Why Community is the Holy Grail

The power now lies with the community and it’s time that we learn to not only accept that but to embrace it.   

There hasn’t been a time when people find out I’m a digital marketer with a specialty in social media and they haven’t asked the holy grail of questions, “Got any tips?”  It’s almost asked in a tone of giving me something easy I can do now that will get me followers or increase engagement.  My typical response is a light-hearted smile and says, “Well that’s a loaded question.  Let’s narrow it down a bit.  What are you trying to do?”  Some are disappointed that they actually have to engage in a conversation, while others look bewildered as if I should know or they are not sure where to start.

I think they are afraid to confess that they are overwhelmed or lack a bit of confidence in what they are doing because their mindset of social is from a user perspective.  Meaning, if I just tweet or do an Instagram story the users will engage- it should be that simple.  It’s moments like these that remind me of the famous quote from Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Gone are the days of pushing out a message and thinking a community will just suddenly appear.  The power now lies with the community and it’s time that we learn to not only accept that but to embrace it.  So, why is the community such a big deal?

The Rise of the Community

You may feel that I’m over complicating things, but really, I’m just trying to shed some light on the situation.  Once we have a better understanding of key trends affecting user behavior due to technological advances, then we will have a better idea of the journey we are about to embark on.  Having this insight is extremely useful when building and executing a marketing or business strategy that is focused on a specific target market.

Now I’m not saying we need to do months of research and planning, but a good old simple google search will do.  Here are three interesting points that I found by searching for digital marketing impact on consumer behavior and digital marketing trends.  I specifically picked these because there is a much-needed shift in the way companies do business and I feel like they hit the nail on the head.  Keep reading and you’ll see why.

  1. Customer capital is the new currency
  2. 63% of global consumers would buy from a company they consider to be authentic
  3. 65% of customers expect consistent levels of service across physical and digital experiences

It’s all about the community (Benjamins) baby

First, it’s time to wake up and recognize that we live in a time that the customer is the primary focus of everything we do.  They will be our champions and they will also be our worst critics.  Brand loyalty fights and relevancy are taken out on the digital streets of Twitter, Amazon reviews, Instagram comments, etc.  As a business, you can go up on the defensive, completely ignoring what your customers have to say or you can try an old school tactic at the forefront of digital communication and actively listen.  Weed out the trolls from the ‘real humans’ and use the information as a way to enhance product/service offerings and truly connect with your community.

There is an interesting phenomenon that’s happening when a brand takes that first step of showing its community that it cares.  According to CMO article on 9 digital marketing trends of 2019, we are seeing that ‘the brand is working for the consumer and we will begin to see the consumer working for the brands as well.’

I mean it’s already happening.  We see it in the rise of influencers and not just celebrities but the micro influencer.  Not sure what the difference is, then check out my other two posts on this topic:

What is an influencer?

5 Golden Rules to engaging a Celebrity Influencer

So, when we say ‘customer capital is the new currency’ I interpret this as us living in a time when ‘brands leverage their social capital with consumers’ through authentic social interactions with their community.  This effort allows a ‘brand to understand the value of its online social networks’.  Therefore, as a brand builds its social capital through authentic experiences that the community craves, only then will we begin to see a community to ‘more likely act on the brand’s behalf.’

Authenticity vs Egotistical

People are craving authentic and consistent experiences, and this leads to point 2: 63% of global consumers would buy from a company they consider to be authentic.  Authenticity should not be mixed with being brutally honest.  I think when people hear, ‘you need to be more authentic’ they translate that as ‘ok, I’ll just tell the truth no matter what and people will totally respect that input regardless of the situation.  After all, honesty is the best policy.’

Yes, honesty is the best policy, however, it is all about leaving the ego behind and delivering it with some grace, oh and a side of humble pie doesn’t hurt.  For me, authenticity is about owning the good, the bad, and the ugly and actually using those experiences to do something better for the community.  It’s one thing to say, ‘Yeah, we f’d up’ and expect people to just be ok with it.  It’s another to say, we f’d up and here is what we are going to do to fix it and actually, follow through with it.  Establish, share, and stick with values and communicate them through compelling and relevant stories that build trust with your community.

Think Customer Experience First, Then Your Cash Flow

Through authentic behavior, you discover what it really means to be accountable.  It also doesn’t mean anything if you are not consistent (point 3).  Not just in your response to situations in one medium but across all touch points your customer will have with your brand.  I personally went through a horrible experience with an airline last year, which you can learn more about in my blog, Round Trip Customer Experience. It’s about shifting your business mindset and truly making the customer the center of your universe.

