Brands are obsessed with scale.
Part of the obsession comes from a dependence on quickly evolving marketing technology – there’s a platform or app for nearly everything these days, whether it’s optimizing titles for blog posts and online videos, measuring and tweaking growth levers for inbound traffic, or finding exactly the right time to publish on social channels.
Another aspect of the problem is the pervasive myth of exponential growth, or, as startups have termed it, the hockey stick curve. Brands have been taught to view audiences and customers through the lens of those same platforms they rely on, even if they are not selling a platform / product with inversely low costs for scaling. This leads to brands and marketers thinking of content or publishing as the product when the core product may lie entirely elsewhere. In most cases the content is not your product, the content supports your product (or at least it should).
For those brands, a better approach is to be realistic about building relationships with people who already are your customers, or who you expect or want to become customers…most of whom won’t read an amazing piece of content you’ve created once, and never leave.
As social entrepreneur and former Director of Community at Huffington Post Tim McDonald puts it:
“Many businesses look at social media as a function of marketing, but when you build relationships you build community. If relationship building is one to one, how does a business scale this? Not by adding resources, but by enabling the community itself to scale. “ – Tim McDonald
Building community can lead to some powerful network effects, including: brand loyalists to advocate for or defend your products/services (at times a form of risk management), a network to share your story during a crisis, and social data that you can use to create predictive models of customer behavior and adjust your product development strategy.
Here, Broadsuite CEO Daniel Newman talks about developing a strategy for building community, and why it leads to sustainability for brands in an excerpt from his recent book with ArCompany CEO & Founder Hessie Jones, Evolve: Marketing as We Know It Is Doomed…
“Perhaps nothing drives a brand forward more than its community. Knowing that 55% of consumers are willing to recommend companies that deliver great experiences and 85% are willing to pay a premium for those services, who are those “People” making those recommendations?
Think about Apple for instance; the company is frequently used as an example due to their powerful brand recognition, but have you considered how influential Apple’s community has been on the success of the brand?
If your experience is anything like mine, chances are the conversation went wonderfully so long as you agreed with how wonderful Apple products are. However, if you dare to question the products, ideas or innovation of Apple to an “Apple Fan,” be warned, for you have just crossed into enemy territory. It is almost as if you are telling your child that Santa isn’t real, only worse.
What is the catalyst for this insanely powerful connection that Apple has with its community?
By and large Apple isn’t a highly social company, so they aren’t doing it using standard methods through Facebook and Twitter etc. Apple has brought together a worldwide community by creating a feeling of belonging that its users get when they utilize their products.
Their slogan, “Think Differently” defines their cult-like following because people who want to be seen as creative, broad thinkers can often be found attached to their MacBook inside a Starbucks somewhere; almost as if the presence of an Apple product defines who they are.
For Apple this works. Through their idea of being cool, different and innovative they have built one of the tightest brand communities on and off the web. However, like you, I know that Apple is an established ‘Gazillion’ dollar company, leaving us to ask, how do other brands, smaller, newer brands tap into the power of community?
NOT JUST A COMMUNITY, A CLOSE COMMUNITY
Think about the neighborhood you grew up in.
What was it like? Was it urban or rural? Were there many houses or just a few? Did you know your neighbors or were they merely passing strangers?
Regardless of the shape, size and geography, most neighborhoods have some sense of community. However, they aren’t all the same. Where I grew up there was a “Community Center” which was a place where folks from the neighborhood would come to congregate.
The closer the community, the more they would work together to get things done: Like the installation of a Stop Sign in a critical area where kids play, or the passing of a referendum to build a new school.
With the shift from more traditional urban settings to modern subdivisions, communities were intentionally created, like the Neighborhood Watch, a Board of Directors and sometimes, their own pool and recreation center.
This intentional community brought all the stakeholders closer by creating greater visibility to what was happening in their neighborhood AND by helping the community see the impact of everyone’s involvement.
When you boil it down to its most simplistic form, a community is made up of those who are stakeholders in your brand. The reason I use the word stakeholder rather than customer is that many people beyond just those that purchase your products and services can become part of a brand’s community. First there are the obvious extensions such as employees and friends. Then there are the less obvious community builders such as those who are interested in learning more about your products and services.
When people become a part of something, their purchasing sentiment changes and guess what, so does the way they evangelize for your product.
You think someone that likes your product is a good ambassador, just think of someone who has bought your product and likes it. That is another great frontier for brand building, which takes us back to building a close-knit community. It requires a setting for cultivation and nurturing, much like a neighborhood, only different to suit the needs of the brand and its community.
COMMUNITY IN THE CONNECTED WORLD
If you think about the example of the neighborhood, you will usually think that a good community is small, tight knit and somewhat directionally aligned.
In the new world, the connected world, where we have communities on our blog, our Facebook Page, our Twitter Account and what seems like a million other places, the idea of community can become pretty daunting. This is because the “Internet of Things” is profoundly big, and this “Massiveness” is really difficult for most Marketers to break down into something meaningful.
Most often this leads to brands making a few mistakes…
- They aim too large: This is where they go for mere numbers (Page Visits, Likes, Followers, etc.)
- They don’t engage: Communicating with a digital community can seem like a daunting task.
- They Miss Out: Online communities are a powerful way to build influential brand advocates 6 but sometimes inaction takes over when brands don’t know where to start.
While these mistakes are commonly made, they can be avoided by following a few common sense tactics:
- Aim for Relevance: Rather than shooting for a large community, start by aiming for those that are most likely to buy your product/service now or in the near future. Also, when it comes to online networks, especially social, find out where your target audience is and go there first.
- Engage More Than You Promote: Share your stories, ideas and information, but make sure you allow the community to become part of the conversation. Ask more questions, build more testimonials and case studies, and invite participation.
- Start: Even if your “Start” is small, don’t miss the opportunity to build a community by putting your head in the sand.
For most businesses not named Apple, community takes time and real work to build. This goes from the core of building products and services that your customers love, to building places for them to congregate and talk about your products.
On the flip side building communities requires brands to also acknowledge their shortcomings and respond transparently when things go poorly. Think about the kind of community rebuilding brands like Target and Snapchat will have to do following their security breaches. Neither of these incidents was intentional by the brand, but in both instances it cost the brand trust, and their community response needed to be monumental to rebuild that trust.
The beauty of community, however, is that when you build it, nurture it and engage with it, it will help your brand in good times and in bad. While never perfect, like your family, your neighborhood or your city, the community that is your brand is one of the most powerful tools in the connected world.
ArCompany works with C-suite leaders across the United States and Canada to align brand reputation and insights gathering so that companies can go from creating at customers to creating with them. If you’d like to learn more about working with us, say hi.
Joe is a product/ops guy working with the ArCompany team on content, growth, and analytics. He digs media, design, startups, data, rocanroll, anything science-y, and thinking about how to become a better human.