According to Wikipedia, a “community” is a group of interacting people that share some common values. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.
Being part of a community is important to us. If we take a look at our own lives, we can probably identify a handful of communities to which we consciously or unconsciously belong.
There are a number of different ways to classify communities, some of which include:
Geography – neighbors on your block, local community centre or town hall
Culture – cultural community centre or religious worship centre
Age – youth group or seniors club
Interest – yoga, scuba divers club, book club or dance group
Profession – mommy group or business networking association
The Internet has allowed a new breed of communities to develop unrestrictedly. Many disparate groups can now come together as a direct result of the technological platforms developed online. Examples include the likes of Facebook and others.
Why do we need community?
Community in the broader sense of the word can be classified as a basic human need for interaction with like-minded individuals; the needs that are met by being part of a community are fundamental to our being.
Consider the following quote by Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama,
We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.
Community provides us with belongingness and love, affiliation with others, and social acceptance. These needs are part of the basic human condition, which pre-dates the Internet.
Courses in marketing teach Maslow’s hierarchy as a basis for understanding consumers’ motives for action. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow’s hierarchy is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with five levels. Maslow posits that people climb the pyramid, as each level of basic needs are met, until they reach the top, which is the self-actualization stage. The most fundamental needs include: esteem, friendship, love, belonging, safety, security and physical. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.
It is on the basis of meeting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that we have a focused marketing approach. Marketers have historically looked towards consumers’ needs and how they make their buying decisions to define their actions in the marketplace – including how they craft their communication, design their product, package their offerings, and promote their product/service (and company brand). If a company can meet a consumer’s needs and exceed expectations, consumers will be more likely to choose their product/service over the competitor, thus increasing sales.
A new communication channel.
With digital advancements and technological developments online, marketers are increasingly gaining new channels for communicating to groups of people – thus providing many opportunities.
For some types of products, communities of potential consumers will inherently exist. Products must be those we personally care about and for which we have an emotional need. Let’s take two products as examples to illustrate this point:
1) Flamenco dance shoes
As a flamenco dancer, I am part of a flamenco dance community. Selecting appropriate dance shoes is important to me, and I will search both locally and Internationally, online and offline to find the best shoes for me. As a flamenco dancer I am quite knowledgeable in my area of interest, a big user of flamenco related products, and a flamenco advocate. I belong to a very connected group of like-minded individuals worldwide. I may choose to buy my shoes on the Internet from Spain, and then take those shoes to my local Vancouver dance class and share my experience with my community at the studio and online.
How to use community as a channel for communication?
- Encourage community by providing the tools and technology to facilitate exchange of information
- Don’t try to limit it or put rules around the community. It must be seen a genuine consumer-driven group and not company-driven.
- Encourage a trial period and product reviews
- Your product must be good. If it isn’t, your product’s weaknesses will be exposed.
- Provide value and you will get powerful endorsement from community advocates.
- Communication must not be hidden in the form of advertising copy; it must be honest and authentic. Remember you are dealing with a sophisticated and knowledgeable user group.
2) Toilet rolls
The need for toilet paper is physical in nature. It’s a basic human need. I don’t have the same emotional connection and motivation about toilet rolls as I do about flamenco shoes. My buying decision is out of necessity. My thought process goes like this, “I’m running out of toilet paper. I should add that to my shopping list the next time I go for groceries at my local IGA.” When I get to the store, I choose any type of toilet paper that catches my attention – perhaps it’s on sale, perhaps it’s a small enough bundle to fit inside my shopping cart, or whatever the reason may be. It is unlikely that I will tell my friends about my toilet paper expedition or share advice about the best toilet paper. This is not a good example of a product that lends itself well to the influence of a community or special interest group.
Community as a marketing strategy
I’d like to share two very different examples of organizations that use community to spread their message and drive revenue.
Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine published quarterly by the not-for-profit educational corporation The Tricycle Foundation. Tricycle introduced their community website, an online community for Buddhist wisdom, meditation and practices for daily life, a few years ago and the response took everyone by surprise. No one expected the membership to grow so large so quickly. All sorts of people from all ages, professions and ethnic groups were signing up from all sorts of places around the world.
Tricycle uses their online community as a portal which allows people interested in the practice and teachings of the Buddha to come together and read information, participate in discussions with others, share information, develop friendships, feel socially accepted by a group of like-minded individuals and feel a sense of belonging to a community.
Tricycle is building their community based on fulfilling their consumer’s basic human needs, which in turn, they hope, will increase paid subscriptions to their magazine publication. Not to mention spreading the message about Buddhism to a world-wide audience.
YYoga, a small chain of yoga studios that aim to provide a social centre where all are welcome and inspired to practice yoga, engage in wellness, build relationships and community. To draw clients to their community of studios, they embrace a guest-focused approach by providing a variety of different yoga class types and styles to suit a broad range of guests, plus a number of different wellness services and spa-like amenities. They also incorporate elements from the neighborhood that reflect their surrounding geographic location into the studio. They claim this strategy to be effective so far in increasing revenue and number of client visits to the studios.
YYoga is creating a community based around interest and geography. They are building an environment in which like-minded individuals that live in proximity to each other can come together and partake in physical activities to satisfy their need to keep fit and healthy, to be social and to feel a sense of belonging.
Community in the digital landscape.
One could argue that communities have always existed, but digitally speaking ‘social community’ is a relatively new buzzword. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become some of the fastest growing online communities. The misconception people have is thinking these technologies themselves are the marketing strategy, but in fact they are not. The technology provides the channel by which one can communicate with a group of consumers, facilitate information flow and meet their basic needs.
For a company selling products consumers care about and that have a real value proposition, this new communication channel is a powerful tool. However, using it successfully requires a different way of thinking than we have been used to with traditional forms of marketing communication. It’s time for a new generation of marketing to emerge.
How is your company using community as part of the overall business and marketing strategy?