June 26, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Brand communities are the ultimate social media

Marketers spend a lot of time thinking about the motivations of the people they’re trying to reach. Identifying motivations of specific consumer types and then targeting them with specific messages, products and opportunities is standard stuff.  

And it’s effective.

If you can get a core problem a consumer cares about and solve it for them, you can get a sale. If you go up a level further and tap into their identity, how they see themselves or how they want to see themselves, you can connect even more strongly with them and build your brand.

However, both of these things still require you to cut through the noise of everything surrounding the modern consumer, whose attention is, as we’ve noted before on this blog, under siege at all times.

A brand-building path with less resistance

You can connect deeply with your consumers by using their most fundamental needs to do the heavy lifting for you. Human beings are born to build communities. It’s a primal need we all share.  No one is exempt from it.

That’s why brand communities can be such vibrant places, even if their ostensible purpose is commercial and not personal. People satisfy their needs in a brand community the same way they would at their bowling league or local pub.

If your brand can create the conditions for community to form, if you can fulfill the primal human needs that community satisfies, your consumers will come, they will stay and they will contribute more than you ask.

And the best part? They’ll feel like they’re getting more value than they’re giving. 

Here are three key human needs you’ll need to satisfy.

1 - Find a shared purpose for your community.

Purpose must be at the core of the community. People show up to do things together. There are plenty of places people can just show up to hang out. But those places are replaceable and your brand community shouldn’t be.

You need a purpose that resonates with your consumers. That can mean talking (about your brand, about shared passions, or about both). That can mean creating (your products or anything else). That can mean changing something in the world (for the better, hopefully). That can mean a mix of all three.

There must be a central organizing focus of your community to differentiate it from the others out there and to give people reason to gather in the first place. Make it strong and compelling for your fans. And they will show up.

But that’s the just start.

2 – Create a place where your people can find their people.

Let's go back to our pub or bowling league analogy. Nobody keeps coming out to those places week after week if the people they’re spending time with aren’t like them. People want to find people who share their ideas, beliefs and passions. There is nothing in any marketing toolkit as powerful as one person looking another in the eye and saying “Oh you love that too? Let’s talk.” Your brand community should facilitate these interactions.

3 – Create a place where people feel valued for who they are and what they do.

People want to be liked and appreciated. You can’t overstate this. It’s an important reason why people gather in communities to begin with. If you build a brand community where consumers can make valuable contributions to your brand, but they don’t feel appreciated or liked by your brand representatives and the other community members around them, they will eventually drift away. This has implications for how you create the ability for your consumers to make social connections in your community and how you nurture the relationships between community members and your brand on an ongoing basis.

All of the above is relatively simple on its face but trickier in execution. That’s why so many brand communities fail.

Get in touch if you’d like our help planning your brand community.

June 10, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Consumers are people too: a brief guide to motivation

We need to think about consumers, brand fans, and potential community participants as people. It’s sometimes easy to forget they are just like the mostly-well-meaning, flawed, ambitious, insecure, time-strapped individuals we see around us each day. The more we internalize this fact, the more careful we’ll be in designing a community experience for them.

We need to realize here that we have deep work to do in order to motivate people to join a brand community and then participate on a consistent basis.

The motivators you’ll need to use can be slotted into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. You’ll want a mix of the two in your community.

Extrinsic motivators:

These are externally originated rewards that can motivate someone in your community to contribute to your brand. Here’s a list of some commonly used extrinsic motivators in brand communities, starting with one of the most potent:

  • Direct payment for efforts (this could be a traditional currency or cryptocurrency)
  • Profit sharing for co-created products
  • Complimentary brand products or services in-kind
  • Gift cards
  • Opportunities to win prizes
  • Creative or other support for a consumer’s personal projects, particularly those related to the brand’s purpose
  • Brand amplification of a consumer’s social media profile or content

The scale at which these items are delivered matters. A one-in-ten chance to win a prize is a far different motivator than a one-in-a-thousand chance. Being paid a one-time fee of fifty dollars (or getting a gift card) for your efforts to co-create a product doesn’t move the needle the way a one percent share of the gross revenue that same product delivers does. And so on.

Intrinsic motivators:

Intrinsically motivating factors are central to who someone is, what they feel and care about. The intrinsic is something that brings a person value and meaning and resonance simply by the act of doing it and not because the person is getting any external reward for it.

