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Beyond the hard part of getting organizational buy-in to this community way of thinking, building
true community takes an everyday commitment to nurture your most passionate customers, then empower them to communicate with each other and create content around things they’re interested in. This transforms consumer marketing (the practice of corporations developing creative for cohorts of customer-like groups) into community marketing (the practice of your customers developing creative for each other, driving brand passion and sales). This peer-to-peer content builds ever-larger and more imaginatively engaged communities, like a 3D printer reprinting itself into infinity.
So how do you set the stage for your own community-first transformation in 2021?
A bright spot of 2020 was watching forced innovation accelerate a number of positive trends by a decade, or more, into the future—especially in our world of brand marketing and content creation. Notably, the importance of community building as a vital component of brand strategy has emerged into the spotlight. Brands realized their customers aren’t just faceless consumers, but members of a thriving community. Those that have committed to this vital strategy decision are the ones constantly in the spotlight.
Think about what customers love
It’s important to understand you’re talking about people giving you their business. This applies not just to b-to-c companies, but b-to-b ones, too. Remember, your end-buyer is still a person with emotions, drives and affinities, not a faceless persona or AI (not yet, anyway). To start, it’s helpful to think about them as individuals with passions and passion projects. What is it they really care about? How can we give them that?
Find the nexus
A crucial next step is nailing where the things your customers love intersect with the purpose of your organization. Work with your biggest fans to find the most relevant intersection points between your brand and their lives. Take Michelin. Back in 1889, being a nice upstanding French company, they understood their customers were passionate about food. Those early “foodies” were going to need to know where to eat well, and the more must-try food destinations they found, the more they would need to drive. Eventually, this would mean a need for new tires. Did they overtly go out of their way to flog the latest set of Pilot Sport 4S’s or their industry leading technology? Didn’t have to. For Michelin, their three-starred nexus of product and content was a dining guide.
Build a storytelling platform
Once you’ve defined your nexus, invite your customers in by giving them a platform to meaningfully interact, tell stories, and develop content with each other around these passion points. You could dedicate a part of your website to empowering storytelling, encouraging your community to create tutorials, exchange personal stories related to their experiences, or hack at products they love, or want to love more. Or, you could engineer your entire business around this idea.
For example, in my household, the holy grail of screen time is the time applied to Roblox. My daughters (not budding coders; just kids) are fanatic players, running pizza shops, adopting pets and, get this, building games for other players. Because the platform’s growth is attached to community storytelling, it has quickly arrived at the place where the company and the community are indistinguishable. Not only is that making Roblox more fun for players, it’s also paying off for investors, with what will likely be an IPO at a valuation north of $8 billion (or approximately 800 billion Robux).
Elevate your community members
Finally, make a point to elevate the people who inspire and do awesome work. A great North Star? Peloton. By empowering their community to self-select into subgroups (everything from Pelopreneurs to Black Girl Magic to Pelo-Foodies), they’ve created opportunities for leaders to emerge around things they’re interested in. And when Pelo-celebs emerge, the brand takes every opportunity to share their content on official Peloton channels, co-create with them, and feature them in their campaigns, elevating their personal brands and growing the Peloton revolution at the same time.
In 2021, the brands that get this right will, in the words of Donald Fagen, land on “that right dynamic for the new frontier.” Like all organizational transformation, it will take time, but the dividends will be exponential. And, as they say: There’s no time like the present.