Some stats to consider from the Eric Qualman’s Social Media Revolution: “Retaining a customer is 5 times cheaper than acquiring a new customer. 78% of consumers trust social peer recommendation, but only 14% trust advertisements.”

Wait—it’s five times cheaper to keep a customer than it is to gain a new one? Yes, you read that right. That means businesses have an irresistible motivation to instill brand loyalty into their customers. As those numbers imply, one of the most effective ways to gain a customer’s trust is through peer recommendations.

We’ve talked before on this blog about how user-generated content can carry the impact of peer opinion. But today we’re going to talk about what you can do as a brand to create an environment where people will be more likely to recommend your product to their peers. If you look around you, you’ll notice quickly that you’re embedded in various social groups: your coworkers, family, people you’ve met through PTA, your book club, or your neighborhood baseball team.

There’s a reason that we gravitate towards easily definable groups where we know that we’re included: in psychology, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places “belonging” directly above basic survival needs. This theory is further supported by a landmark paper by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary. Their “belongingness hypothesis” states that people have a fundamental psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior.

So, how can brands create environments that stimulate a feeling of belonging in customers? There are a couple different ways, one of the easiest being social media. Sites like Facebook are tailor-made to satisfy our desire to belong—with a click you can create social circles based on almost any common interest or identity. Nick Bennet from Social Media Today explains that “knowing you are part of something with others and being able to share that and interact has been amplified by social media. That belonging is also more about the social interplay amongst the people who belong, rather than always between the brand and the consumer.”

Another way to simulate belonging is to position your brand as a relationship. The Harvard Business Review identifies some ways that businesses have successfully rewritten their roles: “American Express redefined the relational roles of its industry from card issuer/card holder to club/member. Disney redefined the relational roles of amusement parks from operator/rider to cast member/guest. And Starbucks redefined not only the role of the server from waiter to barista, but the role of the coffee shop from restaurant to community hub.”

Finally, you can position your brand as a reason for people to come together in their daily lives to share a community and a lifestyle. For example, REI offers outings, workshops, and events that connect with their shoppers’ interests. By allowing people to build relationships with others who have a similar lifestyle, REI helps consumers create an identity, status, and community associated with the REI brand. These shoppers are then more likely to come back and buy more equipment for future camping trips, both because they are more likely to go camping with their newfound social group, but also because owning brands from REI holds meaning within that group.

Another great example is Harley Davidson’s Harley Owners’ Group, which helps owners not only connect with the brand, but with each other. It uses that connectedness to organize rides that

raise funds for charity (the brand has addressed challenges including muscular dystrophy and hunger). This sense of community and brand loyalty is so strong that many members of the group even have tattoos of the Harley logo.

Even if your customers aren’t quite ready to tattoo your brand on their bodies yet, there are tons of ways you can use strategic marketing to build brand loyalty and belongingness— whether you create meetups for your customers or just develop ways for them to connect online, you’ll give them an authentic reason to keep coming back to you.

Creative Spot is a full-service marketing and advertising agency in Columbus, Ohio. If you would like to learn more about how we can help your organization with strategic marketing, please contact us.