Mirum India’s Naila Patel writes on the indispensable role that communities play in B2B marketing, evolving beyond cold calls & mass emails. The article explores ways in which communities can help scale B2B marketing efforts.
The advent of the internet in the last two decades has changed the brand-customer relationship in an unprecedented way – from the traditional one-way advertising to multi-way conversations between brand-customers and customers-customers. Brands have seen the potential in being present on social media platforms and to be a part of the conversations with its customers. It is now almost imperative for a brand’s success. However, taking these conversations several notches higher are communities, who are imperative for an efficient play of B2B Marketing.
If we look around, communities have been there all along albeit in much smaller setups and lesser formal settings. A group of people sharing a common interest, meeting in a coffee shop, talking about their interests, answering each other’s questions, engaging in meaningful discussions are a familiar old-school neighborhood example of a community.
It’s no surprise then that brands are also now realizing the sheer power of having a community as part of their marketing mix.
For a B2C brand, it may be a somewhat easy task to build and grow a community. This is because there are repeat and frequent purchases, hence the involvement of the customer with a brand is much more intimate. Take the case of sports gear and apparel brand Nike. It would have been enough for the brand to sell its iconic shoes and fitness clothes, and still, be remembered. But it took a leap of faith, started a community – Nike Run Club. The app is a powerhouse of guided workouts, custom coaching plans, running and fitness groups across cities, and much more to keep one motivated and stay on the course of their fitness goals. Quite a smart manifestation and example of its tagline – Just Do It.
But, what does a thriving community mean in a B2B context?
The core objective maybe to (but not limited to) initiate conversations, gauge responses, dive into customer insights, mine that data to improvise your product offerings, test upgrades, and new products with them, reward them for their participation, and more. But it always goes a long way if the goal of the community is much bigger than a brand.
For starters, the goal of a community cannot be about a brand and its products alone. Because once that need is met, the user may not come back to engage with you or others. Some B2B brands that have been acing at this are SAP, Cisco, and Salesforce. Communities initiated by these brands are now quite a flourishing identity of their own. Also, communities are a great place to network and connect with people from the industry, so if you have a known and recognized personality in your team, use him as a conversation starter or mentor. A community with a known face at its helm will flourish faster than a faceless community.
If a company is into manufacturing solutions that help deliver energy efficiency in industrial processes and applications, it may be normal for them to start a community that supports their product offerings. But it could also be about larger conversations that bind these businesses together with the brand via a common interest area – energy efficiency.
The community can also be a great place that assists your customer support service. People can ask their product-related questions and get answers. This is also seen as more credible because fellow users answer these questions. A B2B community is also your test lab. Fire away your new products, upgrades, modifications to your user base for beta testing and get a first-hand review.
Such close engagement with a brand not just ensures customer satisfaction but also customer loyalty. Many of these satisfied customers who are also active participants in the community go on to become your brand advocates. The role of communities in B2B marketing is only going to go up, as brands take notice of the opportunities that come with engaging their customer base to push their products and brand messaging forward and be seen as a leader that is fostering meaningful conversations.
But here is a word of caution. Communities are a commitment. They demand a constant influx of great content, rich interactions, active participation, and a decently big budget. As they will benefit your brand in the long term; it’s good to detail our journey, investment, and goals before the word go!
The piece is authored by Naila Patel, Creative Director – Mirum India