From Content to Viral Growth: How to Create Fans by Turning Your Customers into Believers

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Published 
July 1, 2022
S

o you are exploring viral marketing tactics to scale your brand? Whether you’re looking to scale a DTC, B2C or B2B business, the fundamental principles of virally growing your customer base are the same.

Marketing legend Seth Godin coined the term ‘Sneezers’ in his book ‘Unleashing the Ideavirus’. The book was published back in 2001 and the main principles still hold true.

Sneezers is the label Seth chose for people who are easiest to captivate with your ideas in order to spread them virally. He says to give away your best stuff for free, even paying the right people if necessary, and your ‘idea' will spread. In essence, it’s about the decline of interruption marketing and the rise of online word-of-mouth marketing. You can read the free PDF copy of the book available on Seth’s blog (putting his principle into action!).

Seth Godin quote from Unleashing the Ideavirus

I think the metaphor of sneezing contagious viruses is one we’d all rather avoid at present, although it’s certainly a sticky concept that’s easy to understand. I’ll reframe it in a slightly different light and talk about ‘brand believers’ rather than sneezers. I think brand believers are actually closer to the truth, because you are converting people who want to share your great offering, versus creating an unconscious host.

The aim is to go beyond basic brand awareness and convert an audience into brand believers, aka fans. The benefits are two-fold:

1. More Cost-Efficient Marketing - Believers will proactively spread the good message to people within their personal networks. Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is far more cost-effective and influential than any other type of marketing.

2. Greater Customer Loyalty - Believers are incredibly loyal by nature, and with increased loyalty comes less customer churn and higher Lifetime Value (LTV). Improving customer LTV to Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) ratio is the enlightened aim of any brand that’s building for sustainable growth.

The pay-off for your efforts comes from positive differentiation in brand believers’ behavior. Brand believers will:

  • Keep coming back to purchase again, even if alternative or cheaper products or services might be available.
  • Engage with and share your content on their preferred platforms.
  • Enthusiastically talk about your brand with other people when the opportunity arises.
  • Write great reviews if you ask them to.
  • Create influential user-generated content for you.

Here are practical steps that can help you a) create loyal brand believers, and b) mobilize them into evangelizing more new customers!

How to Create Brand Believers

4 ways of creating fans

Believers are followers. The goal is to build something that they truly want to follow. This is achieved via a great product that nails an audience niche, combined with a solid brand identity for which your target audience feels: 

  • Values-based alignment.
  • Inspiration.
  • Trust.

1. Pick a Core Target Audience Most Likely To Become the First Believers

Your first step is to reach a highly targeted audience of the right people who will get your brand values or unique product and be advocates for you. These are trendsetters who can reach and wield influence over a wider audience. 

They might be the people most underserved or impacted by a previous gap in the market, have larger than average relevant social or professional networks, or be dedicated content creators, influencers and media publications within your niche.

Seth refers to a very targeted audience as a hive. 

Seth Godin on audience building

Start by identifying your group of potential early adopters by describing the ideal persona in specific detail. Find where people who match these characteristics tend to congregate online most. Follow what they say and how they share content. Hashtags can be a useful tool for reaching them with your own content depending on the platform. Start courting them consistently.

Make sure the targeted early adopters have a positive experience. Or perhaps even recruit them as a trusted test group to help you get your delivery right first, with free products or demos and some kind of incentive if necessary. Aim to give something before you get something.

Seth Godin quote on how success comes from dominating your target audience

Once this influential group is converted to brand believers, they’ll willingly share with their followers, friends or associates. We’ll look at how you can support that process by providing a framework to amplify word-of-mouth sharing shortly.

2. Create a Brand Identity That Serves Your Audience’s Needs and Values

More than just creating interesting ideas, what really converts a believer is powerful messaging underpinned by resonating values which connect to deeper emotional needs. 

A strong brand identity that fulfills an audience's personal needs with aligned values will create brand believers. When customers feel connected to a brand, 57% will increase their spending, and 76% will buy from them over a competitor.

Pick the most common combination of emotional and value-based drivers for your core target audience in relation to your specific offering. Then, consistently appeal to and appease these needs though both your marketing content and product offering. This mix is the basic recipe for creating believers - you can imagine it like a good stock as the base for everything else you add.

Here are some examples of audience needs and values you could appeal to and offer solutions for.

