Marketers have a variety of tools at their disposal.
From paid advertising to content marketing, there are many channels to help marketers reach their goals and KPIs.
For brands looking to increase brand awareness and reach, nurture existing customer relationships, and organically spark brand advocacy, there’s one channel that stands above the rest: Community marketing.
In this guide, we’ll dive into what community marketing is, why you should be using it, community marketing keys to success, and some examples of brands who have found tremendous success with the channel.
What is Community Marketing?
Community marketing is a marketing strategy that involves the creation of an engaging brand presence to bring your most loyal customers together. These loyal customers are brought together through a shared interest in not only your products or services but your overall brand mission.
While many other forms of marketing, such as advertising, are all about bringing new customers into the fold, community marketing is primarily focused on nurturing the relationships you already have.
The bottom line is that community marketing puts the focus on your customers, not you.
Platforms You Can Use for Community Marketing
Community marketing isn’t possible without a means to gather your audience together in one place and engage with them in a meaningful way.
To do this, you have a few options at your disposal.
Social Media Groups
More often than not, brands that employ community marketing as a marketing strategy start with social media groups. Platforms such as Facebook have a low barrier to entry and give you a number of options to engage with your community, including polls and discussions, while easily promoting user-generated content.
You also have platforms like Instagram and Snapchat that focus on photo and video content if those suit your brand better.
A solid social media presence is never a bad thing when it comes to community marketing. However, using social media platforms alone to gather your community comes with certain drawbacks. Most notably, your community is owned by a third party, meaning you don’t actually own any of the first-party data you collect.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Platform
CRMs allow you to gather data on your customers (and occasionally your audience).
It all starts with acquiring contact information from potential leads, which means offering something in return for the all-important email address. Once you have an email list, you can communicate with your audience by sending them offers and providing them with valuable content or resources.
While it’s true that a CRM can fit into a community marketing strategy, it’s one-sided. Your opportunities for engagement and relationship building are minimal.
While Slack is most commonly used as an internal communication tool for companies, some brands have turned to the platform for gathering their communities. The platform provides a direct line of communication between brands and their audience with instant messaging capabilities.
However, Slack runs into a lot of the same problems seen with Facebook and other social media platforms. For starters, there’s the issue of ownership. Slack owns all of the data you collect. Slack is also limited in the engagement options it provides when compared to other platforms, such as an online brand community.
Community Marketing Platform
Your last option is a dedicated online brand community.
An online brand community is a brand-owned space where your audience can come together and share their interest in your brand’s products and mission. Like a Facebook group, they give you ample opportunities to directly engage with your audience using various activities, communicate with them in meaningful ways, and easily gather and share user-generated content.
Unlike Facebook groups, online brand communities are yours. A third party doesn’t own the data you collect. You aren’t subjected to negative sentiment related to the platform as a whole. You’re able to inject your own branding elements into the space instead of dealing with the platform’s branding throughout.
Vesta is an example of an online brand community platform. Not only are you able to own your data and reap the benefits of an online brand community, but Vesta’s client success team will manage, moderate, and grow the community for you.
Benefits of Community Marketing
You might be asking yourself: “What are the benefits of community marketing? What makes this a more valuable strategy than other marketing endeavors?”
Because community marketing is a strategy focusing on your customers, there are some benefits that you won’t be able to get from outbound marketing efforts, such as paid advertising.
Increased Customer Retention and Loyalty
For your most loyal customers, it’s about more than just a purchase. These customers want a sense of community—a place where they can bond with other like-minded people.
Investing in a community marketing strategy helps nurture a healthy and positive relationship with your customers. You’ll maintain a higher level of customer retention and loyalty among this audience by engaging with them in meaningful ways through community marketing.
Reliable, Direct Feedback and Insights on Products and Services
Customer feedback is one of the most critical elements when it comes to improving your current products and services and your future offerings.
Employing a community marketing approach can help give you more reliable feedback than ever. You’ll have a direct line of communication with your audience. Depending on the platform you’re using for gathering your community, you’ll have multiple ways to gather valuable feedback on products and services.
A Vesta community, for example, allows you to run polls with your audience to see which products are their favorites. There’s a comprehensive surveying tool built into the platform allowing you to conduct impactful and predictive surveys. Discussion boards can also be used to gather insights on past and future products and services. With these insights, you can fuel your future marketing efforts and product development.
An Ongoing Pipeline of UGC
User-generated content (UGC) is one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolbox.
As you continue building your brand and diving deeper into community marketing, you’ll start to acquire more and more pieces of UGC to help foster brand awareness. This content can be anything from written reviews to engaging and authentic videos.
All of the different examples of UGC embrace one crucial principle: Social proof.
Instead of controlling the narrative yourself, user content helps your brand feel more authentic to your audience. By sharing this content, you’re simply amplifying the stories told by members of your community and encouraging brand advocacy.
Lower Costs Resulting in More Predictable ROI
Certain marketing strategies, such as PPC advertising, require a continuous budget to see results. This can end up costing brands big in the long run with an unpredictable return on investment. Paid ads do have their place in an overall marketing strategy, but some channels can prove more cost-effective.
Community marketing is one such strategy. An effective community marketing strategy can deliver massive ROI with far lower upfront costs when time and effort are invested. As a community continues to build, it will generate momentum and achieve ever greater payoff over time.
Important Keys to Success With Community Marketing
As is the case with all different marketing channels, there are specific keys to success that you’ll want to keep in mind with community marketing.
