Community Marketing 101: Basics, Strategies, and Examples

Community Marketing 101: Basics, Strategies, and Examples

Community marketing is a type of marketing focused on creating and nurturing relationships with customers to build trust and brand loyalty. It attempts to redefine marketing campaigns that may, at times, be one-way communication.

Brands are under pressure to reengage their audiences as standard marketing practices are no longer enough to build trust among consumers. A 2022 PwC survey found that while 87% of executives believe consumers trust their business, only 30% of consumers say they do. That’s a 57-point gap between assumption and reality.

This trust deficit is part of a wider trend of changing customer expectations concerning favorite brands. Customers are not satisfied with just buying a product or service anymore. Instead, they’re looking for authentic interactions with the brand and its family of loyal customers. This is why community marketing is paramount.

The 2020 Community Industry Trends Report found that 88% of marketing community professionals believe building vibrant consumer communities is critical to their company’s mission. Another 85% say that having a branded community positively impacted their business.

Community marketing is one strategy for building stronger and deeper relationships with your target audience. This article dives into the important aspects of community marketing to give you an actionable understanding of the topic.

What is community marketing?

This type of marketing stands out from other practices by allowing two-way, personalized interactions with and among customers. Community marketing draws its effectiveness from connecting a brand to a group of people with shared interests, opinions, and values.

Although it’s making new waves in business circles, community marketing is quite an old invention—much older than digital marketing or social media marketing. Marketing professor Philip Kotler first coined the term in the 1970s. What has changed in the years since is the concept of community. Rather than a group of people living in the same geographical area, today’s communities represent any group that thrives online in forums, social media, and other digital platforms without the need for in-person interaction.

Dedicated community platforms bring several unparalleled benefits to businesses. Some of them are:

  • Better customer experience. Customers are free to share their experiences with a brand on community platforms. Sharing experiences empowers customers to exercise their passions by freely expressing their concerns, likes, and dislikes. Both offline and online communities enrich customer experiences because businesses can no longer shrug off bad customer support, shady pricing practices, or other issues.
  • Ability to sell directly to the community. For businesses, a community provides a captive audience for introducing new products and services. With a large community, companies can expect significant sales from members without spending on other marketing channels. Apart from driving sales, direct selling is likely to foster better engagement by making customers feel valued.
  • Loyalty and long-term sustainability. Because communities are built around shared values and interests, businesses can leverage communities to foster customer loyalty and long-term relationships. Customers who believe in their brands and feel inspired by their community become self-motivated brand advocates. This organic engagement can also help businesses increase brand awareness and attract new customers.

How to promote your business in the community

Just as personal relationships take time to mature, community-based marketing is a long-term process that takes involvement and consistency—but the returns justify the time and effort. Executed correctly, this marketing strategy can give businesses rare insights into customer behavior, preferences, and expectations. You can use these insights to test new ideas, adjust product designs, share information, and improve customer support and feedback initiatives.

Striking the right tone with customers is often the first challenge marketers face when trying to build a community. You don’t want to come off as too insistent and pushy or too detached and distant. Finding a middle ground between the two and keeping things conversational will help you strike the right balance. With that in mind, here are five actions that will help you implement your community marketing strategy.

Find your niche

The first step in creating a successful community is identifying your target audience and finding out more about it. Explore what motivates your past, present, and potential customers. What excites them? What drives them to action? Most importantly, do market research to find out what sets them apart from other target audiences, both in your industry and in general.

The second step is finding common ground between your brand and its audience. This will help you zero in on a niche idea for a community that is unique to your business.

One of the best examples of a niche community is LEGO Ideas. The Danish toymaker launched a website where customers could upload their LEGO creations and share them with the community. Members are encouraged to comment on creations, suggest changes, and share them with their own social networks. The best part of this community is that LEGO produces some of the most popular creations and offers them for sale. This exchange of ideas has helped LEGO strengthen its brand engagement and create legions of loyal community members around the world.

Whether you run a bakery, gym, home services company, or tech startup, finding a niche idea that is unique to your brand and its customers is key. Building an online or local community around that niche idea will help create satisfying experiences for your customers and give your business more exposure and long-term engagement.

Build relationships with community influencers

Influencers have a lot of marketing clout that you can leverage to impact your community marketing efforts. The challenge is identifying influencers who align with your brand’s core values and interests. Research their track record to ensure there are no conflicts or negative connotations to associating your brand with them.

First, define the specific audience you intend to reach through your influencers. Work out whether you want to reach more of your current audience or go after an entirely new target group. One of the best ways of doing this is by developing audience personas—nature lovers under 35 or bike riders over 50, for instance. You can start roping in influencers once you have a precise idea of the audience you’re aiming to target.