For example, someone may play a sport long past the point where they realize they’ll never be paid for it, because they get great joy in the experience of just playing. Someone may read fantasy books simply for the immersive experience of being in different, exciting worlds that will never exist in real life. They can’t monetize the act of reading and there’s no external reward, but it’s still highly valuable to them. In a brand community, someone might be motivated by solving a problem, or creating something cool or fun for a brand, even without the promise of external compensation.

As you plan a brand community, think through the mix of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators you intend to use. And maybe give a bit more thought to one in particular – the intrinsic value human beings see in being part of a community.

Stay tuned to the blog for more on that topic.

June 6, 2019Comments are off for this post.

What’s the why: the key question for your brand community planning

Find the purpose for your community. Not your purpose. The purpose. You have to satisfy both the needs of your brand and the needs of the participants who you hope to work with. It’s important to remember: almost nobody has enough time these days and in the digital space that lack of time is compounded by a consumer’s ability to access any content in the history of the world at the swipe of their phone. So, if you’re asking for someone to make a contribution to your brand you need to firstly and compellingly answer the why of your community. Why do you want do it? And why should participants give their time to your brand community? Why shouldn’t they click over to that cat video/twitter feed/sports score/Instagram story/etc. instead?

It’s often easier to figure out the value proposition for your brand. It’s usually clear what value you will get from a brand fan community. It could be research insights or marketing content or consumer brand advocacy or product feedback and co-creation or the direct ability to drive new sales or – in the cases of some high-functioning communities, some combination of all of these. Think through whether it’s a short term engagement that will satisfy your needs or if you’re looking to build something enduring that can create value over a long period of time.

Once you have your why you need to turn your focus to the harder (but also maybe the most important) part of the equation. What’s the why for the consumer, and what will they want from participating in your community?

So ask yourself: given my goals, who do I want in the community? What do these people care about? Am I sure that’s what they care about? How can I validate my assumptions? What could motivate them to make the contributions you’re hoping they’ll make?

As you work through these questions, some healthy skepticism is useful. Assume you’ll have to offer something for participant contributions beyond just the odd gift card or voucher (or the chance to win the odd gift card or voucher). Modern life is exhaustive and exhausting. Give your participants real human reasons and real value for contributing. When appropriate, pay them for their contributions to the value created by your community. If you calibrate things well, you’ll find your fans will overwhelm you with their passion and efforts. Your return on investment will be absolutely undeniable.

So who are your target participants and what is value in their eyes? What selection of incentives should you use? What motivational tactics should you use? That’s the next part of our series.

June 3, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Why brand communities fail

Communities form in the wild all the time.

Shared interests, shared passions, an unspoken desire to belong, a catalytic event. All these things can bring people together and form the basis for a community to form and grow.

But for a brand community, to get your customers to work with you, to get them invested beyond the act of buying the odd product or liking a couple of social media posts, you need to do more strategic work upfront. And you need to devote ongoing strategic energy to help the community mature: in its commercial outputs for your brand, and in the relationships that form inside it. They won’t commit if you don’t.

The number one reason brand communities underperform or fail is poor strategy and planning - both at the launch of the community and on an ongoing basis.

These typically include failures in:

  • Establishing a clear and compelling purpose for your community
  • Understanding who your community participants are and what they want
  • Understanding and employing intrinsic and extrinsic incentives
  • Developing a community model where both participants and the brand benefit
  • Recruiting your target participants
  • Developing clear measures for success and incorporating related activities and incentives
  • Choosing the platform(s) that give you reasonable control over the way your participants’ data is used and the digital experience is delivered
  • Building activities and experiences that nurture authentic human behaviour and communities (not brand-driven advertising disguised as those things)

Strategic failures in the above areas often manifest themselves in a limited group of participants gathering in some digital space to work on a defined project. They start enthusiastic. The community’s potential becomes obvious. But then there’s a drop-off. People contribute less. They leave. The brand looks at the community as a failed experiment and moves on. And wonder why their brand doesn’t have the cache of some of the cult brands out there, the ones people see as core to their own identity.

