Whilst content marketing started as early as the 1890s, it was only 100 years ago in the 1990s that the Internet came along and *really* changed the game in this world.
As customers are become more bombarded, subjected to more choices and are generally more suspicious & cautious buyers, an INTEGRAL part of content marketing 3.0 is *community*.
The best businesses have an integrated sales and (inbound) marketing strategy, of which community is a key part. Wherever you are in your business's or website's journey, you *have* to think about community. You just have to. This community element spans sales, marketing & even customer services. The best brands have a content strategy which includes a strategy for long-term community growth, as well as blog articles & social media & the rest.
Here's why fostering your customer community is so incredibly important:
1. A softer sell
In an age of customer attention being low & suspicion/cautiousness being high, the sales funnel has become longer and with an emphasis more on nurturing the sale.
Your customers spend on average x amount of time on their phone each day - and another x amount of time on a computer or laptop, however they will be at the mercy of Netflix or YouTube and scrolling through their preferred social media feeds. Not only are attention spans lower, but the stream of data consumption and in-built advertising on the internet, on all of these platforms, is constant. It is overwhelming.
“The most valuable commodity of the 21st century will be undivided attention.” - Phil Cooke
What will earn you likeability and respect and trust is engaging & valuable content for your customer.
"Wow, I'm getting all of this for free. And these folks really really know their stuff"- what you want your customers to say.
Connection = likeability + respect + trust
Your customers can smell bullsh*t and 'average-ness' a mile off, and they need to see and feel value before they commit to making a purchase - or even taking a pre-sale action. They need to be led down the garden path, and smell the roses and see the beautiful trees along that winding path before they meet with you at the fountain in the middle. Comprende?
2. You are building a pipeline
In building a community, you are essentially building a pipeline of inbound leads (or, as I prefer to say, human beings) that become warmer and warmer until they've got to such a *connection with you (see formula above) that they take that leap to sale, or a pre-sale action.
3. You are building engagement
The easiest way to define engagement is the number & quality of touchpoints between you & your customer (and eventually, for the very best communities, those touchpoints customer <-> customer).
credit: Leah Hynes
By facilitating these interactions, around your service(s) or product(s), you are keeping these potential customers come back for more, building engagement, and connection, and increasing the chances of that sale or pre-sale action.
4. Sales aside...
You might find that you build valuable relationships from community members (your very own community members, cool eh?) who forever remain non-buyers - and never spend a penny. This sounds horrendous at first though. However, if they are active blog readers, commenters, sharers of your content... this could be worth it's weight in gold. Think about it for a second. A non-buying customer could be more valuable to your business than a one-time buying customers. It takes some longer-term thinking and a step away from the traditional "the sale is the only way" mentality.
5. Brand Ambassadors
Who are your favourite brands? Chances are, there's at least in part an emotive reason behind this and an emotional connection you have with them. Close your eyes. What thoughts and feelings come to mind when you hold this brand in mind?
It might seem unclear and intangible, but you just feel it. Community introduces tangibles - more customers, more comments, more pre-sales and sales; but it is also those intangible fuzzy feelings - immeasurable quantitatively - which are priceless and hold the key to better Content Management.
6. Customer service
Believe it or not, fostering a customer community can lead to community-led customer service.
Today in 2019, customer service has moved far along from being avoided at all costs, keeping your customers at arm's length, making it as difficult as possible for them to get in touch with you, and only responding to them as a last resort.
Can you even believe companies used to operate like that?! - and not so long ago. Some still do, in fact. Madness.
If you do the community thing *really* well, your community members will love you, and any current/recent buyers will already has integrated with the community and built relationships there. Inter-community relations will be there (remember that diagram from earlier), and your customers will help one another answer each other's queries. Monzo's forum is a great example of where this happens.
Your customer community is a place to encourage customer interactions - online and offline - and hopefully you have now been persuaded that this community element should be integrated into your CM strategy.
You should *always* be thinking about your customer, and always be thinking about building those long-term relationships with them. You'll be glad you invested more time + effort + £ upfront to make this happen.