It might sound like the latest catchy buzzword in the world of marketing, but community marketing is an inevitable product of the age of the customer. With immediate access to the products and services they’re interested in, as well as the ability to leave feedback on review sites and social media, today’s customers have more power than ever before. With customers being so much better informed, brands have been forced to transform their marketing strategies to focus more on meaningful relationships driven by two-way conversation.

In many applications, traditional methods of marketing are now dead, but that doesn’t mean human nature has changed. The need for social interaction isn’t a luxury – it’s a fundamental need. Empowered by modern technology and a strong sense of connectedness, customers can now have a very real impact on the brands they do business with. Companies can contribute to this sense of belonging by building a community marketing strategy that prioritises meaningful engagement over conventional mass advertising.

Community marketing in its modern sense dates back around fifteen years when brands were quick to jump on the social media bandwagon to reach audiences in the millions. To this day, Facebook brand pages and LinkedIn company pages remain the biggest platforms in B2C and B2B community marketing respectively. Today, things are changing yet again as privacy and security concerns drive customers to more close-knit communities and brands regain control over their community platforms.

1. Reduce your dependency on paid advertising

Though many inbound marketing gurus boldly claim that paid advertising is dead, companies are increasing their investment in paid search and social media by 10% year-over-year. While undoubtedly still effective in certain situations, paid advertising presents some big challenges that are often hard to overcome. We live in an age of banner blindness where customers are growing tired of intrusive advertising and machines are constantly playing catch-up as they try to better guess what sort of ads people want to see. This has given rise to serious concerns about privacy which, in turn, puts the brands relying on paid ads in a perilous position. Add regulations like GDPR into the equation, and paid advertising becomes an even more uncertain landscape.

That’s not to say community marketing is necessarily a fix-all solution. It takes time and effort to build a group of engaged members, but it also gives brands the opportunity to capitalise on the fundamental human need for social interaction. That’s something that will never change, and in an age when people are more connected than ever before, community marketing fast becomes an obvious need. As has always been the case, people are motivated by emotions, which makes it far more likely that customers will respond to real social interactions than paid ads that disrupt them as they vie for attention.

2. Increase customer retention through ongoing engagement

Customers are spoiled for choice to a degree that was unimaginable just a few decades ago. One sub-par experience or a handful of band reviews on Facebook is often all it takes for them to start looking elsewhere. With consumer review platforms dominating purchase decisions, it has become harder for brands to retain their customers. They need to create switching barriers that give people more reasons to stay. Naturally, a lot of that comes with having a great product or service, but that’s not the whole story. Consider, for example, the fact that most iPhone users will never consider buying an Android-powered device. They’re loyal to the brand, not because iPhones are better as such, but because the brand itself has become part of their identities.

When you use a brand community to create a strong social experience for your customers, they don’t just become loyal to the brand – they become members of a group of like-minded individuals. They become loyal to one another as well, members of a club that gives them a sense of belonging. Brand communities work thanks to the psychological effects of mutually beneficial relationships in which brands empower their customers with a voice and two-way conversation thrives. With a combination of network-based marketing and direct sales, brands can deliver better customer experience and increase retention rates substantially.  

3. Give your customers a voice in the direction of your business

More than ever, customer success drives brand success. The more your customers can get out of your product or service, the easier it will be to retain them and inspire brand advocacy. Thanks to the power of community marketing, brands no longer need to conduct costly outreach programmes to learn more about customer sentiment. Instead of simply hoping that people will leave helpful and positive reviews or complete lengthy customer satisfaction surveys, an online community gives them a space where they can connect directly with the brand in the confidence that someone will be listening to them.

Successful brands are no longer driven by educated guesswork. They’re driven directly by the feedback and participation of their customers. When you can empower your customers with a voice in the direction of your brand and the development of its value proposition, they become part of the team. They’re the sort of customers who become brand advocates, evangelising your business and, in the process, spending on average twice as much as other customers. At the same time, your product research and development teams can use your community as a one-stop shop for collective knowledge, while support teams can help resolve more common issues in less time.

4. Sell directly to your community

The perfect example of a plain terrible social media brand page is one where there’s a constant barrage of sales pitches. Yet, too many businesses still use their communities for bombarding their members with advertisements in the hope that the numbers alone will yield results. That’s where advertising becomes spamming. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t sell directly to your community. What it does mean is that you need to give your customers the option to buy with as little friction as possible. Disruptive advertising is on the way out, but if your members have a way to make purchases through your community app or forum, then it’s simply a matter of making things easier for them. And, the easier the process is, the more likely they’ll buy.

Today’s social media marketing teams often apply the 60/30/10 rule, whereby 60% of what they post is engaging content, 30% is shared from other sources and just 10% is promotion- or sales-driven. The same rule may be applied to community marketing. With your own private brand community, you’re also not subject to the limitations of public platforms like Facebook Shop. Instead, you can provide a fully customised experience that incorporates features like in-app purchases, subscriptions, and exclusive discount codes.

Final words

Building an online community that’s exclusive to your brand and comfortably far away from all the noise of public social media won’t happen overnight, but it’s definitely an investment worth making. Modern brands can no longer hope to compete solely on things like price and product selection, and conventional advertising muscle can only achieve so much. Instead, they need a community of brand advocates that in itself becomes a unique value proposition that more people will be drawn to.

Disciple community management platform helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control. Start building your community marketing strategy today with our fully customisable community app.