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Audience Engagement Brand Strategy B2B Marketing

The power of brand communities: How to win brand loyalty through 2-way relationships

By Bill Davies, Head of content



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October 20, 2023 | 8 min read

Not least in B2B, smart brands are starting to realize the power of two-way marketing through authentic community engagement, argues Bill Davies. Here’s how.

Three primary-color plastic monkeys, held aloft to the sky, holding hands, full of joy

How can brand communities change the game for engagement? / Park Troopers via Unsplash

Trust and loyalty have always been the cornerstones of doing business, but in competitive landscapes where acquisition is becoming more and more expensive, they have never been more valuable.

A big advertising spend is no longer enough to ensure brand loyalty. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 67% of customers will stop buying a product if they don't trust the company behind it. Combine this with Bain & Co research that shows increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase profits by 25% or even 95%, and the case for building trust and loyalty to keep customers close is unmistakable.

The power of brand community

What can brands do to build the loyalty that keeps customers coming back? One answer is to create a greater sense of belonging. Building community is a way many marketers, especially in B2B, are looking to help customers feel the love and build stickier bonds.

Boosting customer engagement is one of the biggest challenges CMOs are facing, according to LinkedIn’s B2B Institute Research 2023. Communities provide a powerful way to deliver this engagement boost, a point underlined during a panel on customer trust that we at Distillery hosted at San Francisco’s recent Customer Marketing Summit.

Brand communities offer a place where customers can interact, share experiences, and learn from each other. They can even give customers a voice in the development of the brand and its products. All of this builds a sense of closeness and a feeling of being listened to that can make all the difference, particularly in B2B, where relationships have long reigned supreme as a business builder.

Your community acts as a powerful source for identifying superusers and potentially working with them as part of an advocacy program. This enthusiasm can deliver further impacts and benefits beyond the community itself. Customer advocacy helps businesses reduce customer acquisition costs by providing a 7x more effective way to generate leads, referrals, and sales. According to Gartner, more than 75% of B2B buyers consult three or more sources of advocacy before they make a purchase decision.

The idea of community in B2B marketing is not new. Conferences and networking have long been where deals are done and lasting relationships are forged. But in the new B2B world, where offline and online work in harmony, a new idea of community and relationship building has formed. Brands need to adapt.

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Audience v community: two-way marketing

The way people behave online is changing. From the earlier days of the internet, where communities were small and focused on forums, we moved to mass communities. Everything grew bigger and bigger. But as the noise in these spaces gets louder, people are returning to the smaller spaces and quieter corners. This has seen channels like Discord and Telegram surge in popularity, while on the bigger networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, niche groups have become increasingly popular.

Now, brands can create these havens for people, building them around the needs of customers. This shift, from thinking of an audience to considering a community, is a powerful one, moving customer marketing away from reach-focused one-way communications to a two-way dialogue that builds more meaningful connections and valuable spaces for customers.

It’s worth finding out which of your customers are active on which channels, and who needs help, so that you can engage with them in a personalized way and create a hub where they can share experiences and insights.

What makes a great community?

For marketing leaders building communities, there are two key things to build into your strategy: authenticity and customer-centricity.

Returning to those Edelman trust statistics, authenticity is arguably even more important for communities. To build meaningful relationships with customers, there needs to be trust and understanding. The customers you’ll build the best, mutually beneficial, relationships with are the ones you make feel most at ease. An authentic community, with transparent two-way communication built into it, will build the stronger bonds brands are looking for.

What else do customers need these communities to be? Built specifically around them. While ‘customer-centricity’ has been in danger of becoming a ‘well, duh’ buzzword in marketing circles, its importance couldn’t be clearer in brand communities.

For people to engage with your community and its content, it really does need to be as relevant and close to their world as possible. What resonates in one market may be a total turnoff in another. This reinforces the need to listen closely to customers and build the community together, making sure it’s offering the things they are coming to it for.

“We’re asking people to take time away from their already busy jobs and work to participate in a community program that, if it doesn't add value for them, they're not coming back,” said Joshua Zerkel, Asana’s head of global engagement marketing at the Customer Marketing Summit.

Building community

A strong community will not develop on its own. It needs a purpose, a base of active and engaged members, and, crucially, content to spark the conversations and interest that will keep it growing.

That means keeping it real for the whole community, regardless of where they are, then monitoring the superfans you’re developing so that you are always responding to what works – as well as what doesn’t.

As Distillery’s global chief executive Steve Wheen, puts it: “Identify your community, find a place to build it, create content that fuels it, keep it active and engaged, and listen for feedback on how the community can get better.”

Creating a thriving community takes a lot of effort, listening, and strategy. But it's incredibly rewarding and could make all the difference for your brand.

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