You’re probably well aware of how important it is to earn referrals from your most successful and valuable customers.
In fact, chances are you already have some type of system in place for getting your customers to make such referrals. If you’ve taken the more traditional route, this system likely involves getting your individual customers to make individual referrals to other individuals within their networks.
To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with this approach; as we said, it’s pretty much the standard way of doing things in most industries.
And it certainly can work to bring new customers to your business.
But, in focusing on these more isolated, one-off referrals, there’s a good chance you’re overlooking a number of additional business opportunities — and leaving a ton of potential value on the table.
To truly get the most out of both your referring and referred customers, you need to focus on building a community of brand evangelists for your business.
In this article, we’ll discuss just how to make this happen — along with the benefits of doing so.
First, let’s quickly explain what we mean by brand evangelism.
What is Brand Evangelism (And Why Should Your Business Care)?
A community of brand evangelists is more than just a group of individual customers sending out quick referrals and recommendations to people in their own networks.
Again, while this traditional route can be effective, the referrals merely occur in isolation:
- The customer makes a referral
- The referred individual decides whether or not to engage with the brand
- The referring customer moves on with their day, regardless of the outcome
For the referring customer, there’s very little sense of ownership. They didn’t have to think all that much about making the recommendation, and they aren’t all that invested in the outcome.
This simply wouldn’t be the case if they belonged to a more tightly-knit community of like-minded people.
Brand evangelism, then, isn’t just about generating more and more individual referrals. Rather, it’s about bringing your highly-engaged, high-value customers together around a common goal: To spread the good word about your brand to the people who need to hear it — and preparing new customers to get the absolute most out of their experiences with your brand.
As we’ll discuss, your community of brand evangelists will likely use many of the same tactics you currently use to gain referrals. The difference will be in how your referrers approach these critical moments, and the mindset they carry with them as members of your brand’s community.
With this in mind, let’s now dig into the key benefits of going beyond asking for referrals in isolation, and instead building a community of brand evangelists.
4 Key Benefits of Building a Community of Brand Evangelists
Before we dive in, let’s be clear:
Building a community of brand evangelists is going to take much more effort than the traditional strategy of soliciting one-off referrals.
It’ll take more effort on the part of your company, and will require a bit more from your referring customers, as well.
This extra effort will not go unrewarded for either parties.
On the contrary, creating a strong community of those willing to work together to raise awareness of your brand will lead to major benefits for your customers and your company.
Deliver Additional Value to All of Your Customers
Typically, the traditional approach to generating referrals focuses on delivering somewhat surface-level value to all involved parties.
- The referring customer may get a small discount, store credit, or similar monetary reward
- The referred customer might also get a discount, along with the immediate value delivered by the products they purchase
- Your company gets a new customer
The problem here is that these immediate rewards aren’t necessarily long-lived.
For the referring customer, the value lasts only until they use the reward given. Over time, such a reward will provide diminishing returns; the customer may no longer put in the effort to make referrals just to earn a small discount.
The referred customer may or may not actually receive the value they’d anticipated from your product — and the monetary reward they received will quickly become a moot point.
As for your business, if the new customer doesn’t stick around, your efforts will have all but gone to waste.
In creating a community of brand evangelists, you’ll add both extrinsic and intrinsic value to the experience for all of your customers.
For one, you’ll be better able to provide valuable rewards and experiences to your referring customers. This may come in the form of personalized gifts, tailored discounts, VIP events…or anything else your team comes up with based on your customers’ needs and expectations.
Your referring customers will also become more intrinsically motivated to make more targeted referrals, as well. This is inherently valuable to your current customers, as they’ll gain a better understanding of the impact of their efforts.
It also means your incoming customers will have more clear expectations when engaging with your brand — which will allow them to immediately realize the value your brand can bring to their lives.
(We’ll revisit all of this momentarily.)
Overall, the traditional approach of providing one-off rewards is focused more on generating customers. In contrast, taking a community-focused approach is more customer-centric in nature — and will lead to a more valuable experience for all of your brand’s customers.
Create a True Sense of Belonging Within Your Brand’s Customer Base
A community of any kind is more than just a group of like-minded individuals acting in similar ways.
The key to building a strong community is in bringing these individuals together for a common purpose. This purpose in our case is, of course, to bring those most in need of your brand’s services into the fold.
From a current customer’s perspective, there’s a huge difference between referring a friend in order to receive a discount, and referring a friend because it will help them grow and succeed in some way.
As we mentioned above, the experience is much more rewarding on an intrinsic level.
Adding to this intrinsic value is the fact that your referring customers will be surrounded by other individuals looking to empower those in their networks. These individuals will likely have similar backgrounds and goals, and be on similar journeys with your brand as a whole.
This adds another layer to the customer’s sense of belonging within your brand’s overall community. More than just “regular” patrons of your brand, your engaged referrers will have a true place within your community — and will put in the effort to maintain this standing over time.