Over the last decade our team has built a process to explore and define community strategies that are proven to engage and activate your community members, keep them engaged and interested for the long term and turn what’s often a marketing expense into a measurable producer of value. This is our fundamental belief: your brand community should have an embedded business model that drives growth, cost savings and impact. Ensuring you check the strategic boxes above will help you do just that.

This article was originally published as part of our #IOVIAradar newsletter.

May 27, 2019Comments are off for this post.

The unsustainable Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Recently, Heidi and I had an opportunity to attend the 2019 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which bills itself as the world’s leading business event focused on sustainability. While it’s not a typical conference for IOVIA, we have team members passionate about fashion and the conference did provide food for thought and debate, much of it critical.

The first thing we noticed was for an industry so responsible for massive environmental pollutants – fashion is an inauspicious second in the world on that one - the conversation taking place about fashion industry sustainability was grandiose and self-placating. This industry is moving far too slowly when it comes to the environment. The industry’s calls for change in 2030 or 2050 are mind-blowing when you consider the stark messages being delivered by climate science and mother nature today.

We also noticed the industry seemed primarily interested in talking only to itself. Where were the mathematicians, physicists and scientists who could complement the artists, designers and marketers in the drive for broader sustainability? The answers we’re seeking are in the diverse collective not simply in the industry innovating in-house.

There was one speaker in particular that stood out as an antidote to the industry’s myopic approach. Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, delivered a series of hard truths about what needed to happen, based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. He finished by announcing the planet has handed us it's invoice. The room went quiet. It was true.

Paul leaned in and reminded all of us in the room that we are now holding the bill. You can watch the standing ovation that his speech received right here.

Moving beyond the darker aspects of the summit. We did get great value in learning about many of the emerging (and established) companies that were amplified at the event. They presented their pitches on innovation within sustainability, like directing waste out of landfills to produce alternative textiles to leather.

Here are a few of the companies that inspired us:

Nature Coatings - transforming wood waste into high performing black pigments

VEGEA - turning wine industry biomass oils into bio-based technical textiles

Reflaunt - providing brands the technology to build and reclaim the secondary market

It was refreshing to hear of action being taken by High Street brands in their approaches to create open source sustainable solutions. The competitive marketing splash didn’t appear to overshadow the genuine need to do something about being more sustainable and make those solutions accessible.

In addition, we appreciated straight talking Katharine Hamnett, CBE, designer and activist, who held the audience captive with her frank statements regarding governmental action and the lack of responsibility being held at the top (access that footage here).

There is some hope in the next generation. As stated at the conference, Generation Z have a no bullshit filter. Sustainability to them doesn’t translate to a sparkly marketing campaign but something integral to a brand, product and culture. They design sustainably because it’s the right thing to do. Why aren’t big shot money-making brands amplifying the voices of this generation and putting their passions into action?

Through all of this, Heidi and I were left disappointed, confused and baffled as to why the last talk of the two days was about the consumer, and the title of the talk was - Born to Shop (!), and while rightly arguing that government regulation of the industry is a must (note that it's the largest unregulated industry on our planet), we stood back and saw things differently. We think it’s up to us, the consumers, to drive this change and to start making the necessary choices framed around ethical, responsible and sustainable. That means NOT buying from brands that are driven by values unaligned with our own. Consumers need to look at themselves as 'investors' of these brands and ask, do I want to invest in this brand or should I look elsewhere? We are the engine of this industry – not the brands, not governments. It's up to us.

How do we create a consumer-powered movement for fashion consumption, transparency and innovation? One that doesn’t support brands powered by greed, or that takes advantage of those less fortunate, or that relentlessly pollutes our planet.

We have some ideas. So if you attended the event and are ready to truly empower your consumers, we’d love to talk to you. We have reached out to some of you at the conference who expressed a desire and intent to do just this. For those of you learning about us just now, reach out and let’s talk. We are very willing and motivated partners.

April 15, 2019Comments are off for this post.

What if you had to start again?

What if you didn’t have sunk costs in TV and radio advertising buys?

Or in long term agency commitments?

Or in technology subscriptions and freelance contracts and analytics platforms and social media ads and influencer contracts?

What if your entire marketing budget sat in front of you, untouched and pristine?

What would you do with it?

In very tangible ways, all of marketing is about building a relationship with your consumers and then motivating them to pay for your products and your services.

When we build relationships in the real world we are usually hampered, not helped, by having parties or structures between us and the people we want to connect with. We invest in the other person and they invest in us. Bonds are formed. And then strengthened.

