The Current Economic Shopper: Part 2, Community Marketing

(Originally posted in April 2012)

Last week, I posted a blog on the use of Cause Marketing as it relates to the current economic shopper. In the second post in the four-part series of the behavioral changes of shoppers and buyers in the economy, we will focus on the concept of Community Marketing.

Community marketing is an approach to engaging prospective customers in a conversation. It is a way to connect with them that promotes affiliation, identification, and loyalty. To accomplish this, marketers must cultivate relationships with existing customers and reach out to them in an unobtrusive way to determine their needs, the services they desire, and their interests. In other words, engage your community by being a part of it.

By providing services and information to customers besides normal business offerings, a company extends beyond its retail presence and connects with the community by actively participating in it. A key element of community marketing is developing a direct line of two-way communication with customers without the pressure of advertising.

This strategy has been a foundation in a number of industries for decades, particularly the medical industry. Although there is no direct benefit to their bottom lines, hospitals and medical centers often provide educational grants for research, support health care groups, or fund therapeutic programs.

Nike has been particularly successful in community marketing. Instead of bombarding the market with commercials, billboards, and other forms of advertising, they took a less direct approach. Runners tend to be quite passionate; whether it be perfecting their form, finding the right shoe, or developing a work-out routine to help optimize their performance, runners absolutely love what they do. Knowing this, Nike saw an opportunity to engage the running community. By establishing the “Nike Running Club“, first at their NYC store but soon after nation-wide, they created an environment where runners of all abilities could gather to share running tips, map out running routes, and listen to speakers talk about a variety of running topics. All events are free and open to runners of all abilities, even if they show up wearing a pair of Adidas. The running club is part of a larger online community that invites runners to engage with each other, share advice, and plan group runs. Through all of this, Nike does not engage in hard-selling and they don’t attempt to push their products on users. But through engaging the running community and offering a useful service, Nike establishes itself as an expert in the running community and increases their brand affiliation.

Communication is at the heart of community marketing. By providing content-based messages instead of promotional messages, brands are able to improve two-way communication. This allows them to establish their organization as an expert in the industry, provide quality content dialogue with customers, increase transparency, boost involvement, and further align their goals with the community’s.

Community marketing is similar to in-bound marketing, a process in which a company allows consumer to self-qualify and gain information prior to entering the customer sales cycle by engaging with customers who “find them”. Businesses use this to shorten their sales cycle, but for retail businesses, this approach serves to engage a larger audience through exponential community (online and offline) exposure.

How have you been able to engage with your community of shoppers? How have they responded?