MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023

Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy

Strong marketing helps to build relationships between a brand and its audience.

But having an audience may not be enough, says marketing strategy consultant Mark Schaefer.

Instead of an audience that can come and go, a community has relationships among the members of that community.

Watch Mark’s comments from B2B Forum 2023 in the video clip or read the transcript below.

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Most of us were doing social media marketing. The ability to create that emotional connection, that emotional expectation is very weak.

The awesome thing about social media is we can reach people we’ve never reached before, people that have never heard of us, people from all over the world.

I know some of you probably connected to me on social media. That’s how you first learned about me. I’ve got several friends in the room, and we probably started on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook or something like that.

But here’s the problem.

If I have a new book out and I put a message on Twitter—where I have 180,000 followers—and it said, “hey everybody, I have a new book,” how many people would buy that book?

Almost none. Probably none.

Because it’s like—and maybe you have this feeling sometimes too—it’s like throwing a message in a bottle out into the ocean. 

Is this really going to hit with everybody?

But what’s important is the reach. It’s the opportunity.

Now, here’s where we go next.

If we do a really good job with our content, we can bring people into our site and maybe they’ll subscribe to our content, our blog videos, podcast, maybe even follow us on Instagram or something like that.

Now we create a stronger link.

We have a reliable reach to this audience because we know they subscribe to us. We can even see how much of their videos they’re consuming, how much of our podcasts they’re listening to. So it’s reliable.

We’re resonating with an audience, and there’s a deeper emotional connection. 

If I announce on my blog, “hey everybody, I have a new book,” how many books will I sell?

A lot?

Because when people subscribe to your content in a virtual way, they’re opting in saying, “I believe in you. I want to hear more.”

Now, unfortunately, that’s where almost every company stops, and they’re missing the greatest emotional connection of all:


Because in a community, not only is there an emotional connection to you, there’s an emotional connection to each other.

It’s like a neighborhood. You support each other, you become friends, and you create this literally a layer of emotional switching costs.

Because to leave the brand means leaving the community and leaving their friends. You’re just not going to do that. You literally belong to the brand.

And if I went into my community—there’s a few people here that are in my marketing community—if I said, “hey community, I have a new book out,” how many people would buy the book?

All of them. And they would tell everybody else about it.

In my community, it’s just not an audience. It’s just not customers. It’s advocacy. We live in a world—I’m sure most of you’re familiar with the Edelman Trust Barometer—we live in a world where trust in companies and media and government and brands and advertising has declined 15 years in a row.

But who do we believe?

We believe each other. And when we have people in our community telling everybody how great our company is and all these things that are going on in the community, that’s what they believe.

This is the strongest possible emotional connection you can create to a brand.

Now, one of the things that is often misunderstood is the difference between an audience and a community.

I often hear people say, oh, I have an awesome blog community.

Probably not. People that read my blog or listen to my podcast, they don’t know each other. 

It’s an audience, which is great. Building an audience is fantastic. It’s a good start, but it’s not a community.

There are three main differences between an audience and a community.

The first one is, there’s communion. They connect. They know each other. They’re collaborating. They’re co-creating. They’re working together. They’re supporting each other. They’re learning from each other. So that’s number one. People know each other.

Number two, it’s driven by some connecting purpose. This is different than a marketing point of differentiation. This is different from a mission statement. If I was in the automotive business here, I might say, “we have the greatest selection of used cars in the Boston area.”

That’s cool. If I want to buy a car, I want to know that.

But that’s not a reason to gather.

So where the magic happens is when a company thinks we can have a bigger impact, we can achieve more in this world if our customers come along with us.

Published 01/17/24

B2B Forum is packed with marketing insights, strategies, and tactics taken from the real world experience of over forty industry experts, packaged into context you can actually put to use.

Join us in Boston for B2B Forum 2024 this coming November 12-14, 2024. Early buyers get B2B Forum tickets at their lowest rate, and discounted hotel rooms are available while they last.


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