Customers, employees, prospects and suppliers: your audience and best marketing asset…
It has never been easier to switch service suppliers than in today’s digital economy. As such, marketers know that to keep a brand strong, the idea of moving to a competitor must remain unattractive. In short, it’s critical for them to establish lasting relationships and create loyalty amongst the customers.
So, how do they do that?
Customers don’t just want a sale, they expect service providers to enrich their experience. In this article, we’ll examine how a business can offer something extra by implementing an online community that taps the collective knowledge of customers, employees, suppliers, and other partners, to provide a benefit-rich service for all.
Speaking recently at the You Are The Media Conference in Bournemouth, the Content Marketing Academy’s Chris Marr introduced delegates to the concept of The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
Put simply, ZPD means group learning. Individuals achieve more when surrounded by relatable people with whom they can share knowledge (thanks to Espirian for its excellent coverage of the You Are The Media event).
Shared objectives, commonalities, and a shared philosophy help people grow and learn. Online communities work in exactly this way. They enable individuals to gain specific knowledge from experts and change at speed.
Everyone is open and willing to help as, ultimately, they know that if they need to tap into this great reservoir of knowledge, they’ll benefit from such values being in place in the group.
Of course, businesses don’t have a strong tradition of enabling groups to talk. They’ve tended keep a dividing line between customers, employees, suppliers, and partners because there has been no reason to do anything other
However, in today’s information-hungry digital world, keeping these groups apart means missing a great opportunity to tap into the collective knowledge they hold and using that to create strong relationships around a brand.
The changing nature of our digital economy means that all groups that exist around a business are equally important. As such, it pays to have a space to talk to them and for them to talk to each other.
Smart marketers know all the unused insights held in these different groups could be put to use if the old silos were dismantled. They want to see a single group; an audience that can be brought together by a shared interest in a business, its services, and products.
Marketers recognise that an online community is a great way to facilitate engagement of this kind. People can seek answers to questions from peers and, in turn, this sharing process creates a value that helps the brand retain customers, boost exposure, and enhance its credibility.
Communities can take many forms. They can be generalist or focused around a key use; like the way Nordic Semiconductors uses its community as a customer service portal where people can source information from peers.
Other uses focus round things like product innovation or – as is the case for the British Medical Association – communities can be established for the professional development of the membership.
Communities don’t even have to be public facing. Some of the best marketing is done through internal communities, where a business creates a space for all its employees to come together. These spaces can be used for shared working, knowledge sharing, and mentoring.
Perhaps their best use, however, is in breaking down the silos that exist in larger organisations and encouraging smarter working and collaboration across departments.
A person, not a persona
The final key point to raise is about the manner in which communities can be an important marketing tool.
Unlike other forms of marketing the rely on pushing messages at people, communities simply allow individuals to build useful connections with peers and enable brands to build powerful connections with customers through person-by-person interaction.
Members of a community aren’t a segment or persona, they’re a real. The host business can talk to individuals on a human level, not through the sloganeering of the comms message.
This kind of direct communication is extremely appealing. In well-run groups, members don’t just exchange information, they become a brand’s biggest and most vocal advocates.
Loyalty like this can’t be bought. It can only develop through honest, open, and real relationships.
If you’d like to know more about maximising the digital relationship you have with customers, please either call, email, or complete this short form.