Steve Jobs said it best, “You have to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology.”  I would even say that the customer’s experience and their input need to be used as a kind of checks and balances across various aspects of the business.  Starting first with the brand’s values, which is the culture that is pumped through the organization, regardless if you are big or small.  Your company values are reflected in the people you hire, the products you create, and the way you go to market.  How can you maintain a consistent customer experience if any of the three don’t align with each other, including your values?  Consistency is what helps maintain relevancy, builds loyalty and a strong community that shares the same intrinsic values.

The Strength of the Community

Did you know that at least 70% of millennials base their decision to buy a product based on recommendations made by their peers on social media?  I strongly believe that a strong community base can make or break a company.  They cause fundamental shifts like product enhancements, recalls, boycotts, etc.  Below are a few great examples that I personally enjoyed reading and hearing about:

  1. A Girl Wanted Shoes Marketed for Boys. See How Steph Curry Answered the Call. Via Time Magazine
  2. 3 Brands That Prove Listening To Customers Is Key to Company Comebacks via Fast Company
  3. Five Times Customers Asked For Change and Brands Actually Delivered It via Brandwatch

How well do you know your community?

Ok by now you should totally get that community is the holy grail, great! So, how well do you know your community? And when I ask this question, I’m asking you to go beyond the typical demographics, which are an important piece to this.  However, social media, Google, and sites that have product reviews have forever impacted how brands connect with their buyers on an emotional level.  Therefore, when I’m asking this question, I’m looking for the following:

  1. What are their pain points or what brings them joy?
  2. What are their interests (dog lovers, environmentalists, adrenaline junkies, coffee fanatics, etc.)?
  3. What do they value? (social impact, life-changing, emotional, or functional)

SIDE NOTE: Check out Harvard Business Review article on The 30 Things Customers Really Value

  1. What digital channel or social platform do they use the most?

SIDE NOTE: Check out We Are Social and Hootsuite Digital 2019 Trends report (one of my favs to look at)

  1. What content format do they engage with the most (video, animated GIFs, memes, podcasts, blogs, etc.)?

Don’t Just Throw the Spaghetti Too See if it Sticks

The point here is you’ve got to have some kind of insight into who your customer is before you try creating content or a new product that you throw up on the wall like that cooked spaghetti to see if it sticks.  You need to know your community and if you don’t then there’s no time like the present to figure it out.  Oh, and as the saying goes, ‘When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me’. So, don’t you dare try to answer those questions based on your own self-interests.  If you did, then you’ve missed the whole point about community and need to reread this blog from the beginning.

If you can answer those questions, then I recommend creating a community profile(s) or buyer persona(s), kind of like a member profile on a dating app.  These profiles will help guide the creation of new products or services, the messaging and imagery used across all your marketing assets, and how the company engages with the community over the phone or online.  If you’re not sure where to start, then I recommend Hubspot’s Buyer Persona Template.

If you can’t answer these questions, then a good place to start is by setting up a simple survey or social media poll to start collecting that data.  Another one of my favorite things to do is identify existing customers that are über fans and personally reach out to them with an honest note about what I’m trying to do and see if they’d be willing to help.  If they do, then I suggest following up with a nice thank you card or gift to show your appreciation for their help.  Gratitude goes a long way in the community.

Pivoting Towards Success

Let’s face it.  The customer is smarter, hyper-connected, and more empowered than they ever were before.  As new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality progress, we will continue to see the customer evolve.  Being one step ahead of a community’s needs and behaviors is hard, but attainable.  Understanding the power of the community requires us to accept that they are the center of our universe.  Therefore, customer capital is the new currency that requires companies of all sizes to rethink how they do business.  Like I said earlier there’s no time like the present to confess how well you really know your community and to take the time to get to know them a lot closer.  Remember, as the consumer evolves with the advancement of technology and new social platforms you will need to continue to update the community/buyer personas that you created.

For the entrepreneurs, it is important to find the community that shares common interests and values and makes sure that it shows in everything you do from the moment you launch.  For any company, having the ability to weave these characteristics into its DNA is a pivotal operational shift that is necessary to remain relevant and successful.  For the companies that dominate their space, don’t ignore the community that you depend on.  There is always someone out there that can and will eventually do it better than you.  Just remember Kodak, Polaroid, Blockbuster, etc.  Don’t be left in the dust and trust your community.

