Competing with an e-commerce Goliath like Amazon.com can be a daunting task, but specialty merchants have some distinct advantages, including the capacity to forge strong ties with shoppers through a brand community. Amazon's online warehouse of products offers little to unite customers around a common lifestyle or passion. By focusing on a particular product category, value proposition or audience, you can provide meaningful interaction and a shopping experience to connect your customers with other like-minded consumers.
Active brand communities can be a potent sales motivator. They offer customers the opportunity after purchasing to stay connected, transforming a one-way "funnel" into a self-sustaining customer life cycle.
Here are three ways you can leverage the excitement and large audience of social networking on your own site while creating your own community environment to strengthen brand identity and create a unique shopping experience:
1. Use social media outposts as broad outreach and response tools. Fully two-thirds of all U.S. internet users say they visit at least one social networking site, most frequently Facebook but also Twitter and Instagram. Since consumers are talking about brands, it's better to tap into this and create engaging experiences that lead to purchases.
2. Connect individuals to your brand. Amazon uses social media mainly for product promotions and customer service responses. Other social media tactics Amazon uses include creating on-the-fly collections beyond seasonal or new product lines, as well as inviting consumer interaction around products (e.g., a question or vote).
One way to go further and demonstrate your brand's uniqueness is to showcase the personalities who embody it — your staff experts and customer advocates. Here's how:
- Use social outposts to showcase behind-the-scenes staffers whose passions and expertise support your brand's identity. Title Nine, a women's recreational apparel merchant, uses its Facebook page to showcase staffers who participate in local athletic events. The message is that the company is comprised of individuals who live the same lifestyle as their customers.
- Find ways to spotlight customers and followers by calling on them to help express their shared lifestyle affinity. Invite them to submit their own ideas, images and videos.
3. Socialize the path to purchase: bring social media to your e-commerce site. You can use available social networking tools to create an integrated shopping experience — e.g., allowing shoppers to use their Facebook login in lieu of creating an account on your site. Half of consumers are already logged into Facebook as they browse, and four in ten shoppers prefer to use their social login. Facebook's Open Graph, for example, gives you the critical mass of social media combined with control over your own e-commerce site and data.