Marketing is like brushing your teeth- everyone does it, but not everyone does it the right way.
Start-ups often perceive marketing as a key to the magic kingdom of success. There’s credibility to this logic, as some of the best companies in the world used marketing to promote & become a part of the consumer zeitgeist (think Nike, Starbucks, Coca Cola, etc). Consequently, many start-ups invest significantly in marketing, as a strategy to acquire more customers.
But not every start-up has a Sequoia Capital or Accel Partners backing its operations. Marketing is an expensive endeavor & for those with limited funds, it can be difficult to have an all-out promotional campaign running, day in and out. So how do start-ups market themselves if they can’t spend much on it?
There’s a sustainable alternative to traditional marketing: community marketing.
Community marketing is a marketing technique where a company puts their focus on existing customers and engages them in an active & non-intrusive conversation. Unlike traditional marketing where the focus is on attaining new customers, community marketing focuses on improving the relationship with existing customers by addressing their issues.
You might be wondering if community marketing holds any merit. After all, traditional marketing techniques have proved their value as viable customer acquisition methods. But today’s customers aren’t the same as the ones from ten years ago. Today’s customers aren’t simply looking to buy and be forgotten; they are looking for companies that value their contributions. This is where community marketing takes center stage.
The world we live in is ironic- we’re more connected than ever and yet, more isolated than we’ve ever been. Customers are looking for experiences and spaces, where they can share and talk about the things they like, interact with like-minded people and engage in healthy two-sided communication. Companies can leverage this need by creating forums & message boards where both people and brand can engage. Such community spaces give customers a chance to voice their needs and companies to respond and make consumers feel valued.
Connecting with your existing customers and making them feel valued, has a lot of advantages. It creates a constant feedback channel for companies, who’ll know what works and what doesn’t on an individual level. For consumers, this not only helps in making them feel valued but increases the likelihood of them becoming loyal patrons of your brand.
Community marketing is a gradual process i.e. you need to nurture the community to see dividends. You have to create a non-threatening safe space where customers can share their brand-related thoughts & ideas. Understanding what your customers want will help you create tailor-made products & services, eliciting a positive response.
When you address customer needs & help them resolve issues, you can create a positive word-of-mouth. By working to gain their loyalty, you can make customers your spokespersons who share and talk about your brand in the social space. In turn, this helps you in developing an overall stronger internet presence. Epigamia is one such company that gained a lot through community marketing, by educating, rallying & helping lactose-intolerant Indians to have their queries answered.
As you empower your customers and make them feel like an integrated part of your business’s decision-making, they will empower your brand through loyalty, word-of-mouth and positive image building. By keeping customers happy, you will spend very little and gain a lot in terms of turnover.
The downside to traditional marketing lies in the unreliability of results. You might run thousands of campaigns to little success until one day, one of your campaigns becomes a phenomenon. Almost overnight, you’re flooded with product and service requests, sometimes more than your manpower bandwidth can support. This creates a problem for your company. You can either make your employees work overtime to address this newfound success, or, you can risk losing the heat by mismanaging the overflow of requests (due to it being a unique situation for your company). In either case, someone will not be happy (employees in the former, customers in the latter).
Conversely, community marketing lets you develop organically at a sustainable rate. You can monitor the interest level of your customers & predict how traffic will increase/decrease at certain times. This will let you stay one step ahead at all time and plan your growth strategy effectively.
Community marketing is the way to go, in a world driven by customer’s need for experiences over services. Not only does it let you have an inter-personal relationship with customers, but also foster brand loyalty among them. With community marketing, you don’t acquire customers, you create influencers who draw in customers for you.
Surjodeep Bose is a content writer & strategist at Techjockey.com, a Delhi-based software e-commerce platform. He has worked with different startups and helped them develop good content & effective marketing strategies. He writes on various subjects, but his key focus is digital marketing, retail operations and blogging practices. You can find more of his work at www.techjockey.com/blog