A fellow Bulwark employee and I recently attended AZIMA‘s August dinner event: How To Build Social Communities For Your Brand. The night’s speakers was Kevin Spidel, a self described “recovering political hack” who has extensive experience building and growing online communities in the political realm before doing so for more mainstream clientele.
Though the entire presentation was excellent and worth reviewing if you can find a copy, here were the few takeaways that really stood out to me. (Not all the ensuing content was covered or discussed during the presentation, but has simply served as a foundation for the following thoughts.)
“Communities are not audiences”. This is an important starting point to remember. Communities simply don’t happen. They don’t just appear all of a sudden and coincidentally happen to be comprised of people with strikingly similar preferences, passions or habits. Communities form for a reason. If you’re wondering where a given community is in the consumer funnel, forget it! You’re thinking of a different funnel. So don’t think like that. For that reason, communities do not need to be spoken to. They do not need marketing in the raw sense. They are beyond that point. What it needs is direction and purpose.
“Once you have a brand ambassador, forget a digital strategy. You need a volunteer strategy.” As vendors, or as markers, we easily get wrapped up in numbers. “What’s the ROI from last month?” “How was last month compared to like-month from last year?” “This customer just bought our product. How can up-sale him on additional products or services?” These are all statements that stem from the line of thinking that dwells on numbers and upper-right trending charts. It’s too easy to only view a consumer as a potential repeat consumer. Measureable performance is one thing, but when it comes to an organic community in an online setting, that is simply not the case.
Once you have a self-appointed brand ambassador on your hands, the possibilities are limitless. So, stop figuring out a way to keep selling stuff to that individual and come up with with a plan to empower them as vocalists. Provide a way for them to vocalize and share their experience or opinion. Build them a soapbox that they can stand on and say it in their own words. Better yet, let them borrow your soapbox.
If you think about it, brand ambassadors will continuously and willingly purchase your brand, so don’t worry about that. Your strategy for those consumers should be to help them educate and proselytize within their circles – circles that you most likely don’t even know exist and to which you will certainly not have access.
And, the gem of the night: “Loyalty is lack of a better option”. HALLELUJAH!!!
We as marketers have a propensity to pat ourselves on the back at the thought of how loyal our customers have become. We often credit our elaborate campaigns and strategies as the reason our consumers like our product and service so much that they are unwilling to defect to a competitor, even at the temptation of a lower price or additional perks.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they don’t have a better option. Or, said different, consumer’s don’t know they have other options. Every company thinks they provide the best products within their industry. Every pizza parlor thinks and advertises theirs is the best in town. Every bike manufacturer sells the “best bikes in the world”. On top of that, each one of those companies’ marketing campaigns suggest they have successfully conveyed that idea and that is the reason they have as many customers as they do.
Now, let me tell you a different story. A friend of mine has been with his insurance agent for close to 15 years. All his insurance is through the same agent. Minus any catastrophic claims, they’ve been through thick and thin with each other. Their business relationship has even survived the possibility of changing to a competitor based on price….until recently. My friend was recently solicited regarding his policy and this unnamed competitor offered the same coverage, plus additional products at a noticeably lower price. Not just a few dollars, but a considerable sum. My friend even consulted with his long-time agent first, to see if he was able to compete with the new competitor. His agent still could not get within the same ballpark. Given that my friend was actively looking for ways to cut living costs, he has now agreed to terms with a brand new face and a brand new provider. Just like that!
At the end of the day, doing business with consumers or other businesses comes down to three things: price, results and tolerance. Are consumers comfortable paying the determined price to receive the expected return? Are the results in line with the consumer’s expectation, and within reason relative to the vendor’s price? Does the consumer harbor enough tolerance, mentally and financially, to accept the results (or lack thereof) relative to the price and expectation. When it’s said and done the consumer will ask themselves one thing: “Am I getting what I pay for?” Consumers will be loyal to those that get the job done. End. Of. Story.
Building and nurturing communities within your brand has an intrinsic way of bypassing all of that. Healthy communities are comprised of believers, and even their faith in the brand will be tested. That’s normal. As you continue to educate and monitor your fold, the likelihood grows that their trust and belief in your brand will stand the test of time.