A few weeks back, Becky McCray got me thinking about the difference between building a community and building an audience, and the idea that most businesses think they are doing the former when they are really doing the latter.
This week, John Jantsch has me thinking about community again and the idea that community may actually be more important to your business than your customers.
Putting Customers Second?
Everyone believes that, if you want to start a business, the first thing you do is go out and rustle up some customers.
John says, counterintuitively, that you should start instead by building a community. In fact, in his recent book The Commitment Engine, he states, "Building a business today means building a community." He even goes so far as to suggest that if a particular decision will be good for the business, but bad for the community, then you shouldn't go through with it.
Now more than ever, John says, we have the technical means to easily build community around shared ideas and shared beliefs, and "businesses that, either locally or globally, tap that mindset... are the ones that are truly thriving."
"Their customers or the revenue in the business," he continues, "become a natural outcome of building this community around shared ideas."
Sharing Before Selling
Far from being a purely idealistic notion, John sees his own investment in and commitment to community across the various aspects of his Duct Tape Marketing business (which he jokingly refers to as his "empire") as critical to the success he has enjoyed.
As he told me,
I share everything I possibly can, and I have for years. And I know that my success, the success of the brand, and certainly of the products and now our consultants has a lot to do with people I never, ever meet; never, ever talk to personally; and never transact any business with, but if they didn't trust the message that we put out and the community that we've built and being part of what we feel our purpose is, then I don't believe we would be successful to the level we are.
What's interesting to me is that the emphasis here falls on sharing, not selling, and the insight that business success depends on people who don't actually buy anything from you but who do read your stuff, listen to your advice, and share your message with others.
The Fragile Asset
Because your customers will emerge from this community, John calls it "the greatest asset you could possibly build." But he cautions that it is also the most fragile for, "in the need to generate revenue," he says, "we sometimes don't keep the best interests of the community in mind."
As challenging as that may be—we are business people, after all, and not community organizers—it seems to me that John is onto something here.
What do you think? Crazy, Kumbaya stuff? Or the way that businesses need to think, act and grow today?
If you would like to hear my entire conversation with John Jantsch, you may listen here or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!If you would like to hear my entire conversation with John Jantsch, you may listen above or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!