First came the quality revolution of the 1990s. Then came the cheap revolution spurred by the digital economy of the early 2000s.
Today, we're in the purpose revolution.
We're seeking brands that reflect our values and guide us to self-actualization.
This means that quality, price, and features can only get your brand so far.
We're looking for more than just a product. We want to be a part of a purpose greater than ourselves. This purpose is the compelling 'why' that goes beyond what you sell.
And this purpose is good for business:
Purpose is the new competitive advantage, but what does this mean tactically?
While we each have our individual purposes, we all share a universal purpose: the need to belong.
To belong is to be part of a community. A product without a community is just another commodity. A product with a community is a brand.
In order to really create a sense of belonging, it's best to start small.
Rise of Micro-Communities
With the inundation of choice, micro-communities are rising to fulfill our innate desire to connect on a deeper level.
Forward-thinking brands are building intentional communities around a well-defined niche, and a specific set of values.
By creating a sense of belonging, these brands become an integral part of our identity. This connection is the foundation for growth.
Identifying Your Micro-Community
To begin building your micro-community, start with your top 1%. First, you'll need to identify your most engaged fans. Indicators of engagement can include top repeat purchasers, top referrers, and those who are most engaged with your social content.
Keep in mind, while your top customers are obvious brand advocates, some of your best advocates may even be those who have never purchased but aspire to.
Tools like PeopleMap and SocialRank help you identify and engage with individuals who like, comment, and tag your brand most. They also allow you to segment those individuals out by the number of followers, bio keywords, location etc.
Identifying your micro-community opens up efficient growth channels. For example, Rothy's, a San Francisco-based direct-to-consumer brand identified teachers as a micro-community. While the versatile design appeals to a broad audience, customizing a program to specifically cater to teachers has led to strong brand affinity among that sub-audience.
Activating Your Micro-Community
Now that you've identified your micro-community, the next steps are coming up with the right incentives to activate them. The best advocacy programs get to the root of what motivates your community.
Some members may crave status and recognition. If that's the case, building out a user-generated content (UGC) marketing campaign may make the most sense.
Rothy's #InMyRothys campaign encourages influencers to share content around new skus and color drops. Influencers increase their visibility and garner exposure by being featured, and Rothy's increases conversion through enticing and relatable content, win-win.
For community members who aren't influencers or creators, they may be motivated by more tangible rewards like discounts, exclusives, or experiences. For those individuals, a referral program is the best way to activate them.
In Rothy's case, their shoes have a distinctive look so people tend to stop and ask people about them. Oftentimes, community members will follow-up an IRL word-of-mouth convo by sharing their referral link. Or, for true fanatics, they may shout their referral link from the rooftops, see Exhibit A and B below.
Amplifying Your Micro-Community
For most brands, influencer, UGC, and referral programs are table stakes.
So what's next in community-driven marketing?
Perhaps it's an army of brand reps a la Glossier. Unlike a typical affiliate program, Glossier reps are existing brand evangelists who have been creating content and organically making product recommendations prior to being invited to join the rep program. These reps are invited based on their true affinity towards the brand rather than their follower count.
To make the program feel extra special, each Glossier rep gets her or his own page through which people can buy products. When people purchase through their pages, the reps get a combination of a monetary commission and product credit. More on being a Glossier rep here.
Engaging with its community has been part of Glossier’s DNA since day one. The brand also encourages its community to chime in with ideas through an exclusive Glossier Slack channel (luggage brand Away has an engaged Slack group too). The top 150 or so customers have been invited to be part of a Slack group where they talk beauty all day, organize meet-ups, and share feedback on products new and old. There's also a Glossier fan-created subreddit with over 4,000 members.
The key here is to convert your top customers into co-creators of your brand. Startups like Zyper and Bevy are helping brands take community engagement to the next level by creating new advocacy rewards and experiences.