One word we hear a lot in the Marketing landscape is COMMUNITY.
All popular brands are now approaching their fans to become part of their network, making it easier and more effective to drive influence and create real brand ambassadors. This isn’t bound to a specific industry or class, we can see it across the board. In Netflix’ newest series “Inventing Anna” we see how Anna tries to build an exclusive community around Art, SOHO House thrives on their community based membership, the blockchain enables developer communities to quickly raise money for Ukraine. These are only a few examples.
If we take it a bit closer to home and focus on Channel Sales and Partnerships, we can also see a few major advantages in being part of specific communities and how it influences partners to become more familiar with your brand and feel part of an ecosystem.
Why? Because it gives them a way to stay engaged and exchange ideas, feedback, and make new connections.
How many partners sign up to your referral program online, and you never hear about them afterwards? It is said that around 80% of partners who sign up to partner programs become dormant (inactive), only one month after signing up.
Fortunately, many companies are realising that the use of 1-way communication and sending messages alone is not enough to keep them excited. Mainly used as buzzwords in the past, co-selling, collaborating and co-marketing are now an absolute necessity to keep partners engaged. Exchanging business opportunities and selling with partners can no longer be ignored.
Partners want to be genuinely listened to, and they want their interactions to offer solutions to their problems. To find the right partners, partner managers need to immerse themselves in the world of their ideal partners and research what they read, what events they go to and who they follow. The more interest they show, the more they will learn. There are countless thought leaders who write blogs and run social media groups, influencers who host webinars and podcasts. All of them attract industry experts who have an interest in the content created by those people and shared in communities.
“Communities offer a smaller group of like-minded people (perhaps even competitors) who share similar experiences and challenges, have the ability to collaborate, and help improve decision making. The feeling of belonging is strong, as well as the affinity of membership. There is a feeling that communities are more democratic, as they are built by the membership, and participation is encouraged and celebrated.”
says Jay Mc Bain, Principal Analyst - Channels, Partnerships & Ecosystems at Forrester.
We are not saying Partner Managers should join thousands of communities. Without some level of focus, you would stretch your organisation too thin and not add value anywhere. Start with thinking about who your ideal partners are, what they want, and use that to join a manageable number of communities that could be full of your partners and build it out.
Engagement activities can be incredibly variant from company to company, particularly from a startup to large brands. However, if you look at it in a context of “What is the function of community?” that’s about advocating on behalf of customers, driving customer satisfaction, retention, and connecting members to each other:
-Lego’s community is an excellent example of community based marketing, which manifests in the form of a web platform called Lego Ideas. The platform allows community members to share visual ideas for new products and proudly present creations they’ve made using Lego. Members can then vote and comment on specific ideas.
-Instead of relying on digital platforms, Lululemon's strategy focuses on localised communities that operate in the physical world. Relationships with local leaders like yoga instructors and fitness studio owners are nurtured through product sponsorship and other forms of collaboration.
-The Adidas Creators Club is a very robust program that builds community through a rewards program. Community members can complete activities like uploading images or participating in a workout to receive rewards like early access to sales, product discounts or exclusive invites to events.
Community marketing is the connection of a brand to a specific community, using a platform to communicate, exchange values and create mutual meaning. The platform does not have to be digital, and communities do not have to be started from scratch. Brands can choose to work with established groups or create their own. Either way, community-building requires marketers to start conversations, establish opportunities for connection (like events or groups) and create meaningful habits.
On top of it, your brand will be seen as more approachable. People talking to real people? Can you imagine. However we have one tip for you: be visible regularly, but beware of not becoming a nuisance.
Communities build reputation and setup brands for resilient growth in the long-term. For brands, the most important consideration is to first carry a strong sense of empathy for community members, and then consistently create engagement and traditions that help solidify relationships.
With millions of potential partners flooding into communities, the brands that can attract, recruit, manage, and nourish partners at scale will be the future winners.