Round Trip Customer Experience: Ensuring consistency at every touch point

Learn how you can ensure that your customer experience is consistent across all touch points.

Recently I had the pleasure of making a trip out to Hawaii for a wedding. We began the planning and booking process well in advance. Like any avid traveler- we hunted for the best deals online and booked flights directly through an airlines website. The whole process was seamless and I even used the Airline’s chatbot to help with answering some basic luggage allowance questions. Overall, a piece of cake, but that’s where the happy customer experience ends. We embark on our journey only to find that the technology at the check-in counter was stuck in the 1970s and the airline staff was just there to do their 8-5 job and get out as soon as they can. Plagued with having to deal with old equipment and staff that are either too inexperienced or lack troubleshooting skills to make a horrific customer experience even slightly better. It took me over 60 minutes just get bag tags, which was followed by another 40 minutes of going through security check in – with the most relaxed and chill airport security staff in the world (and that rant I will save for another day, but hopefully you get my drift).

As I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now- I missed my flight. I tried explaining to the gate agent as the door slowly closed that their kiosks downstairs weren’t working and the staff only had 2 computers to help so many people. She just looked at me and with a stern voice said, “It’s not my fault you got here so late”. I dropped my bags and nearly lost my shit. I explained to her again the situation at check in and she looked at me and said, “Someone down there needs to say something to us.” She begins to enter the code and officially lock the gate.

Why am I telling you all this? Very simple- businesses are forgetting about the end to end customer experience. When I say end to end- I mean from Facebook ad to website to online chat agent to the in-store experience, which includes everything from branding to the staff. I feel like the disconnect between digital to brick and mortar is even more common as organizations get bigger and bigger. The expectation of having the best experience is probably higher from the small business owner because their end to end experience is way more humanized than an entity that’s 10,000+ strong. Yet you find the mid to enterprise businesses to either act small or take some attributes of being a small company and build that in their DNA. And of course, there are those that just don’t care either because they have the money not to care or there isn’t really anyone out there to take the business so they can do as they please.

I call bullshit on all fronts and ask for reform regardless of what size you are or want to be. I also acknowledge that no system is perfect and everything is subject to human error. In my opinion, it is that human error factor that needs the most work. We should strive to be better and acknowledge that employees are a key factor in making a change. You know that saying, ‘be the change you want to see’- well that works even for businesses of ALL sizes. It takes more than a customer service department to make amends and it isn’t fair to make them carry the burden of the recklessness of others. Every stakeholder has to take accountability and leadership has to

  1. Put their ego to the side and admit there’s a problem
  2. Identify all parties that are part of the experience
  3. Empower the team by making them feel accountable and have the ability to make change
  4. Consider what to do with those that oppose
  5. Take action and constantly follow up

Here are just some ideas on how you can ensure that your customer experience is consistent on all fronts:

  1. Training: one-time employee training is a thing of the past and so is the video of exec leadership explaining the company’s motto. Quarterly training, rewards program, company picnics, community service, the list goes on and on. Select department advocates/leaders to help drive customer service initiatives across the board. Get creative and have fun with it.
  2. Customer Advisory Board: Don’t pick your bestie- pick your foe. They are more likely, to be honest when you need it the most. But also acknowledge that some just like to complain for the sake of it- so if you don’t see their input changing or at least mentioning improvement- you might need to seek a replacement.
  3. Internal Customer Champions / Committee: have representatives from various departments meet on a regular basis to discuss challenges that they see impacting the customer and collaborate on finding a solution
  4. Leverage the Social Web: You can’t just rely on customer support team to get your information. Traditional ways of contacting support or getting help are circumvented by things like community forums, Twitter, Yelp, etc. There are so many conversations that are happening there are so many easy, cost friendly tools out there that you can use to listen in on relevant conversations that your customers, prospects and overall community are having.

It’s time businesses that say they are customer-centric or are wanting to put customers first- really take it seriously and walk the walk. Don’t try to tackle all the problems but pick one or two that you know you will have the most immediate and positive impact on the overall experience. Short wins help with the long-term strategy- notice I didn’t say battle. That’s because it shouldn’t be a battle. Providing service the way you would want to be treated is common sense that is ingrained in us since we were little. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Think that’s a common mantra we already know and now it’s all about taking action. What will you do to make a difference and bring a smile to your customer’s face in the most challenging of times? Sometimes a simple phone call is all it takes. Would you make that call?