Enter community building as a marketing strategy — the next big thing in brand marketing, according to Mark Schaefer. This week, he will teach us why brands need to hop on this trend as quickly as possible and how agencies can join in on the fun, too.
As business leaders, the best way to reach our audience is to turn that audience into a community and connect with the people who are your biggest advocates. In this episode, we’ll talk about the role of creating emotional connections to your brand, the difference between an audience and a community, how agencies can become leaders in community building for brands, and so much more. Mark will leave you thinking about how your agency can evolve into a thriving community while growing your brand organically.
A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.
What You Will Learn in This Episode:
- Mark’s inspiration for writing his book on the next big brand marketing strategies
- The 3 trends that came together to bring community building to the forefront of brand marketing
- The importance of having an emotional connection with your community
- The major difference between audience and community
- How can agencies begin helping brands with community building?
- Nurturing organic advocacy for your brand
- Perfecting community building in both online and face-to-face interactions
- Some pitfalls to avoid when beginning to dabble in community building
- Can/should agencies create their own communities?
“If you are only looking at community as a way to sell more stuff or as a way to do customer self-service, you're missing the biggest opportunity in the history of overlooked marketing opportunities.” @markwschaefer Click To Tweet
“The greatest success an advertiser or marketer can have is by doing something so interesting, so compelling, and so unmissable that your customers start talking to each other about it.” @markwschaefer Click To Tweet
“You've got to think about the purpose or beliefs that drive a business and how you can have a bigger impact on the world. How can you achieve your goals in a better, faster, bigger way if your customers come alongside you?” @markwschaefer Click To Tweet
“There's an epidemic of loneliness, isolation, depression, and even growing rates of suicide. And 40% of millennials say they have no friends. So they're longing to belong.” @markwschaefer Click To Tweet
“When many of these other marketing tactics fade away, and we evolve to the next thing, the last thing that's going to be left is community.” @markwschaefer Click To Tweet
Ways to contact Mark:
- Website: https://businessesgrow.com/contact/
- Mark’s Books: https://businessesgrow.com/social-media-marketing-books/
- Mark’s Blog: https://businessesgrow.com/blog/
- LinkedIn Personal: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markwschaefer/
- LinkedIn Business: https://www.linkedin.com/company/schaefer-marketing-solutions/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/markwschaefer
- Build a Better Agency Summit: https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/babasummit/
- Virtual Peer Groups: https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/networks/virtual-networks/
- Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BABApodcast
It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media-buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build A Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. I know, no big surprise. I am back with another episode of Build a Better Agency and you’re going to love this one. So, many of you are familiar with my guest and I’m going to tell you a little bit more about him and why I’m so excited to have him on the show in just a second. But first, I want to tell you about one of the other great speakers that we’re going to have at the Build a Better Agency Summit, May 16th and 17th in Chicago. Kris Kelso is an expert on many things around leadership, but where he really shines and he’s written a great book is a topic of imposter syndrome. He wrote a book called Overcoming the Imposter: Silence Your Inner Critic and Lead With Confidence.
It’s a great book and Kris has a really great handle on why we all and every one of us does, why we all suffer from imposter syndrome sometimes and how we can overcome it and get it out of our way. So, we can be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be and we can stop questioning ourself. He’s going to be one of the breakout speakers at the summit. You’re going to enjoy him very much, and I think what you’re going to find is some really practical advice on how to tackle imposter syndrome. Maybe that’s not your thing. Maybe you don’t have that as an issue, but I bet you have an employee that does. So, even if that’s not your thing, learning from Kris so you can mentor and coach your team better probably would be a very handy knowledge base and skill to have. So, we would love to see you at the summit, again, May 16th and 17th in Chicago.
Go to the Agency Management Institute website. In the upper left corner, it’s BABA Summit. Click on that and you’re going to see a button on the left that says Register. You can grab your ticket now before prices go up or before we sell out. While you’re there, make sure you grab your hotel so that we can make sure that we have a place for you to stay because we always sell out of the room block and then people have to find another place to stay, which I hate. So, I want you to stay in the hotel with us so you can soak up all of the connecting and talking and chit-chatting in the hallways in between sessions and you’re not running back and forth to a different hotel. Okay? All right. So, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. I suspect you’re familiar with him.
