When social platforms like Facebook and Instagram were just taking off, making money with cheap digital advertising was fairly easy. Unfortunately, those days are long over. Using the same old paid social channels and search engine marketing just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Now, the brands that are winning in ecommerce are succeeding by stepping away from focusing on customer acquisition alone. By broadening their approach to include retention marketing as well, they’re not only building emotional relationships with their customers but also creating brand communities that motivate shoppers to stay engaged over time.

This strategy works because it frees them from having to spend all of their time finding new customers who only make one purchase. Instead, they can focus on turning each new customer into a devoted, loyal community member that keeps coming back.

In order to see what this actually looks like, we need to understand why the old ways of growing a business are either unsustainable or simply don’t work. Using oVertone as an example, let’s take a look at what true ecommerce success looks like in 2020 by examining how the best brands  are shifting their focus from the patterns of the past to the ways of the future.

Mediocre ads no longer convince customers to buy

When ecommerce was taking off between 2014 and 2015, digital ads on Facebook and Instagram were in their infancy. As a result, anyone could start an online business, put minimal effort into the social ads they run, and quickly make loads of money. That’s how tutorials like the one picture below were possible — in the early days, it didn’t take a lot to get things right.

Brand Communities only sustainable growth - make a million on shopify kid

Now, only 4 or 5 years later, that strategy simply doesn’t work. Not only do customers not want to be sold to, but the amount of ad space is outpaced by demand, making ads more expensive than ever. In fact, year-over-year ad spend on social channels increases by 24%, with ad spend in 2018 reaching an all-time high of over $100 billion.

This intense competition means that most ads won’t even be seen, let alone get clicks or drive revenue like they used to. Trying to use the same methods that succeed in 2014 will only result in enormous acquisition costs that are bound to quickly eclipse a customer’s value to your business.

Product involvement prompts customers to make more purchases

One of the biggest problems with online ads (especially bad ones) is that they create transactional relationships with customers. In other words, they reinforce buying habits surrounding promotions, deals, and price as opposed to how customers actually feel about your brand.

To counter that negative customer mindset, oVertone came up with a way to build emotional relationships with their loyal customers. With their Color Club rewards program, they let every member feel like they’re part of the oVertone brand by giving them a voice in the product development process. Even though letting customers give feedback on new colors and kits is a simple perk to offer, it goes a long way by letting customers feel like every product they buy is  their product too.

Brand Communities only sustainable growth - oVertone product have a say

When customers are given the chance to influence product development, it motivates them to not only stay engaged with your brand but keep making addition purchases. After all, who wouldn’t want to own all the products they had a part in bringing to life?

Instead of always looking for new customers, engaging with your existing ones in ways that complement your products goes a long way in strengthening the relationships they have with your brand. This goes further than simple ads ever will!

Amazing ads only work for a short period of time

If mediocre ads aren’t going to cut it, it’s tempting to think that really good ones will. I know I’ve clicked on a few Instagram ads lately, making it easy to assume that if you put the effort in you’ll be able to encourage the customer engagement that helps you gain some traction.

Unfortunately, the truth is that great ads on their own still won’t be enough to sustain a business. The brands that made it really big 5 years ago wouldn’t get the same great results if they started using the same ad channels today because they face the same competition, high costs and increasing use of adblockers as the brands running mediocre ads.

Brand Communities only sustainable growth - MVMT social

To see what I mean, let’s take a look at the success of MVMT, a viral watch brand. They took social media by storm in 2014, using some really great ads to generate over $100 million in sales.

However, while this success ultimately helped them get acquired for around $100M, MVMT just wouldn’t stand out today like they did years ago. Even with social influencers and expertly-curated content, their results today would be overshadowed by advertising budgets that get used up much quicker and see much worse results. As customers look elsewhere in the significantly more competitive advertising landscape, brands will lose any ground they might have once gained with great ads.

Rewards keep customers invested in your brand

Knowing that even incredible ads aren’t enough to create and sustain their brand, oVertone decided to build a rewards program to serve as a community for all of their customers. The Color Club leverages what their customers are already interested in (vibrant hair products) to motivate shoppers to join, and then makes it rewarding for members to both engage with the brand and share the community with all their friends.

Brand Communities only sustainable growth - oVertone colorclub

By getting their customers to become invested in more than just the product being sold, oVertone invites every member to become part of the complete brand experience. This has allowed them to move away from spending all of their revenue on ads to try and grow their business with one-time shoppers. Instead, oVertone’s rewards program gives them the ability to sustainably grow their customer base with engaged, repeat customers that become advocates who refer other engaged, repeat customers to their store.

This self-sustaining cycle gives oVertone the opportunity to engage with their Color Club community members as they continue to experience success, leaving the intense ad competition of the crowded beauty products industry behind.

Focusing on building a world class top-of-funnel is exhausting

If ads, good or bad, aren’t enough to build and sustain a brand, what about the entire top-of-funnel (TOF)? There are quite a few brands using this strategy, chasing success by putting their efforts into as many customer acquisition streams as possible.

Brand Communities only sustainable growth - Showfields social

Showfields is a great example of this in action. They’ve created a space where dozens of traditionally online-only brands can come together to offer engaging, pop-up style retail experiences. Each brand they’ve curated to be part of the Showfields experience gets the benefit of a whole new new customer channel without the risks associated with being a purely brick and mortar business.

This strategy is also being supported with traditional media. While it might have seemed foolish 5 years ago, it’s now not uncommon to see brands with billboard ads in Times Square or making traditional TV ads. Firing their top-of-funnel strategy on all cylinders has propelled several direct to consumer brands like Everlane, Kylie Cosmetics, and Casper to achieve high sales growth in the past couple years.

However, this doesn’t eliminate the problem. Even after optimizing their entire top-of-funnel, these brands are all fighting the same exact fight as the ones that are only running ads. At the end of the day, mastering your brand’s TOF is just a mask for the constant battle to get new visitors through acquisition marketing, requiring more budget than ever to reach potential customers and convince them to give your brand a chance.

Value-add marketing easily makes your brand worth watching

Since filling the top of the funnel alone isn’t enough, oVertone tackles the funnel from both sides by focusing on value-add marketing. With content that exceeds customer expectations and delivers more than what they asked for, oVertone takes the core idea of value-add marketing to heart with interesting and relevant blog posts, and informative DIY Youtube videos.

Brand Communities only sustainable growth - overtone myhairstory

Like the blog post and social hashtag pictured above, oVertone uses a variety of content about hair, beauty, and positive self-image to show off their industry expertise and draw in new potential shoppers.

At the same time, creating content that is interesting and useful to their existing customers keeps them top-of-mind, strengthening their ties to the oVertone brand community. That way, when it’s time for their customers to buy more hair care products, it’s an easy decision to go back to the brand they’re used to receiving great value from.

Any brand can create marketing content, but making it valuable to your entire funnel saves you the headache and heartache of dedicating yourself to finding new customers but not getting their brand loyalty in return.

Win on different terms with a brand community

At the end of the day, a strong brand community is critical to building a successful brand, and tools like value-add marketing and reward programs  are only a few of the critical strategies being leveraged by successful brands like oVertone to achieve this.

Ultimately, brands like oVertone are rising to the top by not playing the same game as their competition. They know that having mediocre ads, investing too much in great ads, or even an incredible top-of-funnel strategy alone isn’t enough. Complementing their top-of-funnel strategy with a retention and relationship focused brand community is the only way to dominate their competitors and grow at a rapid, sustainable pace.

This, then, is the strategy your brand needs to adopt in order to succeed in 2019 and, more importantly, beyond.