Examples of emotional (or psychological) needs:

  • I need to feel connected to family and friends
  • I need to feel worthy
  • I need to feel love
  • I need to feel safe and secure
  • I need to rest and relax
  • I need to take care of people I love
  • I need to create a better world around me
  • I need to express myself
  • I need my body to feel comfortable
  • I need to feel accepted and validated
  • I need to feel in control
  • I need to feel connected to nature
  • I need to be entertained
  • I need to have fun
  • I need to explore and discover new things
  • I need to feel happy
  • I need to have a purpose
  • I need to improve myself
  • I need to feel fulfilled

Examples of personal values:

  • I am on trend and have great taste
  • I am intelligent / knowledgeable
  • I work hard and do my best
  • I care about helping other people
  • I do my job better than other people
  • It’s important that I look my best
  • My personal time is important to me
  • I am a good person
  • I care about the environment
  • My mental health is a priority
  • I need to have the newest and best things
  • I make my business profitable
  • I am humorous
  • I am powerful and influential
  • My work efficiency is important
  • I keep my home looking the best it can
  • I deserve great experiences
  • I provide well for my family
  • I am a trendsetter

Focus groups and surveys could be a helpful means of exploring the most common combinations for your audience, whether formal or informal, offline or online.

After you identify the combinations of values and underlying needs that you can utilize most effectively to influence your customers, you then need to build your brand identity around that. Perhaps you can even inspire people to have new values-led aspirations with this depth of audience understanding, widening your potential audience.

Your marketing content is how you go about communicating your brand identity - content is the vehicle to reach and attract believers. Subsequently, your product or service user experience can create fully converted believers who start promoting your offering for you.

Treat your content as an equally important product alongside whatever your business offers, and a necessary USP for creating believers. Make your brand identity and main brand messages as unique as you can. Get familiar with your competitors so you can achieve that. Believers need a leader they can get behind - not another follower!

3. Get Your Offering Right To Maintain Faith

Marketing content is your primary tool for building and communicating brand identity, although a brand identity is tangible and goes deeper than content. Your product or service offering needs to be worthy of your target audience’s attention and expectations. If you don’t genuinely satisfy the practical need that you’re promising to, you’ll create indignant critics rather than believers.

Make your offering and supporting customer service as good as it can be. It should be consistent and trustworthy. Create a great user experience, and go further for your customers.

Your brand identity actually provides the guiding principles to be embodied throughout your organization, actualized in the offering you provide. Word about inauthenticity spreads like wildfire on the internet, so don’t be dishonest. There are no shortcuts to long-term, sustainable growth when it comes to gaining trust and maintaining customer loyalty.

Factor your staff into the equation, because they too can act as influential believers who spread the good word and reinforce your customers' trust. You really don’t want it to turn vice versa where staff regularly become critics and work against your messaging. Treat them as well as your customers.

If you’re still working on fine-tuning your offering, it’s possible to use a linear commerce model to start building your audience and testing your content or product with them before you go to full launch. 

4. Own and Maximize the Customer Lifecycle

Your customer lifecycle depends on your offering, naturally. You could be selling yoga leggings, luxury hand soap, software or a consultancy service. Payment models, upselling and repeat purchasing cycles vary widely and form the basis of your unique customer lifecycle. Customer lifecycles feed into the wider lifecycle of your business relevance.

There are a number of steps to go through, from winning new customers to advocacy, and evolving with your audience’s needs:

  • Keep testing content for format, messaging and communication style to optimize engagement across distinct stages of the customer lifecycle.
  • Create relevant offers or benefits for repeat customers, rewarding loyalty and keeping them in a purchasing cycle. Check out Starbucks and TOMS for some rewards UX inspo.
  • Interact with customers, gather feedback and update market research to adapt your content and offering as necessary.

Establishing a direct and permanent chain of communication with the people you reach is the most important factor in owning and maximizing your lifecycle. Getting followers for your social media accounts is great, getting email addresses is even better. You’ll be able to enhance delivery of personalized brand messaging depending on an individual’s position in the customer lifecycle. 

Remember to give something before you get something when you are asking people to give you their personal information.

Mobilize Your Brand Believers Into a Growing Community

6 ways to grow a fan community

The feeling of community is a powerful driver to tap into; 55% of surveyed consumers said they want brands to help connect like-minded people with each other, and 36% are actively looking for communities they can belong to.

