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  • Writer's pictureMadeleine Milne

The rise of Community-led Growth – the next phase of customer engagement

When the www first made an appearance, brands quickly embraced the opportunity to extend their presence across a wider geographical footprint. So Web 1.0 was a clear step forward, but its “one-size fits all” offering was naturally pretty limited. Then along came Web 2.0, and a whole new world of content generation and personalisation materialised, prompting massive innovation in digital advertising and the rise and rise of social media. Not everyone bought into this revolution overnight, though and there was widespread heel-dragging among some brands before they, rather grudgingly, accepted that they might need to take this social media “thing” seriously. Before long, though, having a social media presence became universally recognised as a non-negotiable business necessity, resources were made available internally to ensure the activity was as impactful as possible, and brands learned to plan their media spend based on clear demographic and segmentation considerations, rather than “spraying and praying”.

Cut to today, however, and increasingly brands find they are needing to spend more just to achieve the same results. Why? Partly, it’s the general increase in noise – there are so many companies competing for share of voice. Also important, though, are functional and regulatory factors, like Apple ad tracking, GDPR, and algorithmic changes. But just as important are developments in consumer and societal behaviour. Consciously or otherwise, people have become much more purpose and values-driven. Gone are the days of customers buying from a brand and…just leaving. They feel that buying a particular brand says something about themselves, so they need to be comfortable with what the brand stands for. Many people want to feel part of the narrative, like they’re tagging along on the brand’s journey. In these new times, the long-acknowledged trend of people being most likely to buy a product if it’s recommended by a friend can only strengthen, and thus will the symbiosis between advertising and community.

As brands look for ways to engage with their customers in a more effective way - a way that they hope will drive significant and sustainable growth, they are beginning to embrace community-led marketing. Just as with the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0, not everyone’s moving at the same pace, but they’ll get there.

So what do we actually mean by community-led marketing? In its simplest form, it’s a brand or organisation answering a need, desire or passion of their customers by connecting them all around a shared relevance. Helping customers achieve their own goals and fulfil their aspirations can in turn drive loyalty (retention), sales (acquisition), increase profitability (reduce overheads) and accelerate innovation (product development.)

To be successful with this, however, requires a mindset shift within organisations. This isn’t just a nice little add-on – community-led strategies need to be interwoven throughout most elements of the organisation. It can also be quite a shift for some who are used to being “in charge”. Not all organisations like the idea of including their customers or members in the conversation, since handing the microphone round the room can feel scary. There needs to be a level of innate trust in the people you serve. The strategy also requires offering some form of tangible benefit to your potential customer members. People don’t appreciate one-way streets and you need to provide a clear value for those getting involved. But with authenticity, committed resources and clear guidelines, the step change in outcomes can be dramatic, as a growing number of success stories are demonstrating.

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