Engagement marketing means developing a two-way conversation between your business and your audience. Could this be your brand's secret weapon?
A long time ago, before the world wide web, there was a company. This company advertised their product in as many channels as possible: magazines, newspapers, television, and anywhere else that people might look. The company was the absolute authority on their product. Customers trusted the company’s product claims because they didn’t know about other alternatives. In the company-customer relationship, the company held all the power.
Enter the internet. Suddenly, customers could see what other people thought of the company’s product. They could search for better, cheaper alternatives, or find review sites to see how good the company’s product was. The power balance had shifted.
Broadly speaking, this is the change traditional marketing has faced over the past 30 years or so. With customers wielding greater power, how a brand markets its product or service has to adapt in order to stay relevant. In this article, we’ll be discussing how engagement marketing may be the secret weapon to guarantee your brand’s success.
Engagement Marketing (verb): Developing a two-way conversation between your business and your audience to create and maintain meaningful interactions.
Engagement marketing means treating your customers like individuals and collaborators – not wallets that will eat up any message you give them. An engagement marketing strategy may involve cultivating and supporting communities involved with your brand. Plus curating strategic content designed to engage customers so that they interact with your brand.
What is a brand community?
There’s an important distinction that must be made between your audience and your community:
- An audience refers to the people that can see your marketing strategies.
- A community is a group of people that voluntarily engage with your brand. They’re a subset of your audience
If your brand is a musician in a park, your audience is the parkgoers who are passing by listening to your music. Your community is the group of people listening, talking to each other, leaving tips, and buying albums that you’ve created.
While the park audience may listen to your music, your community does listen. Your community truly engages with your performance, immersing themselves in the experience.
An audience member may or may not like what they hear. You can’t fault them for that! Rather, just like the musician in the park, you can choose to display your brand in a public area where many people are exposed to your content. The musician chose to perform in a public area for a specific reason: a member of the passive audience may indeed like what they hear and, over time, become a member of your community.
Why build a community?
80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your existing customers. Companies struggle to acquire and keep customers as digital marketing becomes more expensive. Google Ads cost per lead has increased for about 91% of industries in Google. Overall customer acquisition costs have been steadily rising.
Brand communities are designed to combat many of the issues that traditional marketing fails to solve, with the main goal being customer retention. A Harvard Business School study showed that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increased profits anywhere from 25% to 95%.
The digital age is rife with social isolation and disconnection. And it’s becoming more difficult to build connections and a sense of belonging with like-minded groups. However, brands have the opportunity to bridge this gap by creating digital-first spaces that offer customers the chance to connect and belong.
Customers are 83% more likely to purchase from a brand that they feel emotionally connected to. A brand community gives you a direct line to your customers. You can use this direct line to better understand your customers’ expectations and values, and improve the customer experience.
A community run by your brand also provides customers with a social space outside of social media platforms with privacy concerns that are under the umbrella of large corporations. Ultimately, you humanize your brand and build advocates that trust your brand in an era where 69% of UK and US consumers don’t trust advertisements.
How do you cultivate a community?
Separating your community and your audience won’t always be as easy as the park example we’ve listed. Generally speaking, a community member has in some way indicated that they want to engage further with your brand. They may subscribe to email alerts, regularly purchase your new products, or attend your events. These individuals have established a ritual or tradition around your brand.
A social space may exist, such as a digital forum or a Discord server, that contains passionate people that discuss and advocate for your brand. These communities may have their own language and values that make them unique from other groups. But, ultimately, they’re creating a space where they belong.
Here are some examples of brand communities. Pay attention to the unique values, language, and culture these communities use:
- Lego Ideas: Fans of Lego have been making and sharing photos of MOCs (My Own Creations) for years. Lego had a simple idea: What if Lego manufactured and sold these projects? Lego Ideas lets dedicated community members create and vote on their favorite builds for Lego to eventually develop into a set. Lego Ideas is a support mechanism that individual creators need to share their creations that’s mutually beneficial for Lego.
- Prada Crypted: Dedicated communities aren’t new to fashion brands like Prada. However, what is new is Crypted – a Timecapsule NFT Collection that grants token holders access to limited-edition apparel. Each new NFT drop brings new apparel, like a limited edition gender-neutral shirt created in collaboration with artist Cassius Hirst. Prada Crypted is designed around the exclusive, limited-time offerings that fashion brands are already known for.
- Chainlink: Platforms for Web3 services are often developed and supported by a community. Chainlink’s global community is a particularly notable example as they openly discuss smart contract developments and award prospective companies with grants to continue Web3 development. Chainlink also hosts physical meetups across the world. The success of their community comes from their inclusivity. They host servers in different languages and events in various countries for where their diverse audience lives. Chainlink allows community members to become advocates and organize their own meetups and community initiatives.
- Gymshark: Gyms are somewhat notorious for being exclusive, cliquey, and unfriendly to new members. UK-based clothing brand Gymsharks aims to turn this on its head by focusing on creating a community of athletes on a journey to become healthier versions of themselves. With showing up to the gym every day being the hardest part, Gymshark’s community is all about inspiring others to endure and progress. They pioneered influencer marketing to spread across the world almost entirely through word of mouth. They sponsor both online and offline events, build relationships with athletes, and share motivational goals through their newsletter.
Some of the key tactics that these examples employ are:
- Platform or space where your customers feel involved and can collaborate
- A place to vote, give feedback or be part of the decision making
- Alignment with the interests and culture of a certain industry.
- Exclusive events
- Relevant and exciting rewards
- Advocacy and referral programs
How to start building a community
A strong community is ultimately a value proposition: Why should someone choose to be involved in your community over another?
Perhaps you have an excellent community infrastructure. This can mean an easy-to-use space, such as a forum website, for members to meet and discuss similar interests. It may also involve allocating a budget for both digital and physical events. But these are often seen as the bare minimum for communities. Members may expect exclusive rewards or a loyalty program to keep them engaged. Regularly promoting or highlighting user-created content that involves your brand can make your audience feel engaged and validated in your community space.
Beyond this, hiring an experienced community manager may also be an excellent step for laying down the foundations of your community. An effective community member knows how to communicate with a broad audience and synthesize feedback into focused change. They’re also familiar with conceiving and organizing community initiatives that are in the scope of what’s realistically possible.
A partner like Step3 can provide you with the platform and infrastructure for creating and organizing rewards programs for your community.