Word-of-mouth marketing (WOM) is your go-to tool for effectively achieving this, and it's the same as old-fashioned word of mouth except it’s shared online.

We can break WOM into organic and amplified: 

  • Organic - Brand believers become advocates naturally because they are impressed with your business and your offering - 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over any other advertising or marketing.
  • Amplified - You design marketing campaigns to encourage WOM in existing or new communities - 88% of people trust online reviews written by other customers as much as recommendations from people they know.

Seth insightfully points out that people are self-organized into groups (or hives) that have several things in common, usually including a way to communicate among themselves, spoken or unspoken standards, a common history or challenge, and organic leaders.

To build a community, you’ll need a minimum viable population, communication channels, and supporting content that elicits emotional responses. Emotional responses can range from light-hearted to more deeply felt.

Although you are the trigger for the establishment of your brand believer community, it will ultimately be enabled and ruled by them. Aim to encourage and facilitate advocacy rather than attempting to force it, because you can’t! Once it gathers sufficient momentum, you’ll be able to use a lighter touch to keep it going.

I’ve got several tips for how to go about this.

1. Listen and Interact To Build Relationships

The best place to start with building a community of believers is to meet - and hopefully even exceed - your fans’ brand UX expectations. 

Choose several communication channels to reach as much of your audience as you can using their preferred platforms where they hang out. There are tools to help you find your audience, such as Combin for Instagram, which can find followers by hashtag or location, target accounts that liked and commented on relevant posts, or search for accounts following your competitors.

Provide regular content within these platforms that can be easily shared, and use the relevant hashtags that your audience follows. Content should be engaging enough to keep followers coming back for more. Say genuinely interesting things, and minimize anything overtly self-promotional that will feel one-sided or too self-interested in your audience’s eyes. Stay on brand with your topical remit and tone of voice, and don’t go anywhere unnecessarily controversial.

Mix up your media formats to refine what works best, repurposing content for preferred communication styles. Include low-investment calls to action that get your followers interacting with your brand in fun or rewarding ways, such as:

  • Quizzes or instant-result surveys, including polls for your next piece of insights content
  • Competitions 
  • Subscriber notifications for new and exclusive gated insights, exclusive access to podcasts or sub-branded newsletters
  • Opportunity to give input and feedback on product development
  • Offers on partner deals (e.g. buy two wedding rings for 50% off a wedding planner consultation)

Be responsive to followers' comments, and comment when followers share your posts or tag you! Listening and engaging not only makes potential believers feel appreciated and trusting, but will also help you get to grips with the content that believers like best. Hire a social community manager if necessary. Take your followers’ constructive feedback on board and action where viable. (Not that you need to submit to every customer whim of course, or ignore a larger audience to please a small one.)

2. Create a Brand Messaging Bible for Believers 

Give your customers memorable brand messaging to share by crafting a captivating narrative about your brand, and incorporate those messages into shareable content. This messaging will be built on your brand identity, which you have tailored to your believers needs and values, reflecting and validating their own identity.

Seth Godin on creating brand narratives for target audience

Spreading the word should feel effortless. Give brand believers the words and content they need without having to think so they can convert more like-minded followers for you with minimal effort. Keep repeating the values-based words and the emotional energy you want people to use when describing your brand. Make content shareable on social platforms with one click, or make it super easy and quick to sign up for an affiliate program.

Use media publishers to help get messages out. Discuss what kind of stories or interviews they would be interested in publishing, pitch newsworthy stories whenever you can, or alternatively use promoted editorial options.

Demonstrate your values in action or choose a cause. People like to show their support for causes their community believe in, raising their own credibility and influence by association. For example, FIGS is a medical clothing manufacturer that donates scrubs to healthcare professionals who work in resource-poor countries. They also donate a ‘Future Icons Grant’. It’s gotten them positive organic coverage from media titles including Forbes, helping spread their values-led brand messaging. Or you can check out the YouTube video entries for the Future Icons Grant using #figsfutureiconsgrant. It's a very inspired use of both a cause and user-generated content!

Ad creative on Twitter by FIGS demonstrating successful user-generated content

3. Encourage and Share User-generated Content (UGC)

Content generated by brand believers can be more powerful; 85% of people are more influenced by UGC than brand content.

