It’s one thing to have customers. It’s an entirely different thing to have devotees.

We’ve all met someone who loves a certain brand so much that they sing its praises to everyone they know. They may even consider it a part of their own identity and will regularly attempt to indoctrinate friends and family into the “cult” of the brand.

Surely creating that kind of buzz can’t be easy though, right? Can you, as a small business, really make your customers not just like you, but love you? What steps can your brand take to transform customers from occasional shoppers to brand advocates? Here are five key strategies you can focus on.

1. Appreciate your employees

If you want customers to be zealous about your brand, you have to make sure the people they’re interacting with have the same, or greater, level of buy-in. Creating genuine excitement about your brand within your own staff is the first step to getting customers fired up about what you can offer them.

Investing in your staff through regular enrichment, support, and celebration is a great way to show them your brand means what it says and that the company culture is one that encourages development and advancement. Happy and fully immersed employees are your best and most effective advertisement.

2. Make Customers a Part of the Club

Who doesn’t enjoy feeling like an insider? By providing your customers with opportunities to be “in the know,” you can make your brand experience feel elite and unique. This can come in many forms, from sharing special menu options to dishing about internal lingo with valued customers. They can then share tips and knowledge with their friends, giving your brand recognition a boost while also making them feel invested and, ideally, like a valued part of your brand’s “family.”

3. Foster Community

The importance of “finding your tribe” is a hugely popular concept these days. Connecting with others who share common interests is nothing new, of course, but when you provide customers with that experience—filtered through the lens of your brand—it allows your most diehard fanatics to fan each other’s flames, creating a communal atmosphere that can propel your business to new heights. Offering special sales and promotions to these fans and allowing them to share their excitement as a group can also drive a sense of urgency and anticipation you simply can’t put a price tag on!

4. Take It Offline

We get it—so much of marketing today is focused in the digital realm. But there will always be something lacking about communicating only in that way. Creating the emotional attachments and relationships with your customers that are necessary to turn them into brand evangelists requires a little bit more from you.

This could mean calling them up to personally thank them for their business or to give them the heads-up on an upcoming promotion. Or maybe it means hosting an event where they can interface with you in person. Regardless of the method you choose, it is vital that you go the extra mile if you really want people to consider your brand a dynamic part of their life and something they’re fervent to share with people.

5. Give Back

These days, shoppers have seemingly endless choices for how to fill the needs in their lives. But in an age of conscious consumerism, many are looking to support brands that aren’t solely profit-driven, but also work to enrich the world we all share. Ensuring that you participate in some type of philanthropic outreach at least a few times a year is a great way to engender goodwill from the community at large, but also to deepen the appreciation that existing customers have for your brand.

Involving both employees and fans in service opportunities can also help to create a shared sense of pride that translates to a tighter-knit community and, by extension, a more passionate endorsement of your brand.

As you can see, the size of your business is largely immaterial when it comes to creating a brand religion. And if you’re a small business without a big budget, building brand loyalty will be key to success.

The steps above are achievable for even the smallest or most niche business. Taking the time to invest in your team and working to foster genuine connections with your customers can quickly take you from being “a nice place to visit” to being “my favorite place in the world.”


 

Emily Kate Pope is the Managing Editor at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans. She specializes in all things small business finance, from lending to accounting.