I'm going to share the second framework we use to guide our client’s work.
If you haven’t read last week’s post, click here.
There’s a sweet spot in the middle of our mix of desires. Those desires are what the brand wants, what communities want, and what individual members want.
Too often we miss the mark. We end up satisfying just two of these. That typically means creating content sites, failed community concepts, or communities that don’t deliver value.
To build a successful branded community, you need to hit the bullseye of this framework:
1) WHAT BRANDS WANT
Brands want one of seven things (even if they’re not sure about it).
You can find these in our ROI framework.
Brands create communities to keep customers for longer, persuade customers to spend more, acquire new customers, increase staff productivity (knowledge sharing/social capital), reduce costs (customer service/marketing), and fulfill the organization’s mission (non-profits).
When an organization creates an internal community, it’s ultimately to improve productivity through reduced duplication costs, better collaboration, better-trained and smarter employees.
Very often, the real goal is hidden behind the several layers. A brand might want to increase engagement (layer 1), to increase loyalty (layer 2), to increase higher levels of retention (layer 3).
If you only satisfy what the brand wants, you end up doing something very similar to a direct marketing campaign (or just spam).
2) WHAT MEMBERS WANT
Members are easier to predict in their needs. These begin with social and non-social needs, then tend to morph into more social needs.
These needs include solving problems they know they have, seizing opportunities they believe exist, pursue interests, enhance their own social standing or enhance their self-concept.
The big danger here is taking a problem you see members often have and building a community around it. That’s a problem because we all live inside our own bubbles.
We fail to realize that while it’s a problem we see a lot of members have, it’s not really a big problem in the context of their lives. Members don’t want to spend their spare time trying to solve it. The best problems relate to our bigger life goals rather than quick fixes.
3) WHAT COMMUNITIES OFFER
Communities exist for a reason. As an entity they want things. Those things relate to their very existence. It’s why we band together into groups in the first place. This fundamentally means protection/survival.
A more accurate and modern interpretation would be lower transaction costs i.e. it’s easier to perform these things in groups. This includes exploration of a topic together, mutual support (indirect reciprocity), great influence over our environment, and a sense of belonging.
WHAT HAPPENS IF ONE OF THESE IS MISSING?
If you look at the Venn diagram, it’s clear that the target to hit is quite small. That’s why most communities fail. Here are the three most common areas.
4) CONTENT MARKETING (NO COMMUNITY ELEMENT)
This is what happens when there’s no community element. There’s no reason for members to interact with each other, just with you. As a result, you end up renting attention at increasingly higher costs.
This doesn’t mean that social media and content marketing efforts fail. Many of them are successful. Likewise customer service channels where people can get instant help from each other are great too. But they don’t offer the longevity and scale of a community. Members come to be entertained or resolve a problem, once that problem is solved, the member leaves.
5) FAILED CONCEPT (NO MEMBER WANT)
This is nearly as common. The brand creates a community to tackle a problem members don’t really care much about.
I might visit New York often but a community about finding the best places to stay in New York won’t engage me, because it’s just not a big part of my life.
If you don’t tackle the member want (problem/opportunity/passion/social improvement) that fits into a broader life goal the community will never get off the ground.
It’s a failed community concept. The majority of failed communities never quite nail this community concept. It never takes off and gains momentum.
6) ENTHUSIAST COMMUNITY (NO BRAND WANT)
Enthusiast communities are surprisingly far more numerous and have a far higher success ratio than branded online communities. They succeed because they are founded by people passionate about the topic and cater solely to what members want (untainted by brand wants).
The problem for brands is they deliver no value to them. This is what happens when the brand doesn’t integrate what they do with the community. They don’t use the permission they have to speak with members in a way that makes members more likely to take the actions they want.
For example, if you want members to spread positive WOM, give members exclusive information to spread. If you want members to buy more, give members special discounts/added benefits. If you want members to stay members for longer, give them more access/exclusive hotlines/treat them like insiders the long and more frequently they participate.
If this doesn’t happen, the community tends to thrive but not benefit the organization at all (which happens far more often than we think it does).
7) THE SWEET SPOT
Then in the center we have the sweet spot that combines what members need, what brands want, and what community offer.
This is a community that has a concept based around a want members know they have and nurtures members to explore, influence, and support one another to co-create value with the brand, and uses the permission they have to interact with members in ways that increase value.
Let’s go through an example.
PIECING THIS TOGETHER
Cuban Coffee Capsules
Let’s imagine you work for Cuban Coffee Capsules and you want to increase customer retention in a highly competitive environment. That’s a clear goal.
If you talk to your customers, you’ll soon find they really don’t want to spend their spare time talking about coffee. A few aficionados might, but not enough to make it viable. Coffee just isn’t an important enough part of our day.
Instead you want to find their biggest challenges, their hopes/ambitions, what they enjoy doing, their life goals and build your community around it.
Here’s a simpler question. Why do people buy/drink coffee? Probably to feel more energized, awake, be more productive, or work for longer.
Any of one these might be a great community concept. No, caffeine won’t be the subject matter – but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be.
Now you know what members want, you need to satisfy it. One way to go about this would be to produce content about how to feel more alive, awake and energized.
You could recruit experts to share/produce material for you. But that becomes a content site – and the competition for great content is tough.
If anyone produces better content (or you run out of good ideas) you lose the audience. The level of activity will never scale beyond you producing content unless you recruit a lot of volunteer contributors (possible, but difficult) or add a community component to it.
That means making the activities, discussions, and content in the community orientated around mutual support, exploring the topic (promoting their contributions above your own), influence over the field, or creating a sense of belonging.
For Cuban Coffee Capsules, that’s most likely to be a place for members to explore different chemical/non-chemical ways to feel more energized or be more focused/productive.
The final part is to integrate the community with the business needs. If you want members to buy more, give members extra benefits.
For example, special coffee types, discounts on partner products, access to exclusive information (how it’s made etc), opportunities to visit Cuba etc. The more you add value here, the more members purchase.
Now you have a community where members get practical value, with a reason to participate, and you have a several ways to increase purchases. You also get to position yourself as the place that will make people more productive.
Clearly Cuban Coffee Capsules has it easier than you. They don’t exist. They don’t have to deal with all the internal battles and challenges doing the above entails. But these are exactly the battles we need to fight if communities are going to succeed.
Branded communities aren’t in a healthy place at the moment, but they definitely could be.