Mark Schaefer is a prolific author in the marketing space. You probably have recognized some of his titles, Cumulative Advantage, the ROI of Influence or Return on Influence, back in the day, Born to Blog when that was a new topic. One of his more recent books was Marketing Rebellion, The Most Human Company Wins, which was a great one. Known is talking about personal branding, but his brand new book that just came out is called Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy. As you might imagine what you know about the AMI community, I loved this book. I love the message of it. I love the practicality of the way Mark approaches it.
So, he gives you the research about why building a community around a brand is so important. He gives you case studies so you can see the ROI that other businesses have enjoyed, including an agency in the book. Then he gives you the nuts and bolts of how to do it. So, it is a fantastic read, but more than that, I think it’s an inspiring read. So, I think this is twofold for us. I think it’s creating a community around your agency and then I think it’s about helping clients create community, which is a huge opportunity for us in terms of new business and growing our current clients’ business.
So, I can’t wait to have this conversation and hear more from Mark about what precipitated the book and where he thinks this is all going. So, without further ado, let’s get him on and let’s get going. Mark, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for being here.
Drew, I’m delighted to be here with you. I’m excited for our conversation.
Me too. I love the idea of your latest book, so your latest book, Belonging to the Brand, all about creating community. Help me understand what prompted you to write the book. I mean, you’ve written a lot of great books, but this is the latest in them, but I think this may be my favorite, I have to say.
Well, Drew, it’s so rewarding that as an author, you have a big idea. You’re desperate to get your ideas into the world, but you never really know until you get it out there. They really do love this book. I think it’s a big idea and a timely idea. It’s something I’ve been really stewing on since about 2018. In 2018, I wrote a book and published it in 2019 called Marketing Rebellion. This was a wakeup call. I think you see it certainly in your world that marketers and businesses tend to get into a trench. You have your processes. You do a little bit better on your ads. You do a little bit better on the SEO.
But what I was seeing happening in the world is that we have consumers now that have the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the palm of their hands, and they expect something more from our marketing. They don’t want to be manipulated and interrupted. So, one of the chapters in that book was about belonging and community. So, the book was a wakeup call to say, “Get out of the trench and look up, see what’s happening, and see what customers really need now.”
Then COVID happened.
Then COVID happened, and a lot of people were saying, “Hey, the ideas in this book are coming true.” So, I thought that chapter could be its own book. That chapter is really the future. There was one headline in the newspaper that was the charge that said, “Now is the time. This is the right time.” There was a headline in the New York Times that said The Loneliest Generation, and it talked about our children. It talked about Gen Z, teenagers, and how there’s an epidemic of loneliness and isolation and depression. Even growing rates of suicide, 40% of millennials say they have no friends, so they’re longing to belong. Gen Z, these aren’t babies. I mean, we just had a Gen Z person elected to Congress.
They’re buying stuff. They’re going to be leading our businesses in the next five years. So, we’ve got this profound chronic health problem. Now, I want to emphasize this is a business book. It looks at community, which is nothing new. But what’s new about this book is it looks through the lens of brand marketing, which is almost entirely overlooked by agencies and marketers and then there’s like this side benefit. This is a new way to look at marketing’s maybe a new tool for a toolbox, but it’s also marketing that really helps people as far as this is the only marketing that our customers will say, “Yeah, I love this. I want to belong to this.”
I want more of this, right?
Yeah, I want more.
The brand benefits from that affection and affinity.
I’m proud of the job that I did spelling out the business case for this. I mean, I go logically, here are the trends coming together that point to this as being the time we need to look at community as a brand marketing strategy. Here are the business benefits. Here are case studies to show how this works in this new way of thinking. So, I think anybody who reads the first three chapters of this book, it’s an unassailable business case and it’s got to be something that we think about.
Agreed. So, let’s talk about the trends. What were the trends that you think came to a head and brought this new environment that was rich and ready for community? Not a community from the broader sense, but from a business’s perspective?
