For brands looking to increase brand awareness and reach, nurture existing customer relationships, and organically spark brand advocacy, one channel stands above the rest: Community marketing.
Community marketing can help you connect with your target audience in a more authentic and engaging way.
In this guide, we’ll dive into:
- What community marketing is
- Why you should be using it
- The keys to success in community marketing
- Examples of brands that have found tremendous success with this approach
What is Community Marketing?
Community marketing is a marketing strategy that:
- Involves the creation of an engaging – and active – brand presence
- Brings loyal customers together through a shared interest in your products or services
- Builds those customers into brand advocates by helping them feel connected to 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 focuses on your consumers, not you.
Why is Community Important?
Instead of telling you all about how important it is to harness the power of community marketing, we can show you.
Recently, Vesta piloted a landmark study of more than 4,900 consumers through our Big Online Brand Community Study. The results were a fascinating look into current consumer sentiment:
- 79% of consumers say that “community” is important when it comes to engaging with their favorite brands
- 38% of consumers say they anticipate their online community activity will increase in the next year
- 74% say a brand community makes them more likely to write a product review
- 92% of Gen Z agree a brand community impacts how they feel about the brand
- 78% say a brand community makes them more likely to try new products and services
- 78% of consumers believe the term “community” is being overused by brands that are not providing a real community experience
As time goes on, these percentages will likely increase. The power of brand communities and community marketing simply can’t be underestimated anymore. These results also tell us that engagement level – as well as how and where a brand builds their community – make a difference.
Platforms You Can Use for Community Marketing
Effective 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 strategy start with social media groups. Platforms like Facebook have a low entry barrier and give you several options to engage with your community, including polls and discussions, while easily promoting user-generated content.
You also have platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube that focus on photo and video content if those suit your brand better.
- Establish your brand presence quickly
- Your biggest fans are likely already on these platforms
- Wide reach and potential for exposure
- Multiple media formats built-in with easy tools for engagement
- Community is owned by a third party
- Data gathered is owned by a third party
- Brands have less control of their image on the platform
- Platform preferences and public sentiment can shift quickly
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 has certain drawbacks.
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 valuable content or resources.
- Your community is already housed in your CRM – no need to find them
- Less lift needed to build out assets or appear active
- Communication is one-sided – it’s hard to build genuine relationships
- Email can get “lost in the noise” – or end up in a spam folder
- If community members can’t interact with each other, there is no community
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 chat-based communities like Slack are commonly used as an internal communication tool for companies, some brands have turned to the platforms like Slack and Discord to engage with their consumers. These platforms provide a direct line of communication between brands and their audience with instant messaging capabilities.
- Control can be invitation-based
- Communication is instant
- Your biggest fans are likely already present
- Chat platforms make it easy to generate and share content
- Chat-based platforms own the data you collect
- Engagement options are limited compared to other platforms
- Your community is owned by the chat platform instead of your brand
Chat-based communities run into many of the same problems brands face on other social media platforms.
Community Marketing Platforms
If you want to own your data like a CRM but leverage engagement tools you’d find in social media, your best option is a dedicated online brand community.
- An online brand community is a brand-owned space where your audience can interact and share their interest in your brand’s products and mission.
- Similar to social media, you have ample opportunities to directly engage with your audience using various activities.
- With a community marketing platform, you can communicate with your fans in meaningful ways, and easily gather and share user-generated content.
- Online brand communities can be grown, managed, and moderated by you or by a partner, like Vesta.
Unlike social media, online brand communities are owned by you.
- A third party doesn’t own the data you collect.
- Your brand image won’t be subject to the negative sentiment on the platform as a whole.
- You’ll control branding elements in your owned space instead of competing with the platform’s branding.
More Benefits of Community Marketing
You might be asking: “What are the benefits of community marketing? What makes this a more valuable strategy than outbound or paid marketing?”
Community marketing is a strategy focusing on your consumers and building relationships with them. It has unique benefits that are not accessible through traditional outbound marketing.