Allow Community Members to Build Off One Another
When individuals with similar goals, ideals, and experiences come together, they’re bound to help build each other up.
More than just incentivizing them to make referrals, this will also empower them to focus more heavily on their own goals when engaging with your brand.
It’s similar to having a gym partner: The members of your brand evangelist community will inherently create support structures to ensure nobody falters, and that all community members continue to grow as time goes on.
In a more tangible sense, your brand evangelists will be able to recommend products to other members of the evangelist community as needed. This notion of having evangelists make referrals to current customers is often overlooked when focusing on traditional referral marketing practices.
Speaking of enabling brand evangelists to build up your customers…
Generate More — and More Authentic — Referrals
Referred customers are typically much more valuable to your business than those acquired by other means.
They’re easier (and cheaper) to convert.
They stay onboard for longer periods of time.
And they spend much more than the average customer will throughout their lifespan.
This all applies even when taking the more traditional approach to generating referrals. Add to it a dedicated community of brand evangelists, and you have a clear recipe for ongoing success.
Overall, your brand evangelists will play a more active role when referring others to your business.
Rather than just sharing a quick link or coupon code, they might:
- Share more specific information to engage certain people in their network
- Create exciting user-generated content featuring your brand
- Invite others to branded events and experiences
Additionally, your brand evangelists can work together — and with members of your team — to create referral campaigns and initiatives based on their past experiences with your company.
By recruiting members of your customer base to become strategic, community-driven brand evangelists, you’ll create limitless possibilities in terms of bringing new and valuable members aboard.
Building a Community of Brand Evangelists to Generate Referrals
Creating a community of brand evangelists to improve your referral initiatives will take some effort.
But it’s not necessarily difficult — and the rewards will certainly be worth it in the long run.
Without further ado, let’s dig into the key things you’ll need to do to build and strengthen your referral community.
Identify Common Threads
A community that doesn’t have common threads tying its members together will easily fall apart at the seams.
So, first and foremost, it’s crucial for your brand evangelists to be similar in a number of ways, such as:
- Their reasons for engaging with your brand
- Their needs and expectations when engaging with your brand
- The challenges they’ve faced, and the experiences they’ve had with your brand thus far
They also need to have a common reason for wanting others in their network to hop on your brand’s bandwagon. Again, this reason should focus on what’s in it for everyone involved, rather than on surface-level rewards.
Take, for example, No Place Like Home Pet Sitting’s referral program:
Sure, the company does offer a financial incentive for each referral made — but that’s certainly not the focus of the program.
Rather, the focus is on enabling animal lovers to spread the good word of the brand’s services to other pet owners in their network. What’s more, NPLHPS provides additional information focused specifically on charitable organizations that recommend their services — a clear message of support for the business’ overall community.
The idea is to ensure the members of your brand evangelist community are focused on the deeper value of your services from the get-go — with the surface-level reward being more of an added bonus.
Or, you might even forego the extrinsic reward altogether:
The more involved and satisfied your potential evangelists are with what your brand has to offer, the easier it will be to solicit referrals from them.
In any case, it all starts with bringing them together for a common purpose.
Empower Referring and Referred Customers
Perhaps we should have said this from the start, but let’s now make it clear:
If your customers don’t think your brand is worth referring in the first place, they’re probably not going to do so.
(If they do, it’ll likely be to receive the extrinsic rewards you’re offering — which goes against everything we’ve said throughout this article.)
That said, you need to build your community members up to the point that they simply can’t help but rave about your brand.
Obviously, the first step here is to ensure the products, services, and overall experience you provide them is top-notch across the board.
But this is merely table stakes. Truth be told, your competition will also be doing whatever they can to deliver this top-notch value to your target audience, as well.
So, you’ll need to take things a step further — and be creative in doing so.
Invite-only events are a great way to deliver unique, added value to your VIP customers (i.e., those most likely to make authentic, targeted referrals). In allowing them to invite friends along, you open the door for a massive influx of newly-referred customers.
Similarly, opening pop-up shops or kiosks at larger events can increase engagement amongst your current audience base — and give them a clear reason to point others in your brand’s direction.
Online communities like Oracle’s can empower your current customers — and provide a safe and comfortable way for newbies to come aboard.
In these cases, the referred individual doesn’t necessarily need to become a customer before they can start getting value from your brand. But, these preliminary experiences — coupled with guidance from a trusted referrer — will make the chances of them converting much more likely.
This all goes back to the idea of focusing on common threads:
Your potential evangelists will begin seeing themselves as leaders of your community, and will in turn be empowered to bring like-minded members onboard.
Provide Guided Autonomy to Your Evangelists and Referred Customers
For your brand evangelist community to operate effectively, you need to provide its members with the autonomy to do so.
This autonomy simply cannot exist if your team alone defines the terms of your referral program. If you require your evangelists to make the same solicitation over and over, they’ll likely end up just going through the motions.
What’s more, a blanket offer to your potential customers may not be enough to pique their interest in any meaningful way, either.