It’s a Long Term Approach
With any relationship, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
Community marketing follows this philosophy. It means embracing a long-term strategy of predictable growth and strengthening your overall brand. However, this long-term approach gives you a powerful marketing resource that you can tap into again and again.
It Requires a Commitment
Tapping into community marketing requires you to truly commit to the strategy. It’s more than simply starting a few social media accounts and posting intermittently.
Success with community marketing involves engaging with your members in a meaningful way. There are many ways to do this, including:
- Initiating and engaging in discussions
- Creating fun and relevant activities for them to take part in
- Gathering feedback on products or services
- Sharing behind-the-scenes access to your brand
- Highlighting members and their UGC
- Taking action within the community using insights collected from your audience
Marketers that keep up on these things find success using a community marketing strategy.
Participate in Discussions, But Don’t Take Over
Community marketing is all about allowing people to share information and network with other like-minded people.
It’s not about hard selling products to community members.
You’ll definitely want to engage with your community but remember: It’s about them, not you. It’s about co-creating with your consumers in meaningful ways and allowing them to be the stars of the show. By embracing this philosophy in your community marketing efforts, you allow your brand to appear more authentic and organic.
Embrace Word-Of-Mouth Promotion
Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. Consumers are far more likely to be interested in your brand if they hear about it from their peers instead of the brand itself.
Promoting UGC is one way to take advantage of word-of-mouth promotion. Find the most relatable and genuine examples to show to the world, and you can organically increase brand awareness and reach.
It’s also important to find your most enthusiastic customers and engage them. By doing this, you’ll push them to become brand ambassadors and get the word out about your brand to an audience that might not have heard of you before. Vesta’s Single-Click SharingTM tool makes this process easier than ever, giving community members a quick and easy way to share information about the brand with their friends and family.
Establish a Meaningful Value Exchange
Community marketing channels give you plenty of opportunities to reward your audience for non-transactional behaviors.
This is an important aspect of an effective community marketing strategy. Your audience will provide you with valuable insights, advocacy, and feedback. Why not reward them?
Promoting offers, discounts, giving points and badges, or setting up a rewards program are all great ways to start rewarding your audience for participating in your community.
Maintain a Feedback Loop
At the end of the day, people join a brand community to feel a part of something special.
Ensure that you provide your community members with feedback to let them know that they’re being heard, understood, and valued. This could be anything from letting them know how they’re impacting your product or processes to sharing how their thoughts are helping influence your brand and community.
Examples of Community Marketing From Established Brands
There are many brands out there taking full advantage of a community marketing strategy.
By drawing inspiration from these stories, you can find similar success.
Here are three great examples of community marketing used by established brands.
The Peloton community isn’t about pushy sales or offering a transparent rewards program. It’s about interconnecting members with a shared interest in fitness and connecting them with motivational instructors to help them reach their long-term goals.
The members of the Peloton community all have different backgrounds and come from different places. However, they all share similar interests and goals rooted in fitness. Their community even offers a bit of friendly competition between members, which can help push people to the next level in terms of fitness goals. This method of community marketing helps Peloton push word-of-mouth promotion and drive more people to join the Peloton community.
Not many brands have embraced the power of personalization the way Maker’s Mark has.
The program’s highlight is a barrel of the Maker’s Mark bourbon with your name engraved onto it. This barrel is sent to age and members can track their barrel on the Ambassador App. When it’s ready, one-of-a-kind ambassador bottles from the batch will be available for purchase with your name on the label.
On top of the personalized barrel, the Maker’s Mark Ambassador Program also sends all ambassadors invites to special events and insider news. When the holidays come around, they send members a special Maker’s Mark ornament.
Maker’s Mark has gone to great lengths to involve community members in their process and their brand. Their usage of highly personalized rewards goes a long way to making their community feel special and unique.
Seventh Generation’s community marketing strategy revolves around creating an online community for parents who feel strongly about their mission: Providing safe and effective plant-based household products for parents entering a new phase of their lives.
To achieve this goal, Seventh Generation enlisted Vesta’s all-in-one community building software to help them create their new online brand community: Generation Good.
Although Seventh Generation assumed that their community members would be made up of past customers, it turned out that 60% had never purchased their products before. By providing a lifestyle-focused community for their members, Seventh Generation has fostered connections, sparked brand advocacy, and nurtured potential new users of their products. Seventh Generation has also increased awareness and product trials by providing samples of their product to this highly targeted audience.
And Seventh Generation understands the importance of advocating for important causes and not just their brand, giving members the opportunity to take action on social responsibility issues that are important to them.
Community Marketing Offers Several Benefits That Other Channels Can’t
There’s no doubt that community marketing requires a specific approach and skillset from marketers to find success. Spending time nurturing relationships and embracing a long-term commitment to engaging with customers can be different from other marketing channels.
However, the rewards can be plentiful when community marketing is used correctly. A proper community marketing strategy used long-term can increase brand awareness, create a pipeline for UGC, and establish a cost-effective marketing channel with predictable ROI, among other benefits.
With a low barrier of entry, there’s no reason why brands shouldn’t be taking full advantage of community marketing.
It all starts today. Your audience is waiting.
Questions About Community Marketing? Vesta Can Help.
Vesta can help answer your questions about community marketing and get you on track for success. Our client success team has a wealth of experience in creating, managing, and moderating communities for brands. Contact us today with any questions or feedback that you have.
Interested in more?
Check out our eBook on creating a winning brand community strategy in just four steps.