Yeah. Well, we’ve hinted at two of those and the first is the issues a lot of your listeners are facing is that we are in a streaming economy. I’ve watched more TV than I’ve ever watched. At the end of the day, I’m so tired. My wife and I just stream shows and watch. We’ll watch something on Netflix or we watch something on Amazon Prime or we watch something on Disney+. We don’t see ads. I’ll be driving in the car for hours. I’ll listen to music the whole time, but it’s on Spotify. I don’t hear ads or I’ll listen to an audiobook. I don’t hear ads. I even subscribe to special podcasts and don’t hear ads. So, I think that’s number one is that it’s time for marketing to look at new options. We need new options. Number two is this healthcare issue, this mental health issue.
Here’s another thing, Drew, that propelled me into thinking this is the time. This is already showing up in marketing. Last year during March Madness, Powerade had a whole ad campaign called Pause. This is a sports drink saying, “Go, go, go, go be your best athletic self.” Their whole campaign was Stop and their spokesperson was Simone Biles, because they’re saying, “Hey, this is a time in the world we got to get our heads right.” So that’s number two. Number three is that I’ve been in this world of Web 3.0 and Metaverse and NFTs and nobody really knows what all this is. I mean, nobody can really describe what Web 3.0 is. I’m not sure anybody can really describe what the Metaverse is. But when you cut through all this jargon, there’s millions and millions of dollars being spent on new ways to connect, on new ways to belong.
Young people are surging into these spaces. So, we have to understand that. We have to understand this opportunity and also know that all these smart companies are spending millions and millions of dollars helping us enable these communities. So, these are the trends I saw coming together, and I have a good track record in my career of predicting what’s going to be next. I’m usually two years ahead of my time and I’m not a bragging person, but I’ll do one little mic drop moment with you. The day I wrote the last words of the book, McKinsey came out with a major research paper and said, “Community is the next big thing in marketing.” So, I knew my book was on the right track.
So, you beat McKinsey. I love that.
Well, they beat me because the book hadn’t been published yet.
But you wrote it.
So in my head, I bear McKinsey.
That’s right. Yeah, I like it. We’re going to give you a credit for that.
The most important thing is get ahead of the curve. This is where the world is going to be. I wrote the first book on influence marketing 2012 before anybody was even calling that. I said, “In two years, this is going to be a mainstream marketing activity.” I was right. Yeah, I wrote about content and content shop, 2015, boom. I was right. I think this is going to be the same thing, Drew. I think in a couple years we’re going to look back and say, “Thank goodness we’ve got this new opportunity to make connections with our customers in a really meaningful way.”
What I love about the idea too is unlike traditional marketing. This is something that the longer you do it and the better you do it, the deeper the connection, the deeper the loyalty, the deeper the affiliation. Humans are always going to need to connect. So, even though we’re doing it through technology is probably not going to age out like some of the other marketing tactics that we have done throughout our careers.
Well, that’s why I have this provocative subtitle, which is Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy. The theory behind that is that first of all, it was the first marketing strategy. It’s something that’s always worked is when you go to a place and they know you and you have this emotional connection, you’re never going to go anywhere else. So, this is embedded in our DNA as human beings. There’s research in the book that shows the deep psychological benefits, sociological benefits, even physical benefits of community. I think when a lot of these other marketing tactics fade away and we evolve to the next thing, the last thing that’s going to be left is community. We’ve always had it. We always need it. If you can create that community and sustain that community, it’ll always be there.
Agreed. So, for agents in agencies, we’ve talked about audience and understanding the client’s audience, building personas around that audience. From your perspective, how is audience different than community?
Well, what I love to think about is this continuum of emotional connection. I mean, that’s our goal, right? As a great advertiser or a great marketer, when people think of our brand, we want them to feel something. It means that there’s got to be a meaning there, an expectation of what we’re going to get when we interact with this brand. So, where do we start? Where’s everybody these days? Every small company, big company, social media. Social media is great because we can connect with new people, but it’s a weak relational link, right? The great strategy is if we can move the social media connections to an audience, which would be a subscriber to our blog, our video series, our TikTok channel, our podcast.
