The marketing landscape has shifted to a digital-first mentality.
What this means is that we measure results in the form of clicks, views, return on advertising spend (ROAS), and conversions. We reduce people down to users, viewers, and followers. We invest in conversions and not in experiences. We make search engines love us, grow our lists, and generate leads. That’s our job, right?
Meanwhile—engagement with our organic social content decreases. Trust in brands and influencers declines. And, organic rankings in search engines become more and more difficult to build and maintain as search engines start to box us off of page one. So, at what point are we going to admit that our job is changing?
When the digital marketing channels that feel “safe” no longer work, then what? Will you just cross that bridge when you get there, or are you starting to think about it now? That’s a lot of questions, and for us marketers, they are all questions we need to ask ourselves.
Let’s face this together: our brands don’t make people act, convert, or engage. Our brands don’t influence people.
Other people do.
When you pull people together you’re doing an amazing thing for your brand (and your prospects and customers). You’re no longer marketing, you’re community building. And communities are more powerful than any marketing channel we’ve ever experienced.
Let’s talk about brand communities and some companies who we believe are getting this right.
First, what is a brand community?
A brand community is a collection of personal connections people form around your brand. It isn’t just about customers – there are likely other communities centered around your brand as well such as your employees, your partners, your users, or even other brands in your space. Brand communities have a few key characteristics in common, which we detail below.
Members of brand communities have a sense of belonging; they share interests with other members and they identify with your brand’s vision and approach.
A community cannot be built without outlets for members to connect. Whether that be at events, via social media, or other messaging channels, a true community boasts active participation by community members.
If your brand has become ingrained into a person’s process, beliefs and network then you will achieve the ultimate loyalty from those community members. Communities don’t give up on brands they love-- they give feedback and try to create an even better future for that brand.
Who is getting community building “right”?
One company that I love talking about (almost to a fault) is HubSpot. Sure, I read HubSpot’s blog posts, emails, and support content. I’ve clicked on ads from them and I’ve talked to sales reps there. But none of those points of engagement are why I would refer someone to HubSpot.
The truth is, I love HubSpot because I like other HubSpot users. It helps that they also have:
Support and account management experiences that are stellar and seamless, especially as they roll out the flywheel as opposed to the funnel.
Opportunities to connect with other users (HubSpot User Groups). I’ve met incredible people at these and uncovered opportunities to develop my own skill sets.
A kickass conference every year, which goes without saying is a huge benefit to any community.
I actually feel sadness to have never attended INBOUND, doesn’t that speak volumes? For someone to have an emotional response to missing out on something?
And it’s not just B2B SaaS companies in the mix doing great things on the community building front. Take for example any of the brands on the lists below including Jeep, Playstation, Sephora, GoPro, Lululemon, Lego, and more:
Why aren’t more brands focused on building communities?
Rushing into trying to build a community to “catch up with your competition” or “increase revenue” can ruin any sense of authenticity your brand holds with community members. Think long and hard about the people that surround your brand and how to provide them with experiences that matter.
Authentic relationship building and community engagement can’t be automated - there are no shortcuts here.
For marketers obsessed with finding “hacks” to do our jobs and who are over-focused on adopting gobs and gobs of MarTech to make us more efficient, it can seem overwhelming to step back and really look at the problem.
The problem is that for most brands there is a clear barrier between human experiences and today’s marketing programs. The only way to fix it is to focus on connecting people and to facilitate (but not force) relationship building. The easiest way to start, in our belief at DoubleDutch, is through your brand’s events.
Knowing where events and event tech fit into the mix...
Events are ephemeral, but the relationships forged at them can last a lifetime. When talking to our CEO, Lawrence Coburn, about this post he recalled attending SEO conferences in the early 2000’s. He told me that he met people there who he still speaks with and has even been in some of their wedding parties as a result of those events! All because he was part of a community.
He had found his “people” that he identified with, the event provided an outlet for interacting with those people and from that brings back fond memories for him and loyalty to that group.
Events are the last frontier marketers have to make meaningful, authentic connections with their audience. So, how can you build an authentic community at your events if relationships can’t be manufactured?
1. Identify brand stakeholders that share an identity
Know who your events are targeting at a personal level. Meet with them, ask them what experiences they love and what experiences they hate. The deeper you understand prospective attendees the better your experiences will be at creating a sense of community amongst them.
2. Enable interaction between those stakeholders every chance you get
Experience design should not just include session content, speaker profiles, and exhibitor planning. It needs to include ways for your attendees to interact with one another beyond the standard “end-of-day happy hour.”
3.Integrate technology to create opportunities to network and interact that don’t suck
This may seem like a plug for DoubleDutch, but the thing I love about our products and team, in general, is that we treat event technology as more than a place to store and deliver static content. Push the boundaries of event technology and treat it as it should be -- as a catalyst for conversation.
For example, set up an in-app icebreaker game that attendees launch into when they first arrive, helping them to start connecting face-to-face faster.
These are all ways an organizer can initiate conversations and get people to interact with speakers, other attendees, organizers or exhibitors more frequently. The goal should be to leverage in-app experiences to initiate a real face-to-face interaction.
4. Support those thriving communities by investing time and money into keeping them alive
Once the buzz of an event fades, how are you nurturing the community that was built there?
If no thought is placed into how to re-connect members post-event then your event will have been an ephemeral experience: while likely a fun time, there was no eternal impact. By continuing the conversation, re-engaging attendees all year, and providing more intimate micro-events or meetings to attend, you’re able to prolong the effect of your brand’s larger flagship events and keep people connected to one another.
It’s not about re-writing the script; you shouldn’t give up all other digital channels of marketing. For events, evaluate how you can connect your attendees, and help them reach their goals. I would go out on a limb to say you’ll reach yours too in the process. Lastly, be forward-thinking. You should start building the communities now that will shape your brand in the future.