Increased 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 customer relationship.
- You’ll maintain a higher level of retention and loyalty among this audience by engaging with them in meaningful ways through community marketing.
- You’ll have direct control to make your brand-owned community a safe and engaging space for all.
Reliable, Direct Feedback and Insights on Products and Services
Customer feedback is one of the most critical elements in 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 with multiple ways to gather valuable feedback on products and services.
- A brand community powered by Vesta’s platform, for example, allows you to run polls with your audience to see which products are their favorites.
- You can easily launch comprehensive and impactful surveys using built-in tools that help you track and mine trends.
- Vesta also makes setting up discussion boards to gather insights on past and future products and services easier than ever.
With the tools and insights you have to evaluate your brand-owned data,, you can fuel your future marketing efforts and product development.
Other platforms are built around advertising to your audience: Vesta is built around connecting brands directly to their biggest fans.
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 acquire more pieces of UGC to help foster brand awareness. This content can be anything from written reviews, to authentic videos, to memes.
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 amplifying the stories told by community members 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 cost 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 long term. Community marketing is one such strategy.
- An effective community marketing strategy can deliver massive ROI with lower upfront costs when considering time and effort.
- As a community continues to grow, it will generate momentum, build brand advocates naturally, and achieve an ever greater payoff over time.
Important Keys to Success With Community Marketing
As with all marketing channels, there are specific keys to success that you’ll want to keep in mind with community marketing.
Designed for Long-Term Goals
Community marketing requires embracing a long-term strategy focusing on predictable growth and strengthening your overall brand. This approach gives you a powerful marketing resource that you can tap into again and again.
Unlike paid ad copy and creative that continually needs refreshing to stay relevant, a brand-owned community is a self-sustaining system that renews organically through your relationship with your consumers.
Communities Require 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
- Personalizing content and offers for members
- Highlighting members and their UGC
- Taking action within the community using insights collected from your audience
Marketers need to keep up on these things to find success using a community marketing strategy – and we have the data to back it up.
In our Big Online Brand Community Study, we found the top motivators for consumers to participate in communities were:
- Activities (62%)
- Member exclusive content or offers (60%)
- Rewards and incentives for participation (57%)
- Regularly updated content (44%)
- Discussion between community members (43%)
- Mission, purpose, and cause they care about (41%)
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.
- Co-create with your consumers in meaningful ways and allow them to be the stars of the show.
- By embracing this philosophy in your community marketing efforts, your brand will 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 the world, and you can increase brand awareness and reach organically.
- Find your most enthusiastic customers and engage them. By doing this, you’ll encourage them to naturally become brand ambassadors.
- 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 provide you with 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? Delighting existing members has the added benefit of serving as active engagement.
- Promoting offers and discounts, giving points and badges, or setting up a rewards program are all great ways to start showing your audience you appreciate them for being a member.
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 Successful Community Marketing
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 connecting members with a shared interest in fitness to 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.
- 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 toward making their community feel special and unique.
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.
With their community, the “Hero Skin Squad,” Hero Cosmetics is harnessing the power of community marketing to strengthen brand relationships.
- Community members participate in interactive brand experiences, from social sampling to community discussions.
- The community generates high-quality UGC behind an army of brand advocates.
For Hero Cosmetics, it’s all about next-level product sampling. Their brand-owned community gives them a ready-made audience to try their products, allowing them to gain valuable insights and cultivate high-quality reviews.
In fact, in 2022, they harnessed the power of social proof to boost awareness of six new product launches!
Community Marketing Meets a Need Your Consumers Have
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 differs from other marketing channels.
However, the rewards can be plentiful when community marketing is used correctly.
A long-term community marketing strategy can:
- Increase brand awareness
- Create a pipeline for UGC
- Provide brands with data that is brand-owned
- Allow brands to better control their image among consumers
- Establish a cost-effective marketing channel with predictable ROI
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.