By Tom Mcloughlin, Founder, SEO Travel
Community building is a marketing approach that has been getting more and more attention in recent years. Consumer priorities and values are changing, and now one of the best ways to grow your brand and retain customers is by creating exclusive communities that they want to be a part of.
In the travel industry, building brand communities can be a fantastic way to not only enhance customer relationships and increase bookings, but also improve your brand’s reputation and value as a travel provider. In this article, our partner SEO Travel explains what a brand community is, why it’s important and how travel businesses can build their own.
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What is a Brand Community?
Brand communities can take a range of different forms, but at their heart is a group of customers or followers that are committed to and invested in what your brand offers.
The majority of travel brands now have social media accounts where they connect with current and potential customers, but the followers on these platforms aren’t automatically a part of a brand’s community. There’s more of a commitment than just being a follower; community members are usually repeat customers, regularly interact with the brand’s content, may receive perks and often promote the brand to their friends and family because they support it so strongly.
A community connected to your travel brand might just be a group of customers whose continued support grants them things like early access or exclusive discounts. Alternatively, it might be a group that customers need to pay to have access to, granting them one-off experiences or a different level of service from your brand.
Building brand communities is becoming more and more of a priority for travel companies at the moment, as it’s one of the best ways to retain customers, develop a strong brand identity and keep a competitive edge over other businesses. Whilst creating a community takes dedicated time and effort, it’s a diverse strategy that is easy to adapt for all kinds of businesses, with plenty of benefits.
Why is Building Your Community Important for Travel Brands?
Community building is important for all kinds of brands. But in the travel industry in particular, creating a community amongst your customers and followers has a range of benefits that are particularly relevant in a market where competition is fierce and unique value is essential to customer retention.
One of the biggest benefits of building your community is that it can massively increase customer loyalty. When a customer belongs to a group that offers exclusive treatment and perks, they’re a lot less likely to seek out a competitor for the same service because you’ll be offering them the best possible value.
For travel brands, customer loyalty often translates to repeat bookings, which create a consistent and relatively reliable stream of income. When a customer feels cared for by your brand, enjoys being part of your community and trusts your service offering, your company will undoubtedly be the first one they think of when it comes to booking a trip.
Alongside loyalty, brand communities are also an important part of increasing how committed a customer feels to supporting your travel brand. This commitment will make it a lot harder for them to cease being a customer and switch to a competitor, as they will feel personally connected to your brand and struggle more with leaving a community they feel a part of.
This doesn’t mean that you should create a ruthless kind of community where any interaction with other brands leads to exclusion (which would be incredibly hard to monitor anyway). Instead, it means that humans enjoy feeling as though they belong, and creating a brand community will feed into this sense of enjoyable inclusion that makes customers feel uninclined to leave.
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Trust is an essential element of retaining costumes and building a brand community is one of the best ways to facilitate this.
When you create a community, whatever this involves, you give your customers access to a better connection with your brand. You offer them rewards for their loyalty and participation in your community and then deliver these rewards, gaining trust and gratitude that encourages them to remain in your community supporting your business.
Communities also often give customers better access to feedback and support from a brand. This again helps to build trust, as your customers will feel more supported and know that your brand is there to offer assistance if and when they need it.
Increases Brand Awareness
Having a thriving customer community that provides access to offers and insight can be a big motivator for your audience to make a booking or a purchase, but as this community grows, it can also become a method of spreading brand awareness independently.
The best travel brand communities have an independent identity from their founding company and may eventually have their own platform. For travel brands, this might look like creating a hub of advice and insight along with offering deals and discounts to members, which will hopefully gain attention if what you’re offering is genuinely valuable.
You can also advertise your community separately and then use this to guide and raise awareness of your travel brand.
Better Customer Experience
Having a branded travel community is an important method of providing better experiences with your company for your customers. As we’ve already highlighted, communities offer a better way for customers to interact with your brand and gain more personalised advice or tailored services. This generally leads to a more satisfying experience for your customers where they feel that they’ve been given a better quality of service.
You don’t need to just take our word for it on this one. 75% of brand community members either agreed or strongly agreed that being part of the community has helped to improve the experience that they had as a customer.
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Good communication with your customers is an essential part of building a good brand image and delivering the kind of service that your existing customers will rave about. Having a community for your customers gives you another avenue to interact with them and provide a more personal level of customer service, whether this is answering their questions or sharing personalised advice and recommendations about an upcoming trip.
Access to Research
A final benefit of building a brand community is that it gives you access to a group of people who will be able to help you with valuable research into how your business is performing and what else you could offer your target audience. Customer surveys and interviews can be conducted without a community, but when you’re offering your existing customers access to an exclusive group, they’ll be more inclined to help you if you ask for something in return.
Using your travel community to conduct research about your offering creates a feedback loop, as you can improve your brand, product or service, ask for feedback, and then continually refine this and add to your offering as your business grows. You also benefit from the fact that your customers will feel valued because they’ve been asked for feedback, which strengthens the loyalty they feel to your brand.
7 Techniques for Building Brand Communities
Now that we’ve highlighted why brand communities are important and some of the advantages they bring, here are seven ways that you can build a community for your travel brand and start reaping these benefits yourself.
Personalisation is the key to a successful community approach. If you want people to stay part of a group of customers, you want them to feel like you’re acknowledging their individual presence.
The good news is that you don’t have to do this by sending personalised emails to every member (although if you have the time this could be a really nice way to make your customers feel special). Personalisation could be as simple as using software that puts each customer’s name in the subject line and content of the emails they receive, or using segmentation to ensure that the content you send them is linked to the services you offer that are most relevant to them.
We’ve already highlighted that the additional communication channels that branded communities provide are very valuable. Because of this, communicating with your community is a very important technique in building it out and developing its identity, no matter what it involves or offers.
Communicating with your customers can take a huge range of forms, including:
- Forum posts
- Webinars or live video conversations
- Exclusive blog content
What matters is that this communication is regular and offers the recipient more than the regular content shared by your brand, so that community members feel as though they are part of a more private conversation.
Exclusivity is the best thing to focus on when it comes to deciding what you’re going to offer to your community. You need an incentive for them to join and you need something that will differentiate them from potential customers or other followers of your brand, which the majority of communities do through offering perks to members.
As a travel brand, the kinds of perks you offer your customers might include:
- Discounted bookings
- Multi-trip discounts
- Early access to new tours
- Unique extras like free meals, discounted activities or flexible check-in
- Entries in competition or giveaways
In order to ensure you’re offering things that your target audience will find valuable, consider doing market research on what competitor communities are offering, or ask your customer what kinds of perks they’d be interested in.
Subscription services can be free or paid, but the process of asking your customers to subscribe to your community is a good way to begin building it and attracting more customers. Some brands simply require you to become a customer (or repeat customer) to join a community, whilst a subscription is a way for you to get followers to choose to be part of a group whether they’ve made a booking or purchase or not.
A classic example of using subscriptions in community building is getting people to sign up for a mailing list or to register for an account with your brand that offers value in some way. Consider the other ways that you could utilise subscriptions, such as giving access to an exclusive podcast, video series or set of travel guides.
Some travel brands use a paid subscription service as a way of offering an elite community option – some even require this if you just want to become a customer. For luxury travel brands in particular, asking customers to pay a fee to join your community creates even more exclusivity, as well as giving you resources to then offer more valuable perks.
Incentivise Repeat Bookings
For travel brands, one of the most effective community building strategies is incentivising repeat bookings. Loyal customers that keep coming back to your brand are some of the most valuable people in your customer base, and these dedicated followers can easily become a community with the right strategy and communication.
Incentivising bookings can be done in a range of ways, such as:
- Offering a discount that increases with every repeat booking
- Entering customers into a competition when they book
- Giving a discount if a repeat booking is made within a certain time period
- Creating ‘levels’ of membership in a community with more perks for more bookings
- Offering a free perk or discount after a certain number of bookings
Incentive schemes can also function as a stand-alone marketing strategy, but they’re a great way to create a sense of community and motivate people to want to join yours.
Offer Unique Insight
In order to make your brand community a desirable group to join, you need to ensure that you’re offering something unique. We’ve already discussed how to do this with exclusive perks, but another way that you can create value is sharing unique travel insights that will improve your customer’s experiences.
Consider offering your community members personal recommendations for the destinations you target or sharing advice from locals or travel experts on everything from booking a trip to choosing where to eat out on holiday. This also benefits your brand as it will help to position you as an expert in your industry sector with valuable knowledge that only your customers can benefit from.
Connect Your Customers
Finally, consider whether you can create connections between the members of your community so that it becomes a place where they can benefit from conversations, advice and support from people in similar situations or with similar interests. With travel in particular, personal advice or recommendations about where to go, where to stay and what to do whilst on holiday is incredibly valuable, and if you can facilitate this amongst your customers, it will really boost your community and help it stand on its own.
The good news about utilising community-building strategies is that, if you already have a reliable customer base, you’ve already done a lot of the hard work in establishing a community for your brand. This is a marketing and growth technique that is really easy to adapt depending on your brand’s size, goals and target market, and you can use the techniques we have shared in this article no matter what your strategy is.
If you’re a travel brand looking to improve your customer retention and develop a marketing strategy that leads to a better brand image, SEO Travel is a specialist marketing agency that can help. Get in touch to find out more about the services we offer travel brands and find out how we help our clients grow.