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This post is by Alicja Peszkowska, an IOVIA Community Strategist.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” -Peter Drucker

Actions speak louder than words. 

At IOVIA, we often talk (for example: here) about the importance of ingraining your community into the strategy of your organization. Making sure that your relationship with customers and employees is aligned with the brand, communications, your business model, and management strategy ensures your business’s relevance and resilience. 

However, acknowledging the importance of community strategy doesn’t mean anything unless it is backed up with authentic action and engagement to bring it to life. So, in this post, we’ll look at a few specific examples of how becoming a community-oriented brand is a strategic decision. 

Community engagement, as we define it, is not simply crafting a pathway for input from other people to shape business decisions you are making. Community engagement happens when people are responsive to your business, and your business is in turn responsive to your customers. It’s a feedback loop. 

Because of that, if you really want to engage your community and not simply increase your social media numbers, you will have to get ready to pivot many times in response to that feedback. Such a change should be strategic and for it to be sustainable, you will have to ensure that it translates into how you actually run your business – inside and out. 

It is even harder if you already have a big, scaled, profitable business. Multi-layered change is often comparable to starting from scratch. It is not easy – we said it! – but it is worth it, and we have prepared a few examples coming from our own experience that prove our point – dive in!

→ Contribute to a larger, shared purpose: the case of the LEGO Foundation

Successful participation businesses recognize and celebrate individual customers while making them feel connected to something bigger than themselves. The ratio between the individual and the group lands you neither at a product pitch (“get 20% off exclusive content!”) nor at a traditional “cause” (“save the planet!”). Instead, it’s a unique cocktail or hybrid of both. Getting that ratio or recipe right (which is hard because it often defies typical marketing approaches or advice) feels like a secret sauce for many of the successful brands. This goes beyond offering plentiful customer perks and relies on studying their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Do note that it is hard to stay devoted to a purpose, or a cause, if you are only going to measure it against your sales metrics!

Example

Everyone loves LEGO but fewer are aware that the company has its own globally renowned foundation dedicated to promoting a cause all LEGO fans would intuitively support: building a future in which learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. LEGO Foundation doesn’t directly promote LEGO’s products; it is entirely focused on its cause: creating more research about and more awareness of the importance of Learning through Play in children’s lives. LEGO has no direct gain coming from LEGO Foundations’ activities. What it does have, though, is a devoted community gathered around the cause of promoting Learning through Play (with or without the Danish bricks). You can check it out and join here

→ Pace your growth: BeerBods

There are a few multinational brands that manage to maintain their integrity despite continuous growth and Patagonia, a well-known American outdoor wear brand is one of them. Patagonia, a brand that is known for urging customers not to buy too many of its products. makes a distinction between “bad” growth and “good” growth. Bad growth is when people engage in continued consumption without attaching value to the lifetime of a product or how it is made. Good growth means that people buy better products that last longer, which pushes back against the “disposable society”. Patagonia says they aim to do things that will help good growth win out over bad. This messaging is deeply rooted in the organisation and resonates with many consumers. But even this model “green” brand has to fight accusations of hypocrisy and greenwashing – after all, the harder the company fights against the consumer society, the bigger its business grows. Its annual sales surpass 1 billion USD.

Communities cannot scale beyond an organisation’s ability to serve them. That is why in some cases we see organisations strategically limiting their growth to support members and ensure that their product value is not diluted. While this strategy is easier to execute for smaller, subscription-based brands, we think this approach provides overall important ramifications for restoring the “human element” to your business (less is more!).

Example: 

At a recent IOVIA Community Call (which you can read more about – and register for! – below) we spoke to Matt Lane, the founder of BeerBods – a UK-based craft beer subscription service and a community of beer enthusiasts. Apart from telling us about how BeerBods subscriptions have doubled since the lockdown was imposed in the UK (a trend also observed by subscription based, local media), Matt also told us about BeerBods’ conscious decision to keep the company’s international expansion slow in order to preserve the spirit of community they managed to create amid their members.

→ Offering flexible ways of participation: Hellmann’s Deli Club

Social media are still big BUT according to the Global Web Index, internet users are moving from sharing as a method of broadcasting themselves, into a way of sharing that has community at its heart – and users engaging with online communities has grown significantly over the past few years. This trend has only deepened during the pandemic. People long to be connected. Successful brands are attuned to people’s abilities, goals, limitations, and lifestyles. When thinking of ways to engage your customers (and we don’t just mean sales) try to maximize the value they get for their time and effort. 

Example:

Hellmann’s Deli Club is an online community launched when Hellmann’s ketchup was entering the US market. Looking for marketing insights and ways to engage American consumers with its new product, IOVIA in partnership with Unilever, launched a community designed to experiment with the product. The community consists of amateur chefs and other people who love cooking contests and recipe sharing. The community enables its members to do what they love doing while providing the brand with unique insights about their products, the new market, and consumer behaviours. Unilever gained important insights, consumer generated content, and positive word of mouth – all by appealing to the existing needs and preferences of its consumers and engaging them in a meaningful exchange.

→ Ethical grounding can help your brand endure (rather than pivot): The Correspondent

We think that a brand’s purpose is its reason for being. If well defined, it can help you survive, even if your context dramatically changes. According to research, only 37% of consumers want brands to keep advertising as normal, given the current global crisis caused by COVID-19. The pandemic has prioritized the need for community content and also the executive attention necessary to make sure this continues on through the global recovery and beyond in the brand’s plans for marketing. If there is a good reason for doing what you are doing, you might not need to “pivot”, your values can guide you.

Case study: 

The Correspondent (TC) is an online platform for ‘unbreaking’ news, committed to collaborative, constructive, ad-free journalism. Their mission is to change what news is about, how it’s made and how it’s funded. The Correspondent is an English language sister publication to the Dutch de Correspondent. TC was launched last September after having fundraised $2.6 million (US) from its future members. The Correspondent, like many subscription-based services and local media sites, has seen spikes in subscriptions in the light of the pandemic. Since the service is committed to unbreaking the news and slow journalism, its reporters decided that in the current situation they should help their members digest information, pick up the best reads that will be valid tomorrow as well as in two months, rather than just focus on breaking news. “We’re noise canceling to help people not go through the noise of the 24-hour news cycle. We’ve received a lot of good feedback from our members who say they are very thankful. It proves we are doing something right.” – says one of TC correspondents, Irene Caselli.

Come join us on May 7 to discuss the ideas in this blog

The theme of turning community strategy into culture is even more relevant in the light of the current COVID-19 crisis. And so at IOVIA we have started a weekly series of Community Calls since the beginning of the lockdown period, to put our time and money where our mouth is, to give back to our community, and to evolve our business based on what we are learning. If you would be interested in participating then you are most welcome. Details below:

The next Community Call takes place May 7 at 17:00 CET / 16:00 UK / 11:00 ET / 8:00 PT. 

You can register (it’s free) for the call right here:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0rcu6qqzIqGNQR49yaisrhfsWPo4rMrttI

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