How to Create a Sense – and a Reality – of Belonging with Your Customers

Let’s take a look at some of the most illogical and debunked beliefs and how they take root. 

Flat-earthers and white supremacists are groups who hold, celebrate, and rally around well-researched and easily debunked belief systems. Those are two examples, but quick browsing of the internet will find you many, many more (check out “Birds Aren’t Real” on Reddit).

When there are beliefs that are (A) obviously false and (B) harmful to the belief holders, among many others, then WHY do they amass such a following? Something is pulling people in, latching deeply into their brains and causing them to reject their family and society.

As much as marketers and brand-building experts love to speak on values, brand identity, and audience targeting, maybe we should be looking at those groups who are amassing followers, even in spite of what they’re calling people to believe.

“One reason identities slam shut is that other greater human needs supersede openness, curiosity, and intelligence. We need to belong. We need to feel accepted.” ~ Margaret Wheatley

Now, let me make something clear: white supremacists and flat-earthers are extreme examples of creating a sense of belonging.

So, how can we use these tactics for good?

1. Introduce your customers to each other.

Making that connection will start to put YOU at the center of your network, creating a crew around your brand. My local coffee shop introduces me to relevant people all the time—creative entrepreneurs who I never knew also frequent the same shop as me and now I feel like I BELONG there. It’s my home base.

2. Choose what you’re against (and show off what you’re not).

One of the strongest signals of belonging is what kicks a person out of the tribe. Nike sells a lot of merchandise when they take a stance. Patagonia develops a cult following by speaking out loudly, and white supremacists make it pretty clear what gets you kicked out of that tribe. Your stance doesn’t have to be political. You could be against long lines or fees or web hosting. Showing what you’re against is a strong signal that others who are against that just might belong with you.

3. Complexity in relationships, simplicity in concepts.

When a brand attempts to oversimplify the relationship, that connection is reduced to a transaction. Marketers and thought leaders love to recite “K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Create simple, easy to understand on-ramps for people to get started, but don’t oversimplify the relationships. Complex connections help to give a sense of belonging.

4. Remember something about them.

Do your customers get a one-year anniversary reminder of the first time they hired you? When you have a second conversation, do you remember the details from the first conversation? Can you bring lessons learned from the first project to make the second project better?

5. Share content in a way that makes them feel seen.

Have a friend who sends you memes? Memes are an efficient way for two people to communicate a complicated idea or perspective while needing little explanation. Sharing content that causes your audience to feel “OMG, that is TOTALLY ME!” is a great way to help people feel like they belong. 

6. Create something that feels like it was made just for them.

Imagine you’re starting a headphone company that specifically targets 58-year-old moms living in small towns. What are the concerns of that group? How can you make headphones JUST for them? You call up 10 people from that audience and ask them questions: what headphones do you have now? what do you like about them? what concerns you? Let’s say your audience shares an overwhelming fear that Bluetooth might scramble your brains. Ergo, you create headphones that use cords AND filter audio to preserve sound quality WHILE being kind to your ears. Now the product feels like it was made JUST FOR THEM!

7. Your customers have opinions, too—talk to them, listen to them.

In running a business, there are about a dozen pieces of software I pay for that are critical to our systems (here’s our updated list). The number of those people who reach out to hear how I use their product or what I struggle with is staggeringly low. Obviously, some of those companies have a LOT of customers, but sending a mildly personal email with a survey to collect some qualitative thoughts would be easy. A phone chat with a real person would make me a life-long customer. Talking to people, paying attention, and listening are all STRONG signals that a person belongs. Is your brand sending those signals?

There are more than seven ways to create belonging amongst your audience, but I just wanted to get your brain working in this direction. How much money might it be worth to your business if you did a great job at creating a sense of belonging? Where are the first places you can start?

October 24, 2019
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