Week 2: The Power of Community & Why Great Brands Have It 🏡🏡🏡
Welcome back for the second installment in our Definitive 10 Part Guide to DTC. This is your ‘Community Building 101 Cheat Sheet.’
When we launched Pattern, we sought to build a ‘DWC’ (Direct With Consumer) business. By this, we meant we were going to seek conversations and community-building with our consumers, not just marketing and selling to them. Our original business architecture was to create a profitable, sustainable family of brands, and we knew that doing that long-term would be next to impossible without an organic, active community.
We wanted to build Pattern around a set of values we felt close to; creating more balanced lives, building home environments that were energizing, counterbalancing the fast-paced nature of our days with at-home rituals, and being more present.
We had a hunch there were other young adults in America that felt similarly — emerging ‘home-proud’ enthusiasts whom we could build a community with around our mission of ‘Enjoy Daily Life.’
Lastly, we knew from our time at Gin Lane how important building a vibrant community from day one was. Today, we wanted to share some of those learnings here with you.
Finding Your Community in the 21st Century
Before the internet, communities often formed around businesses because the office, factory, or plant was located in a town where a significant portion of the population lived and worked. These company-towns fostered a sense of community by offering livelihood for people within a literal community. Working together helped further bond a specific group of people together, often for generations.
Today, even more so than ever in our big-city based, increasingly WFH / remote-first environment, we don’t always find that shared bond of living in physical proximity with our co-workers.
With less people working close to each other, less people participating in organized religion, and more of us not living in the town our families are from; we often now look for sense of community in different places.
“Today, with the prevalence of a mobile-first internet and omnipresent social media, it’s almost easy to take for granted the shared sense of community we can feel with strangers around the world,” Emmett Shine, Pattern Brands Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, says. This is true for video games, popular culture, niche sub-audiences, and for business. “It’s these small communities that are often the most tight,” Shine continues.
In the world of eCommerce, many Millennial and Gen-Z founders created businesses online that stand for a set of values personal to them, communicated to a niche audience that they know, offer products in a way that feels fresh and authentic …and people love it.
These businesses often challenge the status quo and have something to say. By nature of their personal-led positioning, the companies feel more like ‘brands’ and can offer up a sense of community for other like-minded, value-based customers that extends beyond simply purchasing a product.
Providing Value to your Community
How do you make a customer, or a potential customer, a valued member of your community, and how do grow that relationship?
“To make a customer a valued member of our community, you first have to provide them value,” Brittany Lima, Pattern Brands Head of Brand, Content & Lifecycle, says. “Meaning, it’s critical we craft and share not just really great content, but thoughtful, meaningful interactions that give substance to the brand and context to the consumer to help them calibrate accordingly.”
Brands we admire for a community-first offering, like Ethel’s Club, Glossier, Rapha, Parade, Dia & Co, Patagonia, Starface, Madhappy, Tracksmith, Fenty, Apple, and Legos, authentically appeal to specific groups of people, some niche, some mass, across borders, backgrounds, and associations.
These brands do so by offering something distinctive to the market that was also true to the founders beliefs. They offered a safe place for like-interested individuals to congregate, and communities to form.
These are all valuable businesses, in part because of their active and loyal communities. We are seeing new ways of providing some of that value back to the community in the world of Web3. Whether FWB, CPG, or Snaxshot — people within the DTC community are finding new ways and corners of the internet to congregate together — supported by community-minded founders. Because being a member of these communities often means having ownership within it, each participant is an owner. The more valuable the community becomes, the more value is given back to each individual community member.
Listen to Your Most Loyal Customers
Think about what makes that tightest concentric circle of customers excited and passionate about your brand.
Look to your most loyal customers and the early adopters versus the one-time purchasers. Therein lies the foundation for stoking the flames of your brand’s community.
At its essence, a brand’s ability to create a more interconnected world, based not on where you were born or who you were told to be, but on where you’re going and who you want to be, is worth celebrating — and understanding.
Understanding what motivates your customer’s path to purchase is crucial. It’s not just buying your products, it’s engaging online, coming to events, putting a sticker on their car, telling their friends.
Even in today’s fast-paced digital age, nothing beats word of mouth.
We are human, we still trust people we know for advice, including what we should buy.
“One of the biggest opportunities I see is actually after someone makes their initial purchase with us,” Lima says. “This is where we have an incredible opportunity to build trust, loyalty, and advocacy — one of the best ways we can market our own brands is by having happy, satisfied customers share their experiences and sentiments with their networks.”
There are few things more powerful than creating a passionate community. As long as you don’t lose their trust, you’ve created a continuous engine of organic promotion, marketing, and sales. You don’t just offer products — your brand is creating a sense of belonging.
It could be really simple– Some people love pencils, others love gardening indoors, and some are really into knitting. We all like what we like, and chances are, there are others that do too! “Offering a place to hang out with other like-minded people is often all a passionate customer is looking for in a community,” Shine says. “Start small, and build deep connections.”
Make Your Brand Voice Personal
Tze Chun, founder of Uprise Art and cultivator of an incredibly loyal roster of creatives within the home space, says this on fostering and sustaining community, “Empower the writers and content creators on your team to have a personal opinion. Often, brands talk from the point of view of the brand, but what people really crave are personal and intimate connections.”
Go Out of Your Way for Your Community
In the early days of Airbnb, co-founder Brian Chesky spoke about their focus on “unscalable activities.” The Airbnb team would often go door-to-door visiting their first hosts — interviewing them, calling them, even helping take take better photos of their space for them. What they were doing was very startup; it was essentially unscalable! But, they were finding ways to make the experience better, more ‘magical.’ They could figure how to scale those experiences with their community once they found that special formula.
This set up a strong founding DNA at Airbnb; a company-wide culture of going above and beyond to offer a more hands-on hospitality experience for their community.
Airbnb has been able to build a transformative business for many reasons, but one is because of the deep sense of caring for their community amongst power hosts, and guests.
Chun takes a similar approach when it comes to directing her teams. “When our curatorial team writes about an artist and their artwork, they ask themselves, ‘What do I love most about this work?’ and ‘What’s the most interesting thing I learned from my studio visit with this artist?’ This results in more nuanced and authentic storytelling and the best way to foster a community, to build these little bonds by offering direct insights and access.”
1,000 True Fans
In 2008, these insights were presciently laid out in the seminal essay, 1,000 True Fans, by the technology writer and thinker Kevin Kelly.
He saw the early signs of the “network effect” take place within social media and tech platforms, he posited that 1,000 true fans formed a tighter connection and more solid business model than 1,000,000 fans. This is essentially the business model for both niche-businesses eCommerce brands, and for community-led brands in Web3.
Community does not solely equal followers or email subscribers.
Work to identify who are the most engaged, the most repeating customers, and work from there. You can have all the brand recognition and followers and still not have a solid business. There are a lot of fundamentals to achieve for a successful business, but don’t discount the power of an engaged, active, and thriving community.
Make sure to check out our prior installment:
Week 1: Why Great Brands Make Great Businesses
If you are interested in learning more about your business joining Pattern, we’d love to hear from you! 👋