This will not lead to the authentic, valuable referrals you’re hoping to generate.
At the very least, you want to provide options to both parties in terms of how to engage with your brand. Lawn care company Tomlinson Bomberger, for example, provides two pathways to choose from:
While the referrer’s reward is the same regardless, each referral can be tailored to the new customer’s needs at the evangelist’s discretion. This adds a personal touch that goes above and beyond the typical “Get x% off when your friend spends $y or more” promotion that’s been done to death.
Another option is to use the traditional reward structure, but to leave it up to your evangelists when it comes to actually making the referral.
Rather than requiring referrers to share a specific link with your pre-created offer and copy, let them take the reins.
A few examples:
- Tagging friends in posts, comments, and other social media content
- Creating and sharing user-generated content on their own social media profiles
- Simply bringing up your brand in their daily conversations — with specific mention of your referral program’s details
Still, you’ll want to maintain some control over your evangelists’ efforts, here.
For one thing, they may not know how to best make referrals without some prompting. There’s also a chance that their referrals will miss the mark — or end up doing more harm than good — if not approached strategically.
This is where the guided part of “guided autonomy” comes in.
When soliciting more open-ended referrals from your evangelists, give them direction.
- Guidelines and best practices for creating user-generated content on a specific platform
- Templates and scripts for email referrals
- Suggested benefits to discuss when referring your brand to certain individuals
You won’t want to get too crazy with the details — they aren’t working for you, after all.
But, you also don’t want your evangelists to take a haphazard approach when mentioning your brand to their network.
Your best bet:
Make use of knowledge base software to house all your branded resources, point your advocates these resources, and then allow them to be in charge.
Break Down Channel Silos
We’ve already talked about the many possible ways to generate referrals both on- and offline.
It’s even more important, though, to ensure your incoming customers experience what your brand has to offer on the many channels you operate on.
In other words, you don’t want them to just stick to the first channel they engaged with your brand on, as this will cause them to miss out on a lot of additional value.
Your brand evangelists can help you break down these channel silos by nudging referred customers from one channel to another.
This can be done in a number of ways.
Online coupon codes, for example, can be included into referring customers’ user-generated content.
Those who see this content on Instagram, Facebook, or any other platform your evangelists are on will then be nudged to your brand’s website. In addition to making a first purchase, they’ll also be exposed to the many other experiences your site has to offer.
Or, you may ask your evangelists to include coupon codes in their content that are good for in-store only purchases.
(Note: It’ll be more effective if the referring customer actually personalizes the message 😉
This will help bring foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar locations — where you can again expose your new customers to a ton of new experiences.
You can make this work in the reverse order, too.
For example, you might include a QR code on a receipt when a loyal customer makes an in-store purchase — specifically requesting that they post it on social media or pass it to a friend in order to both receive a reward.
The idea is not necessarily to get referring customers to follow directly in your evangelists’ footsteps. Rather, the goal is to get your evangelists to use the various channels you operate on to expose newbies to your entire branded experience.
In turn, you’ll also prompt your brand evangelists to explore each of these channels a bit deeper — and allow them to become a much more integral part of your brand’s community.
Develop Systematic Processes to Maintain and Grow Your Community
As with all areas of your business, it’s vital for your team to have full control over how your brand evangelist community grows.
First of all, it’s important to recognize that not all referring customers will (or should) be a part of your community of brand evangelists.
- Those just looking to receive a discount
- Those who don’t follow your referral guidelines
- Those who don’t know all that much about what your brand has to offer
Sure, these individuals may be able to bring in some new business — but you shouldn’t be relying on them all that much.
That said, you’ll want to create clear criteria as to who to target when soliciting referrals.
Your focus should be on customers who:
- Have been with your brand for a long period of time
- Make consistent, high-value purchases
- Have a high lifetime value
In doing so, you’ll incidentally be targeting those who fit your target customer personas to a T.
And that’s the point:
Though your community of brand evangelists isn’t meant to be “official”, it should be predominantly made up of those who truly understand the value your brand offers — and have the first-hand experience to back it up.
As discussed above, you also want to have plans in place for expanding your brand evangelists’ comfort zones. Since they, themselves, may not have experienced everything your brand has to offer, you’ll want to get them to explore as many areas of your brand as possible in order to make more comprehensive referrals.
Over time, you’ll be better able to identify:
- Who your most-valuable brand evangelists are
- Who they’re most likely to attract
- Who (amongst your incoming customers) is most likely to become an evangelist
From there, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to engage with each of these audience members to get them more involved with your brand.
The goal is to keep them moving forward in their journey as customers — and to enable them to continue bringing more and more value to your business.
Growing a Community of Brand Evangelists
Building a referral program means more than just getting individual customers to refer other individuals to your brand.
To get the absolute most value out of your referring customers, you need to give them a true purpose. By creating a community of brand evangelists, you’ll allow your loyal customers to understand just how much they mean to your brand — and how much more they can do to help you serve others just like them.