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Harnessing the Power of Community-Led Growth for Your Direct-to-Consumer Brand

Harnessing the Power of Community-Led Growth for Your Direct-to-Consumer Brand

Last Updated:  
March 18, 2024

When building a brand in 2023, an entrepreneur has to face the reality that they are one of hundreds of thousands of brands trying to grab a consumer’s attention. Plenty of start-ups will have amazing products, but very few will successfully market to the customers that want to buy them. One of the best ways to stand out in a crowded market is to build a community around your product and let your customers engage directly with the brand. The main benefits of this are two-fold: 1) they get to feel included, and 2) they directly become promoters of your brand by talking about the products with others, as they try to bring them into the fold. It’s all about belonging; we haven’t stopped trying to be part of the in-crowd even upon leaving high school. 

Community-led growth places the community at the core of a company’s growth and marketing initiatives. By putting the community and customers at the center of their marketing efforts, they create a symbiotic relationship with the customers that drives engagement and sales. In this article, I’ll review why community-led growth is beneficial, the different types of community you can build, and ways that you can apply community-led growth initiatives to your own business.

Defining the Community in Community-Led Growth

In the context of a brand, a community is a collective of individuals bound together by their relationship with the brand and with each other. This community can be comprised of customers, potential customers, or even just fans that appreciate the brand’s products, services, or values. A community may even be built based upon the entertainment value of a brand’s Twitter feed - see @Wendys for a master class. The shared interest within the group promotes relationship-building, and the group which was once a bunch of strangers turns into a cohesive community. The members of a brand community don’t just have conversations about products, they discuss them, provide feedback, and often advocate for the brand. They can become an extremely vital part of the brand’s story and evolution (or, oftentimes, a re-evolution).   

There are a few types of communities a brand can choose to cultivate, each with its own advantages and characteristics:

  1. Organic vs. brand-initiated: If a brand’s community just evolves on its own, that’s an organic community. It’s often spontaneous and driven by the customers’ enthusiasm for the brand. If the brand itself initiates the community, they’re deliberately created and influenced by the marketing team. Both have benefits, but with a brand-initiated community you’ll get more control over the direction and activities of the group. 
  2. Online vs. offline: While it’s more common to have an online community built on a digital platform like social media, it’s also possible to build offline communities. Especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, people are looking for ways to connect in person. By building out events that your brand hosts IRL, you’re able to foster a deeper and more meaningful connection than the online version.
  3. Social media groups vs. membership programs: Something informal like a Facebook group is great as it offers a low barrier-to-entry and can attract a lot of followers very quickly. On the other hand, a membership club like a loyalty or insider program might require a higher commitment level, but it can foster stronger loyalty when you promote exclusive benefits. For example, Italic is a brand focused on luxury goods without the label. Their Italic Bold membership provides customers with exclusive perks, free shipping, and free gifts. 
  4. Product/Service based vs. interest/value based: A community based around a specific product or service will be engaged in discussions and activities directly related to it. Another community might form around shared values or interests. For example, the Patagonia PRO Community is less about the product and more about a shared love for exploring the outdoors, as well as environmental stewardship. 

It will benefit any brand to have a solid understanding of the type of community they aim to build to inform their community-led growth strategy. The right community depends on the specific goals, target audience, and amount of resources the brand can dedicate to building it.

Why Community-Led Growth is so Important

Think about the types of products you choose to purchase in your own life. What has influenced those decisions? Very often, it’s the community around you that impacts the final decision for products and services. If you’re buying a big ticket item, like a car, or a computer, what goes into that decision? Maybe instead of driving a beater car, you envision yourself in a Jeep because that means you get to do the Jeep Wave. Or, when it comes to a desktop or laptop, does Apple’s millions of loyalists have any sway on you? Brands that dedicate themselves to building a community are often the first that come to mind when someone is considering the product. This is not by accident: it’s by design.

There are a few ways community-led growth can take your brand to the next level:

  1. Deeper customer relationships: With a focus on the customer’s satisfaction and inclusion, a brand can build more meaningful relationships with their customers. When a relationship is built on trust, shared values, and mutual benefit, you’ll see a bond that goes beyond just a simple transaction.
  2. Customer retention & advocacy: When a community creates a sense of belonging and loyalty to the brand, it can greatly enhance customer retention. Beyond retention, a satisfied customer can and will become a brand advocate and amplify your reach and reputation through the ever-important word-of-mouth marketing. 
  3. Lower Customer Acquisition Cost: With strong community advocacy, brands can expect lower customer acquisition costs, because members tend to bring new customers in organically. 
  4. Real-time feedback & insights: A great brand community includes a platform, like a Facebook Group or Discord, where customers can voice their needs and desires for a product. For example, maybe it’s perfect, but it needs to come in turquoise blue. If enough community members amplify that message, you may just have your next product iteration based on customer feedback!
  5. Resilience: During times of economic downturn, loyal community members are more likely to stick by a brand during challenging times. 
  6. Competitive advantage: In industries where differentiation between products is minimal, the community itself can be a huge differentiating factor to drive growth and success in the market. 

How Brands Can Build and Capitalize on Their Community

To create a successful community, a brand needs to define their specific goals, understand the target market, and create community-specific value. A few questions you can ask yourself when developing your community plan are:

1. What do you aim to achieve with the community? Is it an increased brand awareness, better customer service, or improving product development? 

2. Who is the target audience? How can you best reach them?

3. What are the benefits the community will receive? Is it exclusive content or early access to products or events?

Next, you’ll need to decide how you plan to engage with said audience. Are you utilizing social media, email marketing or messaging services? The way you communicate with your audience will depend on where your target customer normally spends its time, so your best bet is to initiate conversations on platforms that are relevant to them.

Foster inclusivity and participation by encouraging the community to contribute ideas, content, or feedback. This can be reward-based: for example, share this post for a chance to win some swag. Use the power of organized events, whether online or in-person, to strengthen that sense of community. 

Make the Community Work for You

Once your community is engaged in the conversation, there are several ways you can make them work for you to drive community growth and subsequent revenue. By implementing a referral or affiliate program, you can incentivize members of the community to bring new customers in. Satisfied customers are often the best advocates, and rewarding a customer for doing something they already want to do (talk positively about your product), is a sure win. 

Promoting user-generated content (UGC)  within the community can help increase your brand’s visibility and authenticity. While UGC has become a bit oversaturated as of late, it’s still a valuable tool when used authentically to build brand awareness within the community.

Additionally, word-of-mouth marketing is still the most valuable way to market your product, resulting in 5x as much sales as paid ads. With 74% of consumers admitting that word-of-mouth influences their purchasing decisions, tapping into this potential driver within your community can be a key to driving sales of your products or services. 

Whichever way you choose to make the community work for you, make sure you’re tracking and iterating on your results. Triple Whale’s Total Attribution Model can help you ensure your community-building time is well-spent (with results to show for it)! So, get out there. If you build it, they will come. Trust us.

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