Social channels are the most natural place for UGC to help improve your organic WOM reach. The goal is for happy customers to share pictures of your product or mention your business positively. You can help this process by creating your own hashtag for people to talk about your brand. Interact with followers who mention your brand, and share their content on your brand's channels to amplify momentum.

Creating an ambassador program like Lulu Lemon's can help boost positive UGC. You can also proactively target the best-known influencers in your niche. Reach out and offer to send them your products for free to decide if they’d like to provide a review. A unique discount code that they can share with their followers will help sway them in favor. Well-known influencers may require payment, but you can try!

4. Ask for and Display Customer Reviews

BrightLocal’s Local Customer Review Survey 2020 found that the average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business. That’s more than in previous years, up from 6 reviews required in 2016.

Ask people to submit a review after buying a product, providing links to where you’d like them to submit their review. Run a temporary reward campaign for completed reviews if you need a boost, with a small discount or something complimentary as the incentive.

Prominently feature (real) reviews in as many places as possible, like your website, in-store, social media accounts or Google business listing, and anywhere relevant. You can also ask for formal feedback quotes or a case study endorsement when you finish a project, perfect for featuring on your website as part of your ‘evergreen' content.

Negative reviews can happen, whether that’s the result of your staff or a customer having an off day. A couple of negative reviews are unlikely to have much impact among a positive majority, so don’t stress too much over an occasional low rating.

5. Reward Loyal Believers Who Bring New Converts 

Reward people who bring you new customers, whether they are a high profile influencer or not. An official referral or affiliate program can work very effectively. Blackbaud offers a prime B2B example. Promote your program to your existing followers and customers.

Rewards could include anything from: 

  • A product or service discount for the customer and the person they refer
  • A gift card for referring a certain number of people
  • A bonus gift
  • A fixed or commission based referral fee
  • An invitation to a VIP customer event, like drinks & canapes with a famous business speaker

Before you decide on any rewards, make sure you know your customers’ average lifetime value. You can’t give a reward of $50 if your average customer only has a LTV of $50. Reward programs lend themselves better to businesses that see high customer retention, like a subscription service in some form.

6. Consider a Dedicated Community Platform

When your following of brand believers is big enough, adequately engaged and willing to come to you, it may be time to consider a dedicated community building platform. Tribe is an example of the popular community building platforms out there, or Mighty Networks.

A community platform is ideal for creating a safe and secure online space that’s dedicated to your brand only. Although social media sites are great for building brand awareness, and Facebook facilitates dedicated groups with admin powers, social platforms are noisy and it can be harder to retain attention. A space where your members can easily interact with each other and engage with personalized content will create an exclusive network that feels more intimate and valuable.

Articulate a captivating reason for members to join, and make it worth their time to engage with each other and with your brand. Your community platform can be plugged into your website with a linked login area. Replicate the look and feel of your brand in your community space, and create areas or tags for specific types of content, or information your subscribed customers might typically be seeking. Enable multiple types of notifications to alert members when there is new content to keep them coming back.

Successful community building and customer loyalty rewards example by Empathy Wines
Empathy Wines demonstrates how to build deeper relationships based on values and personalization.

Following on from the previous suggestions above in the first step for mobilizing brand believers, you could also provide:

  • Access to VIP promotions for subscribers only.
  • Front-of-the-line access for new or limited edition releases.
  • A regular member spotlight feature, such as “influencer of the month” to recognize top contributors and give them free exposure for their own business or social profile.
  • Test new products on members before launch by providing free product samples, and allow your believers to interact with the product development team.
  • Provide a knowledge forum for members to seek advice from each other. Try creating live polls so everyone can see how the rest of the community is handling a specific challenge, or their opinion on a particular topic.
  • Track and reward the fans who invite their friends to join your contest or make purchases.
  • Live streams events.

Again, consider if you might benefit from a social community manager. However, with the right space, believers themselves may organically begin taking over some group building activities and answering questions for other members.

To Sum Up

If the content, audience building and community management aspects seem time consuming or expensive, bear in mind what you stand to gain. A strong foundation of brand believers supporting you will mean that your marketing costs drop in the longer term as organic WOM takes over and reduces your need to provide amplification. It won’t happen overnight, but it will be worth it!

If you need some support exploring what’s possible for your brand, feel free to get in touch with us at Half Past Nine. Creating outstanding brand and media strategies is our passion, backed up with exceptional data leadership and infrastructure expertise. Where could a better resourced growth strategy take your brand?

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