14 ways to build brands & communities

community_cheerleadersI have been bringing people together for years. During early teens, we (two close friends and I) started Youth Club as a community building and leadership effort. Since 2005 I have professionally helped build and grow a global community of entrepreneurs and knowledge workers. There are lessons learned during all these years; sharing same with you. The idea is to help business owners, institutions and marketers looking to build a community driven by love and mutual value creation.

1.Mindset: They say “Well begun is half done.” You make a huge win when you start with right mindset. Businesses and brands need to see their customers as members of a community and not somebody to make a fast buck of. With this mindset you can create the foundation of a successful business or institution.

You may be a small outfit just starting out or an established brand — work with helping community first. See your product and service as something that helps people (members of community) bring comfort, style, joy or peace of mind into their lives. When you do that you will create loyal customers (more of stakeholders) who will take your brand further, resulting in more recognition and money if that is what you ultimate objective is.

Intent to serve is also important. Serve the community when it needs you.

2.Connect: Create spaces where people can connect with the brand, share their opinion, feedback and also get in touch with others members of the community. It is akin to introducing people to each other in a social setting; this helps people to continue conversation and stay in loop even when you are not there.

These days it is easily done online. If you are just starting with your community building efforts use a tool like Ning to accomplish this. Let them post a testimonial on your website. I love when my readers connect through comments and email.

3.Promise: What is the promise of your community? Is it to create happy customers? This is the promise of Zappos. Sure their business is selling shoes online; but their focus is to create a joyful experience; whether it is through their 365-days return policy or 2-way free shipping.

Do not over-promise; but promise something that you are sure of delivering. You see, brands are about promise. What is your promise?

Facebook is about letting people take a peek into the lives of friends and family. That is the basic. Promise of Herman Miller’s Aeron chair is a healthy backbone. Think about your promise now. It need not be carved in stone. See how Twitter has transformed from “what are you working on…” to “what’s happening right now….”

4.Answer “what is in it for me” question: What is the benefit that people get when they become part of your community. Gmail answered this question by giving people a large enough inbox so that people did not have to delete email daily or weekly. It is hard to recall in 2010 but small inbox of 2002-03 and previous years were a real pain which people accepted in absence of an alternative. Hotmail answered the call of free web-based email; Gmail bettered them.

5.Answer the phone: Literally. Do you answer the phone?  How do you respond to returns, complaints and critics (yes they are a reality)? Make sure that you respond to people’s request and communication — their emails, tweets.  Tell them when to expect response and can you help or not? Basics of customer service, you see.

6.Make any interruption worthwhile: Information overload is at an all-time high. People don’t want more interruption, they want value addition. They will and should only accept interruption when you seem to add value. What is the value proposition of your community or brand? Are you calling to push a sale or tell about ways to save money through membership discount? Desired outcome is same, difference is how you communicate.

7.Address needs of different parts of the group: Every one is a unique individual. Serving a different taste to every customer in a restaurant may not be possible. Still there is some grouping done by spicy or non-spicy. When you tailor you offering according to the need of customer you will connect better and make more sale or create better bonding or whatever your desired outcome is.

In a community try to know people’s why first? Why are they there? When you understand and respond to their needs you and the members of community will have better sense of belonging and they will tend to invest more time, money and/or emotions.

8.Innovate to engage: Community is made up of people; businesses are also driven by people. People tend to get bored. Innovate to give them something new and useful on a regular basis. I write regularly to grow my repertoire of writing and also to provide more value to you and other readers. Hope my writing is engaging and useful for you.

9.Branding works: Create collaterals, t-shirts, mugs, downloadable wallpapers. Also put some into effort into designing a useable and visually appealing website, newsletter, logo and punch line.

10.Use online tools: Online tools make CRM, organization and communication economical and efficient. These tools help in effective organization, communication and finding the interest of people. See how Barack Obama used Social Media to become 44th president of the United States and what businesses can learn from it.

11.Resources: Community building needs money, mostly. Create a plan how you will generate money to develop the community. In a corporate setting it should be budgeted for. An institution or non-profit can ask its members for donation or up-front lifelong contribution. Steady streams of resources make sure that your community building efforts do not face a roadblock. Better if you can make it self-sustained by tapping the talent pool within the community.

12.Empower People: World is made up of unique individuals. In every society, locality you will find followers and those who prefer to live on sidelines (we need to respect them and their ways) and also crusaders, and activists. Normal people like you and I, with extraordinary zeal and passion for community. Give them a reason and knowledge to talk about you (good reason of course).

If people care for community then they will find their own reason. Think Erin Brockovich or Mahatma Gandhi who led a community – the entire population of pre-independence India to a common cause with the message of peace.

Give people power to suggest changes to the brand and share feedback. If possible involve the ones who are inclined in product creation or modification.

13.Grow big ears: Listen with good intent and respect. Use tools like Radian6 to see what is being said about you on the web and use this knowledge enhance the experience of your brand.

14.Privacy: Last but not the least respect privacy of all community members, do not spam ever.

To our growth.

What are you doing to develop your brand and spread love in your community, your neighborhood?

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