How Event Marketers Can Catalyze the Fourth Era of Brand Communities
A hot new marketing strategy is creating opportunities for a brand’s events and experiential marketing.
Every two-to-three years, the marketing industry finds a new hot strategy (and buzzword) to rally around. While “omnichannel” and “personalization” and “experience” now settle into the core foundation of marketing strategies, “community” has taken the spotlight.
It is not the first time “community” has been front and center for marketers. Investing in successful community strategies has proven as challenging as defining what “community” even means for global brands. For our Opus Agency teams, we use Carter Gibson’s definition of brand communities: the art of bringing people with a shared purpose together, for both their benefit and the benefit of the brand.
The Fourth Era of Brand Communities
Brands have been bringing people together online throughout the last two decades. The concept of brand communities has gone through three significant phases. First was the rise of the original community platforms, like Jive. Then came the idea of building communities on social “outposts,” such as Facebook Groups and Linked Groups. Over the past five years, including a dramatic acceleration through 2020, brands have been finding success investing in building their communities on their own platforms.
The current focus on communities has its roots in the mid-2010s. During this time, a range of thought leadership showed that businesses were being valued on the strength of their customer relationships. As this Harvard Business Review piece shared: “[There is] a dramatic shift in the strategic approach to marketing over the last 10 years. Acquirers have decisively moved from investing in businesses with strong brands to businesses with strong customer relationships.”
Through 2021, new thought leadership continues to capture clicks. On Andreessen Horowitz’s new blog, they recently illustrated why we need Go-to-Community, not just Go-to-Market strategies. In their piece, they make their case by stating: “whether that community is a group of power users, open-source contributors, creators, or even just a brand (or franchise)’s super fans, it lends greater brand awareness, higher switching costs, and scale economies. Buyers have endless choices in today’s market, so companies can’t rely only on features and pricing to win business.”
The Evolving Intersection of Events and Brand Communities
Sharing a core purpose—bringing people together—events and brand communities have been tightly linked for decades. Some of the most prominent examples of brands building strong communities online and using their events—virtual and in-person—to bring them together are found in the technology industries. SAP brings its community together with TechEd. Microsoft’s community comes together at Build. Google’s community at I/O. Salesforce’s Trailblazers at TrailheaDX.
In this current generation of community-first marketing, events are valued for their ability to bring people together, spark connections, and extend relationships—all the backbone of a beloved, growing brand community.
Coming together, event professionals and community managers are now sharing a streamlined framework for building belonging—like CMX’s 7P’s of Community. Events and brand communities are also sharing business goals, like those defined in the SPACES model, which focuses on bringing people together to drive:
- Customer Support/Success
- Product Ideation, Innovation, Feedback
- Acquisition and Advocacy
- Content and Programming
- Stakeholder Engagement
Events are the natural starting point for brands exploring new customer-to-customer (C2C) strategies and looking to pilot their first brand communities. Using an event as a “tent post,” brands can create short-lived communities. For example, to amplify a product launch event, a brand can spark discussions before, during, and over the two months after an event. To engage Gen Z, brands are using Discord to build event-centric communities. To empower their community and spread out the workloads, brands are building event-specific communities for hosting local and extended experiences.
Aim for Fingerspitzengefühl
Events and brand communities do more than bring customers together: they also bring brands’ internal teams together.
Bailey Richardson, a renowned author and builder of brand communities, writes, “there’s this great German word, Fingerspitzengefühl, which means ‘finger-tip feeling.’ That’s what you should strive for in the relationship between community and product. The folks who are in close contact with the users have their finger on the pulse on what’s making them happy, what’s irritating them, what’s getting old.”
More than ever, brands need to keep their fingers on the pulse of the people who matter most to their success. This focus requires a strong alignment between event marketers and community managers because, as it has always been true: the world’s most successful brands bring people together, instill an imprintable identity, establish rallying movements, and drive meaningful connections.
In this new era of brand community building, there are new opportunities for event professionals and experiential marketers to transform their programs and drive business success. Together, it’s time to capture opportunity.
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By Brent Turner
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