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5 Ways Ecommerce Brands Create Strong Communities Consumers have their pick of online retail sites. Make yours irresistible to even the most skeptical of the bunch by forging a tight-knit community of brand supporters.

By Rashan Dixon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

filadendron | Getty Images

If survey research by Forrester is any indication, brands have to make up some serious ground with skeptical customers. Consumers show an increased reluctance to give loyalty to companies. In fact, they're being downright stingy when it comes to offering repeat business and referrals, and online businesses are granted no exception.

Fortunately, retail businesses don't have to take it on the chin, especially when the National Retail Federation predicts that holiday shoppers are ready to spend 4.1 percent more than last year.

So how can ecommerce retailers drum up more business this season? Brands that are laser-focused on winning customers and influencing prospects have a secret weapon. It's called authenticity, and it can mean the difference between being solidly in the black and drowning in a sea of red.

How to build authentic brand community

You're agile. You're nimble. Oh, and you sell great stuff. You're also all over social media and killing it with your content. So why aren't your numbers skyrocketing?

Chances are good that your ecommerce business doesn't have a strong brand community, a cohort of believers and influencers who feel a oneness with your messaging, have bought into your culture and want to be a lasting part of your tribe. Loyalists are the missing ingredient to taking your company over the top, especially in the virtual marketplace.

Related: Tips to Build An Awesome "Harley Davidson Style' Online Community

How can you own this vital differentiator? Gayle Teskey, CEO and founder of Membership Corporation of America, a consultative and marketing services organization, suggests you start by cultivating emotional alignment, or empathy, with consumers.

"This empathy -- when created authentically -- leads to a level of trust that can speak through the barrage of advertising messages consumers fend off every day," Teskey explains. "Of course, it's no crime to simply offer a great product via a subscription model, but brands that want to capitalize on the sticking power of communities must learn how real communities function and thrive, rather than just paying lip service to the idea."

What's the best way to forge this type of bond? Try these five strategies to close the deal with new buyers and solidify your connection with existing and past customers.

1. Read the temperature of the room.

Missteps are costly for any businesses, but especially B2C online retailers. After all, consumers have tons of choices and can easily move between vendors. The best way to gain their loyalty is to meet them where they are, offering the messaging they want to hear. Case in point are Millennials, 91 percent of whom would switch brands if it means they can support a cause.

Be like Hydro Flask, which goes way beyond skin deep to build communities. The company begins by sharing emotionally driven stories with adventure -- loving enthusiasts, situating its products into the adventure that their target personas call "life." Then there's its charitable giving program, Parks for All, which supports nonprofit groups that build and maintain public green spaces for the enjoyment of everyone. Both efforts foster connections that make its target customers motivated to shop.

2. Use editorial for engagement.

Content is crucial to creating a community. Just look at Glossier. The company started as the blog Into The Gloss. Essentially, the company did everything backward by most e-retailers' standards. As company founder Emily Weiss expanded her blog's audience, she launched an online store. Already drawn by the blog's inclusive spirit, ITG's fans accepted the products' validity without question. A brand was born with a community already in place and engaged.

You may not have launched your ecommerce site this way, but even if you already have thousands of SKUs, you can rev up your communal street cred by diving into editorial. Don't write about what your products do, but instead give away insider information that your audiences crave. Be like a friend: honest, authentic and interesting.

Related: How This Ice Cream Brand Built a Brand by Building Community

3. Bring partners into your game.

Feel like you're going to forever go it alone? Do your business a favor and join forces with a like-minded player. In other words, find the Disney to your TOMS.

Brand partnerships capitalize on already engaged audiences to multiply the reach of each individual company. TOMS shoes works with Disney as an extension of the entertainment giant's female empowerment campaign arm. Together, they support a mission that meets a social need and cleverly advances both of their communities.

4. Play for keeps.

Don't place all your hopes in today's scoreboard. Instead, concentrate on both the now and the later. FabFitFun does this simply by generating excitement for every shipment.

What makes getting a FabFitFun box a future-focused experience? Every interaction with the brand is a chance to stay connected. By delivering regular content to an engaged members-only online community, constantly incorporating feedback and teasing what's in the next box, this subscription brand ensures its customers are always eager to hit the renew button.

Related: 5 Tips for Building an Online Community for Your Business

5. Share the creative stage.

Rather than hogging the spotlight, share some creative space with your peeps by inviting your users and loyal fans to generate content alongside your team members. It works brilliantly for Airbnb, which counts on customers to generate more than three-quarters of its Instagram content.

Forget about being the star of the show. Let the people who make up your brand get a little love for themselves. They deserve the kudos and attention, and you deserve the engagement that comes with it.

See where you're missing out? Fill in those community gaps today, and land yourself some enthusiasts who won't be swayed by your competition.

Rashan Dixon

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Co-founder of Techincon and Senior Business Consultant for Microsoft

Rashan Dixon is a senior business systems analyst at Microsoft, entrepreneur and a writer for various business and technology publications.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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