As an industry, we speak endlessly about the new connected consumer. Tethered to one or more devices at all times, the consumer is dividing his or her attention across multiple screens, ingesting an endless array of information and entertainment content and sharing it across their social network.
And as marketers, we spend a lot of time and resources trying to understand and track the hyper inbound/outbound media lives of these consumers.
Without a doubt, the journey of a “connected consumer” is an important area of focus and one that demands attention and investment in data and tools to tap into the who, what, where and when of media and technology use. After all, doing this properly provides the foundation for creating optimal communication planning and activation strategies.
We know consumers are glued to media and technology. But what else are they connected to that we, perhaps, are less attentive to? Are we failing to uncover the most meaningful bonds that exist for today’s consumers? Isn’t it possible that the real connections lie in Community: the human passions and pain points that bring people together both on and offline?
With these questions in mind, MediaVest recently completed a 12-month research journey to provide the grounding, data and insights around the notion of community and to ultimately fuel a new level of community-driven marketing for our clients.
This initiative included more than 20 hours of interviews with community leaders, sociologists and anthropologists; a deep literature review; focus groups across the country; and 8,000 consumer interviews, spanning 25 topic areas and more than 150 communities. We also included a series of brand affinity and interaction metrics in our study to isolate the relationship between communities and brands and identify specific brand opportunities for marketers.
We found that community fundamentally changes how we need to think about marketing communications. Community understanding holds the key to our ability to create meaningful brand experiences.
By knowing the strength and nature of community bonds (how people connect), community motivations (why people connect) and their sources of influence and inspiration, we are able to craft content and marketing strategies that are most inspiring to our target communities.
Equally important in today’s social world—where peer influence is central in the formation of brand beliefs, evaluations and purchase decisions—community is at the core of social amplification in its broadest and truest sense. Based on our extensive investigation, here are some guidelines we developed for community-oriented marketing:
• Community is a proxy for a person’s involvement and affinity in a topic, and participation is a reflection of what matters most to them. In a world where attention is scarce and control resides with the consumer, it is more important than ever for marketers to find media and marketing opportunities where their consumers are deeply involved and passionately connected. Apply a community framework and lens to both targeting and the identification of brand opportunities to powerfully leverage high-affinity areas in customers’ lives. This will help pave the way for the most meaningful connections with consumers.
• In today’s socially connected world, maximizing the impact of marketing investments is contingent on how well marketers can amplify paid investments with earned impressions. Communities drive scale! To amplify, look beyond the sheer size of a community and find those that offer the strongest amplification potential to leverage the potential earned impressions that a community can generate. For example, while beer and wine enthusiast communities are roughly equal in size, beer enthusiasts have a 44% higher amplification potential. Putting relevant and meaningful content in front of high-amplification communities will immediately increase opportunity for scale.
• Community strength and the attachment and interaction profiles of a community (i.e. how members interact) shape the expectations that members have of brands that want to be involved with the community. Marketers cannot treat all communities the same way; objectives must align with the goals of the community. If targeting a community strongly rooted in a sense of “membership,” the role of the brand should be to facilitate a sense of belonging and helping members feel part of something bigger. Where “influence” is a core community dimension, consider how brands can be a source of guidance and an arbiter of valuable information that can help members achieve their goals of being influential or being influenced.
• Members are motivated to participate in a community because it provides them with meaningful, gratifying experiences that add to their quality of life. Marketing programs and brand messaging should cater to the underlying community motivations and triggers for participation. For example, there are communities that focus on connecting with traditions, and marketing strategies can tap into members’ desire to connect with their past and their heritage. In addition, connecting with a community built around members’ desires for learning, self-esteem and self-sufficiency means facilitating experiences that help build members’ sense of self through encouragement or tools to help achieve their goals.
• Community-based marketing should also inform media selection and placement. Each community has a unique media profile, shaped not only by the sources that it most often relies on for community information and entertainment but also by those who are most likely to propel content sharing. Align media placements to the channels that are most relevant and most engaging for a targeted community as these are the environments where communities will be most attentive and are most likely to generate earned amplification.
When a marketer activates on a community-level, the notion of a brand adding real value beyond simply selling products becomes a reality.
“Connected consumer” can mean many things. Media and technology are certainly a big part of it and data solutions that increase knowledge around media behaviors and digital adoption and usage are crucial for marketers to be successful. But if media and technology are the veins of connectivity, community is the blood that runs through them.
Community creates meaning in people’s lives. It is where passion, emotion, excitement and action live. It feeds the minds of connected consumers—and it is where successful marketers need to play in today’s hyper-connected world.