Their product sourcing post gets 300+ comments of feedback for a product, packaging, and ad campaign ideas.
Customers can share their tips and favorite products on their Facebook Group page, read up on the latest interviews and reviews, and discuss what beauty means to them.
They use the hashtags #GlossierIRL #GlossierGirl and started the hashtag #shelfie trend on Twitter and Instagram to generate mass UGC content. Glossier rewards customers by interacting with all the UGC posts and resharing the posts on their brand channels.
the activewear brand created an online magazine community: The Recreationalist where customer stories and recreation ideas are shared. They believe their brick-and-mortar stores are physical touch-points for community building where they offer workout classes and events so customers can have fun and make new friends.
The online community group includes customer interviews, forums, customer-built city guides, how-to’s, and workouts.
Outdoor Voices created the hashtag #Doingthings on Instagram as a place for customers to upload UGC that is shared on their main brand account and IG stories highlight.
The CEO shares that “ the brand’s best asset is the direct and authentic relationship they have with their customers.”
Their overall goal is to ““Igniting a community of people to sweat, grow, and connect”. The brand promotes this through The Sweat Life community and hashtag #thesweatlife as a place for Lululemon fans to share their UGC on Instagram with +1 million posts
LuluLemon also offers a loyalty program with a paid annual subscription of $128 where members can get products, and access to events, community, and workout classes. It incentivizes loyal customers to join and engage with the community.
With their ambassador program, athletes and store employees can inspire and join to host events within the local community. Ambassadors work together with the brand to test products, offer product feedback and collaborate on collections.
Nike uses UGC on their eCommerce site to impact product page conversions and gives a platform for customers to create their own products. Some examples of how the brand fosters community co-production include:
Nike by you lets customers design their own pair of Sneakers that helps the brand spot consumer trends to inform their product and design teams.
The brand also offers a few community apps including SNEAKERS and Nike+.
The SNEAKERS app generates UGC through the #Kickcheck where fans share their outfits and shares news on the latest releases and collaborations with fans.
The Nike+ app is for runners where they can track their performance and find tips, community challenges, and local group runs. On the in-app social feed, people can share their results, meet other athletes, encourage others on their run, and get rewarded with special badges.
The Lego community has separate target demographics for both kids and adults on their website for community interaction.
The brand has the best-in-class community for UGC creation. With the Lego Ideas community, lego builders can design set concepts and fans can vote for them to be produced as a way to develop new products.
Other outsource communities include:
The Lego Ambassador Network for major content creators in the lego community. Here members can host meetings with other fans, talk with organizers worldwide, and attend upcoming events.
BrickLink is a community of +1 million members and is an engaging online marketplace and discussion forum with 10,000+ sellers across 70 countries. The community is a successful place to get product ideas and gather UGC from fans sharing their building creations.
Launch Your Co-Producing Program
The first step to creating an interactive relationship with customers is building out an ambassador program where they can be rewarded for sharing branded user-generated content.
User-generated content is a great way to connect with your audience and promote your brand with unique content ideas being shared across social media. Harnessing social media to build your brand community, a place for customers to interact with each other like in similar examples of Outdoor Voices and Glossier, is a marketing tool where you can listen in to what your customers want and need.
Start treating your customers as co-producers, like authentic influencers that add brand value through product decisions and content creation for your marketing strategy, and reward them through LoudCrowd!
Contact our team to learn more here to see how to make the most of user-generated content and build a brand community.