But in marketing, it’s the opposite. There are a thousand different ways and providers we’re offered to take our message to consumers. We can (and do) spend millions just to try and make those connections and deepen them.

Many of these services available to modern brands made sense when constant communication and vast scalability weren’t the norms. But now, in our digital world, you can go directly to consumers, and they can come directly to your brand. And then you can start to build the relationships and communities that will form the foundation of your brand and the engine that will drive your sales.

If your marketing budget was completely untouched…

If you had to start from scratch…

How much of what you’re paying for now would you buy again?

March 28, 2019Comments are off for this post.

What kind of relationship do you want with your consumers?

Imagine you’re on vacation and stop in a small store to shop for souvenirs. You may say hello to the person working behind the counter, get their advice on what to buy. You may chat a bit about the town or get a recommendation for lunch. It’s pleasant. But when you leave that store, your relationship with that person is effectively over. That’s not a bad thing. It’s transactional. But both parties know that at the moment of the interaction.

Now imagine your relationship with your longest standing friend. It’s been built up over years or decades, with hundreds or thousands of interactions of all types. There’s a deep trust there. There’s a shorthand by which you communicate. There’s a commitment from both of you that this is a relationship you’ll both continue to nurture and draw value from.

You can have either type of relationship with your consumers as part of a participation experience. In fact, over time, you will probably want a mix of both. The key is being clear about what you’re asking and offering -- and making sure that the value each participant is drawing is connected to the effort they’re putting into your brand.

March 25, 2019Comments are off for this post.

A new gig economy?

The first idea. Depending on who you talk to, the gig economy was supposed to be the end of everything – especially reliable income and benefits for workers and families – or the start of something new, a global marketplace where an individual’s options for career development and revenue streams were effectively unlimited. 

The second idea. Coming from the original crowdsourcing movement, as many in our team did, we always saw the opportunity for participant contributions to a brand be compensated fairly. Those contributions could take multiple forms: ideas, product feedback, original content or brand advocacy or whatever else. The two common aspects to the current state of consumer contributions to brands is that 1) they are valued and often form the basis of innovative products and marketing campaigns and R&D efforts and 2) they have gone largely uncompensated. Certain communities have offered some rewards but the number of efforts that have received virtually no tangible compensation over the last 15 years is somewhere around 99%. 

Merging the ideas. The muddled state-of-work is different for everyone right now but perhaps we’re only a few steps into this new economy. If the gig economy is just a transitory step to the next place, maybe we’re just missing the key element that drives so much of our world: money. It wouldn’t be a shock, would it? There are clear intrinsic rewards for someone to contribute to a brand and sometimes those are enough to sustain a relationship, but if a consumer could collaborate with a brand and actually see real financial returns, what could that look like when they have access to thousands more brands like it? What would it look like for the larger workforce at scale? And what could it mean for brands to be able to have this group of truly incentivized consumers in their employ? 

These are all questions we’re considering on as we work on our Participation Commerce™ pilot projects with new and existing clients throughout 2019.


This article originally appeared in our #IOVIAradar newsletter. If you want more like it along with curated articles, introductions to our team members, job postings and more, you can subscribe here.

February 14, 2019Comments are off for this post.

What if there are no shortcuts?

What if you can’t ‘growth hack’ your way to brand awareness, and user and customer growth?

What if building relationships with your fans and consumers took as much time and care as building relationships with real people?

What if hiring big name influencers with curiously large follower counts was just a waste of time and money?

We have gotten so fixated on new digital marketing tools and platforms, content production paradigms and platforms, and influencers and experts, that maybe we’ve forgotten that relationships that endure and deliver true value must benefit both sides and take nurturing and time.

What if we focused on those things instead of looking for shortcuts?

What would our businesses look like then?

February 13, 2019No Comments

Your brand: A new business model

Here’s the trap for a whole lot of established brands.

They need to engage with consumers. Because it’s 2018 and because of course they do.

There are a million and one places where they can do that in the digital space. There are communities and channels for every niche. The marketing technology landscape is cluttered and littered. But inevitably a brand will need to deal with the big dogs in social and search and sales: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google, Amazon. These are platforms that promise reach and touch consumers where they already spend all their time.

Read more