There’s a big shift happening in the online world. Consumers are in the driving seat, and they hold all the power in determining a brand’s next move. They affect the marketing decisions of today – so marketers need to pull up a chair, take a seat, open a dialogue and have a two-way conversation with them, and not be afraid to make a bold change based on what they are asking of you.
Online communities aren’t new – but in the absence of real-life communities and events over the last two years, the power and influence that these communities wield can’t be underestimated. Is there a better gift for brands than being able to hear the true truths from their customers? And how can brands and marketers benefit from being part of these cultural conversations?
These were among some of questions posed during a recent Cannes-Do panel discussion, where Laurelle Potter, general manager, UK, Reddit and Beckie Stanion, chief marketing officer, Frasers Group discussed the power of communities and offered advice on how brands can harness their passions and interests to set waves of positive change and impact in motion.
“The power that’s yielded from communities is the fact that we’ve got a collective group of people who are all coming together over a common goal,” explains Potter. “Seemingly so simple, isn’t it? But really, that takes a lot of coordination and practice, and a lot of communication with one another to make sure we’re all striving towards that same thing.”
“Communities can’t be underestimated but we have to really understand them,” adds Stanion. “A community are effectively your brand ambassadors. Get it right and it’s almost free marketing, but it has to be done in a way that feels authentic. To achieve that, you have to really understand why the community is formed, what they are there for, and what it means to be part of that community.”
Finding the human truth
Stanion was recently elevated from chief marketing officer of Sports Direct to chief marketing officer of Frasers Group (which also includes brands like Flannels, Evans Cycles and House of Fraser).
Reflecting on her experience in repositioning Sports Direct, she regales the different methods the brand used to identify different communities that were demonstrative of its consumer.
“[Before that] we had been trying to sell everything to everybody at any time, which we all know as marketers is not the right way to approach it,” she says. Instead, it was important to get to the human truth and ask: “who is the community we’re trying to talk to? What is the issue within that community of people? What does that community need and how can we best serve them?”
Only when a brand has that conversation with them can they truly understand what it is that they need access to, and how to best support them on that journey.
A two-way conversation
The first step is to listen – take the time to get to know the community to figure out their wants and needs, and how they want to be spoken to when brands join these communities.
What makes a platform like Reddit, with 100,000+ different communities, unique is its architecture. Potter explains: “Privacy is core to Reddit’s DNA, and we don’t require people to share any personal information. Everyone can speak quite freely and candidly, free of judgement; and the democracy system in the sense of voting, which gives a collective consensus of people rallying behind common ideas, opinions and recommendations.”
“Our communities are full of passionate people, and they can become your brand advocates,” she adds. “It’s quite powerful for communities to feel like they can play such a pivotal role in the outcome of brand decisions that they care so much about.
“Find the right verticals and communities that make sense for your brand and your brand messaging, pull up a chair, take a seat, open the dialogue and make sure that you’re ready for a two-way conversation. For brands or marketers who want to talk to communities, you’re not talking to them, you’re having a conversation – it’s back and forth, it’s a two-way dialogue.”
Scrubbing out the dirty words in marketing
To do that successfully requires a framework from which you are willing to test and learn.
“It all starts with insight to build a really robust strategy,” says Stanion. “Sometimes I think process and structure [are seen as] dirty words, in brand marketing in particular. But actually, it’s trying to create a framework which delivers on your brand messages but talks to a community and an individual on a very personal level. Use that blueprint and then localize it as well.
“I’m very clear about what my brand strategy is, what my brand is, and what I want to say to those people, but we have to test and learn to really understand what’s working and what’s not. Provided we as businesses and brands can be relevant and pivot when needed, then we’ve got a fighting chance. But if we don’t, we forget about who’s at the heart of our conversation and who we’re actually trying to communicate to – and then you’ve failed instantly.”
Watch the full session ‘The power of community: how to impact, influence and inspire’ above.