It’s no secret that over the last several decades there has been a dramatic, global shift from an economy based on manufacturing to one based on information and service industries. We are now entering another dramatic shift in which we move from the service and information-based economies into a “Connection Economy.” Industry leaders describe this as a phase in which greater emphasis will be placed on building relationships and strong digital communities.
If you look at some companies that have experienced rapid growth recently, this certainly appears to be true. Uber and AirBnB are two prime examples that function almost completely by building connections without owning any assets. While that scenario is impossible for most companies, the fact remains that through coaching and experimentation, any business can build the strong digital community necessary for ensuring a solid reputation and future success.
Having an extensive and engaged brand community is going to be the ultimate asset that will encourage conversation, improve customer relations and loyalty, and drive innovation-all of which lead to increased revenue. Your ability to tempt customers and information seekers into your digital circle and keep them there will largely depend upon how well you can provide valuable information and connections to others. When you think of brands with a large, inclusive digital community, the obvious ones come to mind, like Sony’s Playstation community. But this can work in any industry.
One example of a highly successful brand community is offered through Procter & Gamble. It is called ‘Being Girl’ and targets young, teenaged girls. It offers an open forum for them to ask advice topics on anything ranging from dating to eating disorders, and health issues from menstruation to acne. This community has been so successful that it has been expanded to 46 countries worldwide and since it targets teenagers, it encourages brand loyalty early on in their life, which typically translates into a loyalty that lasts a lifetime. Further research also reveals that if this community shows even a mere 1% conversion rate, the company will still get three times their return on investment. You can’t beat those figures!
The key to this campaign is that P & G made a very thoughtful effort to understand who they were targeting, what information this group needs, and how to best provide them with it as well as the products or services they need. This might seem exclusionary, but as Simon Sinek says, “Nike doesn’t want to make products for everyone - they want to make products for champions.” And to do that, they inspire their customers to be champions. They target a specific group.
The common mistake is believing that you want everyone to be a part of your digital community, since then your brand and product would cast a wider net. But the sacrifice you trade for a larger community is often in a decrease in the usefulness of your community. A larger audience often translates into more generalized information, which can be found just about anywhere.
You must offer something truly special. Success begins with answering these questions: Who am I talking to and what do they care about? What is a problem that I can help solve? When you understand the ‘pain’ your target customer has, you then have a way to show them real value. You won’t need to hard-sell your product or service anymore, you will simply make them aware of the solution it provides.
As time passes, this will only become increasingly important in any viable business strategy. As more and more people mature during a time when they are considered ‘digital natives,’ this concept of a digital community will also mature. If you truly want to stay ahead in your business you need to change your thinking. Start getting creative and considering all the different ways to engage your audience. These days, size really doesn’t matter - value does.
Sarah Pearce is a professional speaker, business coach, social strategist and author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age.
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