That would be great because now we’ve got a stronger emotional connection. If I go on a social media and say, “Hey, everybody, buy my new book,” I’m not going to sell any books. If I go on my podcast and say, “Hey, everybody. I have a new book,” I’m going to sell hundreds of books. Now, an audience is great. When people are in your audience in a virtual way, they’re raising their hand and saying, “I opt into you.” It’s okay to tell me what you’re doing because I believe in you and I love you and your brand, but that’s where most businesses stop.
What I’m suggesting is we now move that audience to a community. What makes it different? Number one, in a community, there’s communion. People connect. They know each other. There’s a guy the other day that said, “Oh, yeah, I have this community. We get together. I give them content. I give them lessons.” I said, “That’s an audience. That’s not a community.” Do people know each other?
Do they give each other things?
Yeah. So, that’s number one. Number two, there has to be some purpose that unites them. So, for the business, this is where the role of an agency can really be strong, because the purpose is not a mission statement. It’s not a point of differentiation. A point of differentiation might be we’ve got the lowest prices in the tri-state area. That’s not a reason to gather. A reason to gather might be we are automobile fanatics and we want to learn everything about every new innovation coming out in automotive. Well, you’re going to track some really intense, passionate people.
So, you’ve got to think about, “What is the purpose or beliefs that drive a business? How can you have a bigger impact on the world? How can you achieve your goals in a better, faster, bigger way if your customers come alongside you?” I think that’s a new way for advertisers and marketers to think. I think that could be a key role for agencies in this new world. It’s almost like a new competency to help our customers think through these fundamental basics of community.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ll send you a link. So, I did a keynote two years ago at the very first Build a Better Agency Summit. What I talked about was the reason why AMI exists and why the conference was there, which is I fully believe that we can all get smarter and better when we do it together and we teach each other. So, that’s why I want to build this community is around that, but to your point, that’s a reason to gather is because we do some great teaching, but honestly, our members, our community learns as much from each other. I watch them in Facebook groups and at meetings and things like that, and they’re sharing files. Hey, do you want to see what a proposal looks like? Here’s what mine looks like. They’re just going out of their way to share with each other because they have this common goal of being better and smarter together.
Drew, I couldn’t agree more. Now here’s the thing I want your listeners and fans of your show to think about. The same thing is happening in my community.
Every blog post I write, every podcast, every speech I give, there are ideas and inspirations coming out of my community. I am a better, smarter, more relevant professional because of this community. Now, think about scaling that for a brand, creating better products, better services, better ideas, being connected every day to the needs and the questions of your customers. There’s people in my community from all over the world. They’re seeing things and experiencing things in their communities and countries all around the world I’ll never see as helping me be a more well-rounded, better person, and a better company.
Which then just again, allows you to serve the community better. So, this exponential growth and learning and sharing just makes what the brand is creating better for the people in the community and the brand.
Yeah, 100%. Yeah.
Yeah. All right. So, purpose is critical. They want to gather. What else makes a community different from an audience?
Well, so we talked about, “Do people know each other?” We talked about this reason to gather. There’s this intersection of the purpose of the business and the customers. The third one is that it changes, that it’s flexible, that it’s relevant. So, that’s another way that it’s different than a mission statement, which is the guiding principles of your business for maybe years or decades, but a community shifts with the needs and the interests of the audience. So, the beauty of this, it can take the business with it.
What’s happening in my community? We started studying. We’re dedicated to the future of marketing. Well, look what happens. ChatGPT, AI, AI creating images, content. Well, look, we flexed over there. We started whole new discussions, whole new projects to explore all these ideas and that keeps us relevant. So, you’ve got to have the flexibility to let the community flow where it needs to go to make it active and vital and relevant.
So that suggests to me that part of the necessity from the brand’s perspective is how they view and respect and care for the community, because if I’m just creating this community to sell them more stuff, then I think it’s going to break. So, I want to ask you about that. We’re going to take a quick break then I want to talk about, “How does a brand care for a community and what role could or should an agency play in helping their clients create and nurture a community?” So, we’ll