In the early 1980s the iconic motorcycle manufacturer, Harley-Davidson faced extinction. Today, the company is a top-50 global brand valued at $10.7 billion. Central to the company’s turnaround, and its subsequent success was its commitment to building a brand community: a group of passionate riders united by the lifestyle, activities, and ethos of the brand.
Inspired by Harley-Davidson’s results and enabled by innovations in marketing technology, brands have pivoted towards customer-centric brand communities to reach buyers, prospects, and social influencers. Unfortunately, although most companies aspire to build strong communities that deliver customer loyalty and marketing efficiency, few understand what it takes to achieve this goal.
Community engagement is a business strategy
As a marketer, you’ve probably been asked before, to deliver “strong results, quickly” from your company’s community engagement initiative. Well, this is precisely the kind of attitude that kills community engagement programs. Too often, companies isolate their community engagement efforts within the marketing function.
For a community engagement program to truly take off, it must be framed as a high-level strategy supporting core business goals.
Harley-Davidson provides a quintessential example. The company knew that it would have been nearly impossible to compete against their rivals on a head-on basis, so they added the fifth critical factor to the basic Four P’s of marketing – People. To reinforce its community-centric positioning, the company initiated a store redesign program with its dealer network to make the brand seem more approachable – where customers would feel comfortable walking into a dealership and use it as meeting place/hangout. As a result of the companywide COO-backed community building strategy, the motorcycle brand tripled its in-store revenue and became the iconic motorcycle brand we know today.
So, how do you develop this community and get to know them? Building a community from scratch often means a lot of one-to-one interactions. Although this might seem time-consuming, making an effort here is going to pay off in big ways. Audience discovery tools available in the market today can help you develop and curate your own community. You could start with analyzing the existing information with Google Analytics demographic, audience reports on Facebook Insights and group activity through LinkedIn Analytics. Once you develop your audience persona, you can further segment your audience using alerts based on keywords or phrases that resonate with your brand. Social listening tools like Mention, Hootsuite, TweetDeck etc. send you an alert when someone specifically mentions your brand and associated keywords. You can also actively follow topics you and your community are interested in.
Communities exist to serve customers, not businesses
Some companies seem to forget that their consumers are actually people, with unique interests, needs, and personalities. A community engagement program builds loyalty not by driving sales or generating leads, but by helping customers meet their needs. Marketers must understand that robust communities are built not on brand reputation but on an understanding of customers’ lives.
Often, people are more interested in the social relationships that come from brand affiliations than they are in the brand themselves. Your customers will join your brand community to build new relationships – not necessarily with you. Although you may have built the community and manage it, you must also recognize that it really belongs to your customers. By tapping into the authentic dialogue that transpires in communities, you can gather fresh insights into market and consumer needs and inspire long-term loyalty by developing a deeper, multi-faceted relationship with your customers.
When Amazon made the controversial decision to allow customers to post reviews of the products they bought through their site, they ushered in the era of customer-based marketing into the online world. Amazon knew that ordinary user reviews were what buyers wanted. By identifying your community’s focus and needs, you’ll find multiple touchpoints through which you can connect and build a long-term relationship with your even outside of social media. Riffle by CrowdRiff is a Chrome extension that provides detailed Twitter analytics and is easy to integrate with a host of services.
Communities must serve as a professional resource for customers
Brands like UPS have seen considerable success using their product or service as a springboard to foster community conversations within their industry sector. The UPS Store’s Small Biz Buzz online community has established itself as a go-to resource for over 350 small business owners across the country, creating a new source of web traffic that translated into in-store visits.
Proactive attempts to inform your customers and help them make decisions can transform a mundane, transactional experience into a thriving long-term relationship. By forging stronger connections between a brand and its target audience, marketers can ensure unwavering brand loyalty.
Communities can also be a great tool for brands to uncover and promote innovative product applications, such as KraftRecipes.com, which solicits recipe ideas from members and makes it easier for other people to find and recreate those dishes.
Strong communities inspire brand advocates in a ‘post-advertising’ era
Brands today face an existential threat from a customer base that is increasingly immune to traditional advertising. In such a business environment, loyal brand advocates are a brand’s most effective acquisition channel.
Although influencers and thought leaders play an important role in communities, strong communities establish a cultural bedrock by allowing everyone to play a valuable role
Communities can be a potent platform for encouraging advocates to share their love for the brand and offer fellow consumers a compelling reason to join and spend their time there Although influencers and thought leaders play an important role in communities, strong communities establish a cultural bedrock by allowing everyone to play a valuable role.
Setting metrics for success
How do you measure this stuff? This is the question you are most likely going to be asked as a marketer about your community engagement program. Well, this is a real bummer. The challenge with measuring the outcome of a community building initiative is that you’re trying to measure intangible benefits. Communities are fundamentally about relationships. How do you do a cost-benefit analysis of a relationship? The answer is engagement, specifically positive engagement is a great indicator of relationships. Measuring engagement is as close as it gets to measuring relationships.
Key metrics for measuring community engagement:
Are you ready?
Although all brands could benefit from a community engagement program, not every company can pull it off. Executing a successful community building strategy requires a companywide commitment and willingness to work across functional boundaries. Your brand community needs to be more than a virtual suggestion box. Is your organization up for the task?
A community engagement program is a potent strategy if approached with the right tools and processes. A strong brand community helps foster customer loyalty, reduces marketing costs, authenticates brand voice, and yields new ideas to grow the business. Through commitment, engagement, and support, brand communities can deliver tangible returns. When you get community right, the benefits will follow.