Hello From the Outside: Why Your Brand Needs an External Community, Too

As the poet John Donne said, “No man is an island.” Even the most anti-social among us occasionally feels the desire to connect to others. Humans just have a natural inclination toward community. Likewise, invested consumers naturally gravitate toward the communities of their favorite brands. But why?

Some seek community to feel understood and accepted; if a company does its job in building brand love, its community provides a forum for like-minded customers to bond over their shared interests and lifestyles.

Others do it to find safety in numbers; when something goes wrong, the voice of thousands of unsatisfied customers is much louder than a lone malcontent.

And don’t forget the “it takes a village” mentality; the community can provide a consumer with valuable guidance and validation in crucial decision-making. After all, most people don’t trust advertising or marketing nearly as much as they trust the opinions of their peers.

We know that the best brand communities use these very human emotions to get people to participate and communicate, which (hopefully) leads to lifelong connections, lots of conversions, and bonus exposure for the brand. But that’s only half of the story.

Internal Community

In our last post, we discussed the internal community formed by your company’s employees, and the benefits of their passion and enthusiasm. But your internal community isn’t just your staff — it’s the aforementioned impassioned customers, too.

In truth, your internal community includes everyone that is connecting around your brand and its vision. Whether on your payroll or not, these folks support you, and will go to bat for you if need be.

But relying solely on your internal community for brand building is kind of like dating solely within your group of friends. Sure, the built-in trust and familiarity can lead to a beautiful, low-maintenance relationship, but there are lots more fish in the sea. Sometimes going on Tinder dates can be more exciting, eye opening, and ultimately rewarding than having a friend-with-benefits.

Similarly, it’s important to also explore external communities in order to gain perspective and grow your large-scale appeal.

External Community

An external community draws people in on the promise of a common interest that ISN’T your brand. Ideally, it’s only tangentially related to your brand.

Think:

  • A monthly sponsored happy hour at the local watering hole
  • A family-friendly street fair in your business’s hometown
  • A charity fundraiser for a worthy cause

Just as internal communities create emotional benefits to attract members, external communities also aim to tug at the heartstrings.

Perhaps attendees of your happy hour are enamored with your hospitality (and the generous drink specials) and they form positive emotional associations between your brand and “fun”.

Maybe families at your street fair see how much their little ones are enjoying the kid-safe activities, and they begin to associate your brand with “trust.”

And FYI, a recent Nielson survey found that 55% of surveyed customers are willing to pay more for products from cause-supporting brands — so it would be safe to assume your fundraiser would help connect your brand to the ideas of “compassion” and “responsibility” in the hearts and minds of your new friends.

Crossing Over

Eventually, these freshly recruited fans may cross over from the external community into the internal community. This is the best possible outcome.

Because their introductions to your brand happened in “real life” rather than in “consumer life,” the emotional associations they’ve made feel more genuine, and will likely last much longer. It’s akin to a relationship with a great origin story.

Admit it — ‘We met in the crowd while seeing our favorite band’ is somewhat more romantic than, ‘We were friends in high school.’ While both can lead to great things, a storybook beginning will set the tone for the entire relationship.

It may be time for your brand to explore new ways to make those impactful, genuine introductions that build external communities, so you can bring even more brand lifers on board.

Follow this advice, and you may soon be ready to identify your Brand Ambassadors. We’ll be talking about that — and much more — in our next installment.

Sources:

http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/socially-minded-the-causes-men-and-women-value.html

https://www.ama.org/publications/MarketingNews/Pages/3-social-causes-big-brands-backed-in-2015-ads.aspx

http://thecommunitymanager.com/2011/08/01/internal-vs-external-community-building/

http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/utilizing-an-internal-community-to-improve-your-collaboration-skills

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