Start by identifying five influencers you’re interested in working with on your brand. Ideally, start with micro-influencers—those with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers. Once you have a list, initiate and establish strong relationships based on a long-term perspective. They will be your de facto brand ambassadors who promote your brand and vouch for its values within and outside your community. Collaborating with multiple influencers will help you get more traction and validity for your brand.

Brainstorm to generate campaign ideas for each influencer based on their unique personalities and styles. Once you’ve run the campaigns, analyze their results to decide which you want to continue working with. Remember, influencer marketing aims to increase brand awareness and reach new audiences, not necessarily to make a sale right away.

For example, if your brand were to start working with an influencer in January 2023, you shouldn’t bank on the influencer to drive sales for all of Q1, 2023. Instead you should think of them as a way to ensure people know about your brand. Some of these people might organically convert to becoming customers over the coming months.

Host your own community event

How do you make new friends? Throw a party and invite everyone!

That’s pretty much the logic behind hosting a community event. Physical or even virtual events like webinars are a great way to boost existing relationships while making new ones. The opportunity to meet members of your community face-to-face (offline or on a virtual platform) will help create meaningful experiences that drive affinity for the brand and extend its outreach. Such events can continue to spark relevant discussions and idea exchanges long after the event ends.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning your community event:

  • Brand conformity. The event must carefully align with your brand's mission and values. It must be curated to add value to your brand. Even the slightest miscalculation on this front can lead to an erosion of loyalty or to negative connotations for the brand. One way to hit on the right idea is to let your community share their thoughts or vote on a list of proposals.
  • Watch the cost. Events can be expensive and resource-intense. They take budgeting, planning, working with vendors and caterers, and so on. Ensure your business is at a stage where it can afford these costs without putting a dent in your operations. The long-term returns from an event can be very high, as long as you’re prepared to meet the immediate expenses.

You can also consider sponsorships at popular events or co-hosting events with allied brands.

Community events are not necessarily about mega venues, strobe lights, and celebrity guests. A lecture series may be the perfect event for a mentoring company, while a cookout could work great for a neighborhood family restaurant. Select whatever works best for your business!

Create an exclusive experience

In a 2022 survey, 88% of customers said that the experiences a brand provides are as important as its products or services. Exclusive experiences tell customers that your brand understands their unique needs and expectations. And that’s not all—62% of customers expect companies to anticipate their needs.

Creating customized experiences for your brand community is another way to reaffirm the sense of belonging among its members. Experiences like early access to new products, members-only discounts, limited-edition memorabilia, or subsidized tickets to a game are just some ideas.

Exclusive experiences like these are perfect for keeping your customer base happy and engaged. But they can also be a great draw for potential customers who are tempted by the special benefits available to community members. This can drive conversions and bring new members into your brand community.

Like your community events, you must build exclusive experiences around your brand’s core competencies and values and the interests of your target audience.

Create customized content for your audience

Consumers have changing needs and desires, and it’s not always easy to get their attention. That’s why marketing managers increasingly rely on hyper-personalized content to reach their audiences.

Consider four metrics on which you can deliver customized content to your community:

  • Demographics. This is information relating to your customer’s geographic location, age, sex, level of education, marital status, nature and type of employment, health status, and so on.
  • Psychographics. This involves personality traits, interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes, lifestyle choices, opinions, values, and more.
  • Technology. This will cover aspects like customers’ favorite or preferred devices, internet browsers, applications, and similar information.
  • User behavior. This relates to a user’s behavior concerning your brand—how much time they spend on your website, purchased items, return history, and related data points.

Use this data to create personalized messages for your community across blogs, posts, videos, podcasts, and more. Dynamic content tailored to your community’s interests will help you generate more interest in your products and services, drive referrals and sales, and improve customer retention.

Engage with your audience with the help of Upwork’s Talent Marketplace

Looking to boost your brand visibility with a community marketing campaign but not sure if you can do it on your own? Let an expert handle it for you.

Upwork hosts hundreds of professionals and agencies on its platform with deep expertise in community marketing. Browse through our extensive talent pool of resources, ask for references and examples of past work, and hire an expert within hours. You can have your campaign going in no time. Get started today!

If you have community marketing skills and would love to help others, offer your services on our platform. Just sign up, submit proposals, wait for someone to select you, complete the job, and receive a secure payment.

It’s that easy!

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Community Marketing 101: Basics, Strategies, and Examples
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large Fortune 100 enterprises, with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and freelancers to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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