Things haven’t been easy for marketers lately. With a post-pandemic recovery being much slower than some predicted, coupled with a struggling global economy, it’s no wonder results haven’t been great for many organizations.
It’s easy to blame struggling marketing efforts on the pandemic, or squeezed marketing budgets as companies tighten the purse strings. But there is another glaringly obvious reason behind poor results we need to accept.
The truth is, some marketing tactics are becoming outdated, ineffective, and in need of a refresh. Is it time for you to look at what McKinsey has called the “big idea” in marketing for this decade?
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What is Community Based Marketing (CBM)?
For a long time, marketers have been putting a lot of budget and resource into Account Based Marketing (ABM) – a focused approach where sales and marketing teams work collaboratively to identify and nurture prospective customers.
When done right, ABM can be incredibly effective. It can be used to target prospects throughout the marketing and sales funnel, by delivering the right messages at the right time through numerous touchpoints.
So what about ABM’s ‘stablemate’, Community Based Marketing (CBM)? What is it and why are marketers globally getting excited about it?
In 2020, Ashley Friedlein and Michelle Goodall coined the term Community Based Marketing (CBM) and defined it as:
“people coming together around a shared practice, purpose, place, product or set of circumstances to create insights and closer, more valuable relationships with prospects, customers and other stakeholders to deliver organisational value.”
It’s effective because it provides an opportunity to create closer, more valuable, relationships with prospects and customers, coupled with access to a wealth of audience intelligence, first-party and zero-party data.
This makes Community Based Marketing incredibly valuable for bringing the customer into the business. It’s much more than simply creating a container for your content marketing or ABM.
It’s all about building long-term connections with prospects and customers throughout their customer journey, from being unaware to becoming advocates.
It also allows prospects and customers to build valuable connections and bonds with others like themselves in a community.
When individuals are drawn together by a collective passion, practice, or area of expertise in a community that they value, brands and organisations can leverage this to create closer, more valuable relationships with prospects and customers.
You can see examples of this becoming increasingly visible. Large and small technology brands such as Salesforce, Hubspot, and The Happiness Index with their customer and thought leadership/prospect communities. Professional services or advisory businesses such as legal organisations, digital agencies and PR consultants bring prospects together to fix their problems, and assure them that they are a great choice as they make community magic happen.
Why should marketers make CBM a priority?
Think about the sheer amount of marketing content you are exposed to on a daily basis.
Companies are sending promotional emails, inviting us to connect and engage with them on social media, churning out an endless stream of offers, giveaways, webinars, guides, whitepapers, podcasts, and blog posts, as well as targeting us with ads across the internet.
It is undeniable that these tactics still play an important part in the marketing mix. But they are focused on talking to the customer, rather than listening to them.
Online communities solve that problem by providing a central location to share ideas, ask questions, get support, and build relationships. They are pull vs push marketing, much more aligned to valuable brand and reputation building than performance marketing.
Planning a Community Based Marketing strategy
Community Based Marketing fits well within the interest, consideration and desire stages of the marketing funnel, but it also works well in the loyalty and advocacy stage too.
Throughout the marketing funnel, an online community can be utilised to showcase expertise, promote USPs, share knowledge, gather feedback, reward customers, and provide exclusive content, beta access or free samples.
Additionally, communities provide a wealth of access to first-party and zero-party data, with the added benefit of user-generated content and engagement actions/behaviours being created in an owned space. The type of data that is hidden by social media platforms is hugely valuable and can be collected compliantly through some community platforms.
Planning is involved when launching a community.
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Community shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise, it’s not a campaign and it’s not a quick fix.
Online communities take time and patience to build, and it’s crucial that time and energy are invested into creating a space that offers something truly valuable for the business and its community members – or they simply won’t waste their time participating.
Think about the goals of the community and how they will be achieved.
Some goals to think about include:
- Lead gen/better ROI opportunities
- Increased engagement
- Improved brand recognition
- Building trust
- Greater access to conversational intelligence, audience insights and feedback
- Reducing pressure on customer service
- Improved communication efficiency
- Enhanced innovation
- Ownership of data
As well as defining the goals of a community, some of the other factors that need to be taken into consideration are budget, industry sector, the size of the target audience, governance and the cultivation of the brand and story.
There are hundreds of options when it comes to choosing a platform to host an online community. Although social media platforms can feel anonymous and impersonal at times, as well as not being truly ‘owned’ by the brand, if this is where your audience already engages with you the most, it may feel like it makes sense to build a community there.
There are trade-offs and limitations with many social media platforms though, including not being able to customise the platform to tie in with your brand, a lack of monetisation options, poor integrations with other marketing software, algorithms and the simple fact that community-type features can be shuttered at any time.
For those of us with long enough memories, we’ve seen LinkedIn Groups gradually become unsupported by the platform and data and moderation features removed. And who knows what will happen to Twitter under its new ownership?
For startups and entrepreneurs, there are specialist platforms that provide a way to monetise a community, such as Patreon, Ko-fi, and Substack. For those who want to start off small and then scale, there are a number of community platforms available, many of which are free up to a certain number of members, offering a risk-free and low-cost option to get your community up and running.
For established and enterprise-level businesses, there are highly customisable online community platforms which often provide additional features to help build engagement with members, and advanced analytics for reporting on the success of the community.
The role of a community manager encompasses many different disciplines and is an important part of your strategy. This person will need to act as the voice of the brand, so they need to be reputationally attuned and resilient, but also capable of showing a great deal of empathy.
Like the early days of social media, don’t expect success if you give this important role to an intern or very junior staff member.
A community manager will need to know when to step in, and when to step back. Not everyone is going to share the same opinions, but there’s a fine line between a lively discussion, and people posting things that other members may find upsetting or offensive. Rules of engagement need to be set and communities have to be moderated in order to keep their members supported and safe at all times.
As communities mature, it may start to feel like they are ‘owned’ by the community itself rather than the organisation hosting it. While it’s good to ask your community questions to build trust and get people comfortable and confident enough to engage with your brand, and each other, or spark conversation when it’s needed, it’s never OK to adopt a broadcast mode and dominate the conversation. Doing so will immediately erode the trust in your community as a credible space for members to discuss things with others that matter to them, and your members will switch off, or even leave.
Even with a robust strategy in place, it can take a while to get any community or group off the ground and engaging. But like ‘brand’, community is one of the most valuable economic elements of your business.
CEOs of businesses and brands like OLIO, Gymshark and Dishoom feel that it’s almost impossible to create a successful business today without community as a ‘reputational moat’. They understand that building community takes effort, that value comes over a long period of time and that it’s important not to give up too soon.
Brands that can get Community Based Marketing right will reap the rewards of building stronger relationships with their prospects, customers, peers, and advocates – but they have to be fully invested.