Marketing has undergone multiple transformations in its lifetime.

It found its feet on radio, television, billboards, and magazines. Then it stepped online with email campaigns and banner ads. Then it hit its digital stride with strategies using PPC, social media, and influencer campaigns.

The evolution continues.

At a time when fragmentation and isolation have become buzzwords, consumers more than ever before are seeking opportunities to engage and connect.

And increasingly, they’re doing it through community marketing – which might just be the most powerful incarnation of marketing yet. 

Adjust Your Focus

As a marketer, you’ve probably relied on traditional advertising and publicity strategies aimed at acquiring new customers. 

But community marketing has a different focus: it targets consumer engagement, rather than customer acquisition.

Here’s why.

In the quest for growth, many companies make huge investments to optimize the end-to-end customer experience. They use a multitude of tools to map customer experience and track customer activity – the product strategy revolves around improving customer satisfaction at each step of the journey.

The catch: customer satisfaction is often already pretty high – and it’s not always an effective differentiator.  

So what separates you from the pack?

Meet Them Where They Are

The Harvard Business Review – among other marketing authorities – has concluded that the best way to maximize customer value is by moving beyond “mere” customer satisfaction, and instead connecting with customers at an emotional level. 

That means tapping into fundamental consumer needs and motivators, whether it’s the desire to feel unique, successful, or secure. 

Consumers are tired of intrusive marketing. They expect more than a sales pitch from the companies they give their money to. They want to feel that they’re recognized and heard. 

So it’s about meeting consumers where they are – connecting and engaging with existing and potential customers within their communities or groups. Meaningful engagement today will pay off in successful long-term relationships down the road. 

Value Yourself

When a product or service delivers a strong sense of connection and support, it’s viewed as more valuable by consumers – and they’re willing to pay for that added value.

What is your business about?  Obviously, you want to earn a profit – but you need to look beyond that to make a genuine connection with your audience.

Define what you bring to your customers’ lives. 

Ease? Comfort? Health? Productivity? Financial savings?

Zero in on that core value, then offer additional resources – either your own or from curated sources – to provide even more value.

Make the Connection

There’s potential for community marketing wherever like-minded individuals get together. Identify the groups of people – whether by interests, problems, or professions – that are likely to want or need what you’re selling. Then join the conversation.

There’s no shortage of venues to explore –  from blogs to Slack groups to message boards to Twitter. In other words – anywhere that customers and fans tend to gather.

Community marketing thrives on these platforms. And the number, size, and diversity of these communities – not to mention the speed and ease of connection – make them valuable gateways to consumers.

So tap into them. 

Join the Conversation

When companies move beyond product pitches and create an active presence in community spaces, they learn more about customer interests, needs, and dissatisfaction. When they’re connected, they can engage in a dialogue that allows for direct responses and follow-up questions.

It’s a win-win: companies gain valuable feedback and insights, while customers and fans feel heard and valued.

Other benefits:

  • Generates customer loyalty with channels like newsletters
  • Increases customer advocacy in user-generated content
  • Identifies customer concerns and needs
  • Increases company transparency and accessibility
  • Enhances product development insights
  • Reduces dependency on word-of-mouth advertising
  • Creates positive word-of-mouth advertising

Connecting with customers in a meaningful way makes customers happy – and happy customers tell an average of 9 people about their positive experiences. So creating or adding to a space where consumers discuss their experiences is a no-brainer.

As a community member, you’re in a position to deliver value, build trust, and engage with existing and potential customers. Benefits to your business – customer insights, user feedback, business growth, upsell and resell potential – will follow as a result of your good standing as a community participant. 

The Three “W’s”

  • Who?

Define your “buyer persona” – your ideal customer.

That means knowing the demographic that will most benefit from your product or service. What problem will it solve? What need will it meet?

  • Where?

You’ve defined your community. Now where do you find them? 

It won’t likely be in a single location. Start with a few judicious choices – giving you time to establish a legitimate presence.

Your community demographic will determine location. 

If it’s teens and early 20s, check out Snapchat or Instagram. If it’s business professionals in their 30s – 40s, consider LinkedIn. If you’re aiming to reach a broader spectrum of adults, look at Facebook.

  • What?

Think about what your CM strategy could deliver to group members. 

You could, for example, provide a platform where members can share their experiences and UGC related to your industry or niche.

You could offer community-exclusive promotions, initiate special events, or host meetups within the community  – making your customers feel they’re members of an exclusive group. (Who doesn’t like to feel special?) 

You could create newsletters that offer authoritative advice, expert insights, or solutions for their issues. This gives an incentive for your customers to stay connected with your community.

You may also Integrate your store with apps that automate the process of inviting new and existing customers to  Facebook groups or other community platforms.

Begin to Build

Start from scratch or join in?

You may, for example, create a Facebook page to draw followers. This will give you more control, but you’ll start out with a community population of zero. With hard work, it will grow – but it will take time.

Or you might join existing communities that are connected to your niche. While you’ll give up control, you’ll be compensated in the number of community members you’ll have immediate access to.

Whatever your approach, building an online community is a smart investment.

Humans are hardwired for connection. Leverage that. Participate, listen, and make use of what you learn.

And you’ll be on the path to long-term business growth.

Author Bio: Anand Srinivasan is the founder of Hubbion, a suite of business tools and resources. He is also the author of “How We Did It – 100 entrepreneurs share the story of their struggles and life experiences”