Brand Communities Are More Important Now Than Ever. And Here’s Why.

Every now and then you meet an idea that permanently changes how you think.   The branded community that Fiskar’s (yes, those scissors) created around scrapbookers was one of those ideas for me. The Fiskateers was a community designed by an insanely talented team who thought marketing could be more than a series of Facebook and TV campaigns.  At its core, the Fiskateers were about a connecting people and as luck would have it, one of the brilliant minds behind the Fiskateers joined the CMA for this article.

Geno Church is a legend in the world of word of mouth marketing.  In 2015, he was inducted into the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s hall of fame.  He’s a two-time author and is in demand as a keynote speaker around the world.  Geno shared his thoughts on evangelizing the word of mouth movement.

When marketers talk about building a community, they often mean posting content on social media and building their followers. How do you define a community? 

Often in marketing, we often get community wrong.  A natural community has peaks and valleys.

Take for example a sports team.

We get excited gearing up for a season.  During the season, we may win a few, we may lose.  There are ups and downs and those shared experiences are the things that connect people together.  We share the ebbs and flows.  Marketers often fail to build community because we try to create peaks all the time instead of following a rhythm within the community.

Is posting content to Instagram each day how you think of a community-building? 

No.  Building a community needs to be more like creating a song and less like an editorial calendar full of key message peaks with specific CTAs.  A song has an opening, a crescendo, a bridge, and parts that people can sing along to.  Brands often measure community in terms of the follower engagement but it’s not one way.  We need to rethink our content in terms of engagement from both sides.

Do you have any tips on how a company can start community building?  

I know people want a very tactical approach, but with community-building, it’s not quite as methodical.

One starting point is to think of a community in a more human context instead of just an email address on a spreadsheet.

When we look at our customers it’s often in a database. A good place to start is by taking that list out of a spreadsheet and cluster people based on their connectedness and interests.

By doing that, you begin the process that helps you create a better understanding of the human grid that powers your business.

Tell me more about the human grid.

When you think about the engine behind word of mouth marketing (WOMM),  a community is the discipline that drives it.  A community is like an electricity grid that supplies power to a brand.  There’s value in brands to invest in building and maintaining their human grid.

Do you have any examples you can share?

There are so many opportunities for brands right now.

Let’s say you were supposed to launch a new product now.  I see very few companies who are reaching out to ask people to sample it and listen for feedback. Village brewery did a great job with buy a friend a beer.

One of my clients in the education space reached out to its association members to develop and host virtual community gatherings. Rather than running these gatherings as an organization with an organization agenda — they empowered educators to structure and run the member gatherings. It was a small change, but with a huge impact which helped the community steer their own interests that the company could learn from.

We also had a cheese maker send out samples and invite recipients to join in a virtual cheese tasting.  This way, people could share their thoughts and experience with others live. It was great because the brand created a space for customers to give their feedback and for the company to learn how they could add value in unique ways.

Are there only specific industries that benefit from community?

Organizations and brands that had a focus on getting close to their customers from the start had an advantage over those who didn’t.  Even things like running communication through ERP vs. Zoom makes it harder to connect to customers virtually.

However, right now any industry that provides a service could benefit from a community.  If an industry isn’t listening to their customers, are they deaf?

Are there any common mistakes you see with brands trying to build community?

We’re terrible at remembering to “do no harm”. We have so many good ideas, but we execute them with bad intentions.  There’s anonymity with social media that brands hide behind instead of getting real and talking about important issues. A lot of brands would benefit from community activists rather than community managers. Brands don’t always have to react on social to be involved. Sometimes you can learn a lot from a community by being silent.

Building a community is more than just doing a commercial that says, ‘we’re here for you’.  Brands don’t have to do all things. I’d rather see a company stay in a lane than try to be all things to all people.  If you’ve played in the space of community, focus on that. If you’re trying to a lane, find the sweet spot between what’s important for your company and what’s important for your customers.

Lastly, what you put out there has to be of substantial value.  Customers are open to connecting and participating in an authentic way. The challenge for a brand is to do that without trying to link short term ROI metric to it.  It’s about finding out what’s relevant beyond a transactional point of view, then use that insight to create more long-term value.


WOMMA: What is Word of Mouth Marketing?

TED Talk: How to Start A Movement 

McKinsey: The Restart

Geno’s Books Brains on Fire and The Passion Conversation

Geno’s Company: The Shared Ship

About the author:


Marc Binkley is the Managing Director and Digital Strategy Lead at Anstice Communications. Marc and his team use digital tools and technology like search engine optimization, paid ads on search, social & display, content strategy, site optimization and predictive analytics to help clients adapt to modern consumer behaviour and grow their business.

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