What is Brand Loyalty?

Geek!This is Mark Davidson’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

What do Apple Macintosh users and Harley Davidson owners have in common? Those products have become a part of people’s lives and self-identity. They feel a sense of ownership in the company. They form communities around the product, and in essence become salespeople and marketers for the product. They have a fierce loyalty, and they are vocal about it.

Ideally, as successful business owners we should want people to feel a sense of ownership in our sites and blogs. We should want our social media sites to be a part of their lifestyle. One of the ways to accomplish this is to create a sense of community and inclusion. The goal should be that our users should feel as though they are not only part of something bigger than themselves, but something that they feel they are invited to join.

It’s important that we figure out ways to promote communication between users on our sites. We should arm them with promotional tools to help promote our sites—for example, by creating a widget (clickable button) for their blogs that link back to our sites. Another example is that one day a week, we could host an open comment night on our blogs where users can ask questions, give suggestions, communicate with other users, and interact with them online. We could then additionally interview different users on our blogs, and by doing so we can take an active interest in the lives and businesses of people who are not only interested in us, but in others with similar interests. It allows for the creation of a cyber-fanbase-community, much like those that Apple and Harley-Davidson have.

We can also start looking to identify things that our users have in common and help them to make connections with each other. This is similar to how sites like Facebook and Ning help create a sense of community among users by allowing users to create groups. Another thing sites like those have deployed successfully is to allow users to search for each other by interests, occupation, marriage status, and geographical location.

Businesses could also encourage and foster meetups based on their social network—this way users can meet each other face to face. The more we can promote communication and interaction between our users online, the greater the sense of community they will feel. This is critical to both retaining active users and having our users virally market our sites through word of mouth. Mini Cooper is unusually adept at this, and have both regional and international meetups on a regular basis that are based on online social networks.

If you have a social networking site, you’ll want to make it easy for your users to invite their friends, family, and work associates to use your site. However, there’s a lot to be said about initial exclusivity and creating desire. One of the things that Google did right with Gmail was to make it exclusive. Google gave each person a limited number of email invites to give out to friends. When Gmail first launched, a buzz was created online as people actively sought out invites.

Remember, each mention of your site on a message board or social media site is a mini-advertisement. The more we can get users to talk about our sites and blogs in their emails, IMs, social media sites, message boards, and blogs, and the more we can get users to mention our brand(s), the quicker we’ll see our user bases grow and the more active users we will be able to retain…and the more customers and clients we will reach.

As successful business owners, we should want to engage people, create two-way dialogs, encourage participation, listen, and respond. The only way to create a sense of ownership in our sites and blogs is actually to give away ownership. Let others have the spotlight. Our blogs are not about our egos. Our blogs are about our audience and readers. They aren’t about us.