In the past few months, I've seen a pair of perfect examples of what can happen when marketers take the time to join and empower their communities....


One example came from a maker of scissors that empowered their community, and an unsigned band on MySpace that joined theirs. What intrigued me about these two cases was that, in both instances, the people responsible for these excellent marketing campaigns, are convinced that... they aren't marketing.
Fiskars worked with South Carolina agency Brains on Fire to create a 'customer evangelist' program for their Fiskars scissors. The agency identified community members that were avid scrapbookers, and who were passionate about Fiskars products.
Brains on Fire then empowered these customer evangelists, by creating an online community called 'The Fiskateers'. On this site, the 4 'Fiskateers' give fellow community members scrapbooking advice via a blog, and share stories about their hobby.
As Spike Jones from Brains on Fire explains:

Now .... unprompted .... these passionate advocates are creating their own marketing tools. They are stepping up and taking ownership in an international brand. They are personalizing something that used to be institutionalized. And they are coming up with ideas that the brand .... or even (gasp!) Brains on Fire wouldn't have thought of.
And I'm in awe.
It started with a company that was willing to gain more power in its industry by giving it away.
And this is just the beginning for them.

When I read about the creation of The Fiskateers, I immediately recognized it as a perfect example of the idea I had already been blogging about, which was the need for marketers to empower their communities to market for them. When I blogged about the story of how The Fiskateers were created at The Viral Garden, Spike left a very interesting comment to my post. He said, "And the more I think about it, the more I have a hard time even trying to fit this movement into the "marketing" bucket. It seems like it needs to be called something else."
But what?
Earlier this year, I heard the story of an unsigned band on MySpace called The Favorites. As lead singer Jeremy Botter explains:
When we first started doing this thing and were making decisions about how we wanted to get our music out there, I knew that we wanted to use alternative distribution methods. Yes, we want to get a record deal, but the record deal is not the be-all-end-all for us.
"Instead of 'marketing' to 'fans,' we just stayed in contact and tried to turn each listener into a friend, a friend that could then join our little community and give us feedback on our music. We created a band policy to personally respond to each email and MySpace message that is sent to us, no matter how many we recieve per day and no matter how childish the message may be. My view is that if we listen to the community, then we can better understand what our community as a whole likes to hear, what they like to see, and then we can tailor ourselves to that a little bit. It's not about creating more fans or holding market shares; it's about a love of music and a connection via that love of music with people who will support you no matter what the cost.
"We started doing the community thing about six months ago, and the 'results' have been fabulous. We've yet to play a single show under our new band name and haven't played a show together at all in almost five years, but we're still on the top ten of unsigned artists every single day on MySpace."

But this quote from Jeremy really stood out: "The truth is, we're not marketing."
Here Spike and Jeremy were both playing very active roles in creating something that many of us would consider to be marketing at its finest, but both gentlemen are convinced that they are doing anything but.
Perhaps they are right. Are The Fiskateers marketing Fiskars products to the scrapbooking community, or sharing their love of their favorite hobby with other enthusiasts? Are The Favorites marketing their music to their fans, or sharing their love of their music with their community?
At its most basic form, most of us consider marketing to be anything that helps facilitate a product being sold. In technical terms, both of the above examples would qualify as 'marketing'.
Perhaps the reason why Spike and Jeremy are hesitant to label these campaigns as 'marketing' may be because in both cases, these initiatives seem to benefit the community, moreso than sell more products for Fiskars and The Favorites.
Maybe that's the key to creating great marketing... finding a way to put the wants and needs of your community on an even or higher plane than your own?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier