Why are communities the future of marketing?

Mark Schaefer, author of Belonging to the Brand: Why Community Is the Last Great Marketing Strategy, has a lot of ways to answer that question, and he goes into many of them.

He makes the case that communities and customer enthusiasm last in a way that marketing campaigns don't.

"Most marketing as we know it is ephemeral. We have an ad or we don't have an ad. We have a budget for a campaign, it gets approved; when the money runs out, the marketing project is over. [But] in a community, there's an implied social contract," Mark points out.

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Episode Details, Guest Information, and Referenced Links

Episode No. 37

Guest's social media profiles:

MarketingProfs articles referenced in the show:

"In B2B News" article referenced in the show: The Multiplier Effect: How B2B Winners Grow

Community Spotlight: LinkedIn post by Big Omaha SEO and Web Design

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Communities Are the Future of Marketing [Full Transcript]

This rough transcript is machine-generated. It's been only minimally edited by humans.

George B. Thomas: Welcome to the Marketing Smarts Live Show by MarketingProfs and the Marketing Smarts Podcast, where we dive into B2B news, resources, valuable guest content, and much more each and every week.

Hey, if you're a B2B marketer looking for a place to learn, keep up to date, and have some fun along the way, grab a beverage and notepad or, at least, some style of writing utensil and welcome to the show.

We are communities, well, some of us are, but why are communities the future of marketing? Mark Schaefer, author of "Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy," has a lot of ways to answer that question. By the way, he makes the case that communities and customer enthusiasm last in a way marketing campaigns don't. He also emphasizes that community relationships create positive emotion, and we all need some positive emotion.

These topics and so much more in this amazing interview and today's clips.

Hello to all my Marketing Smarts Live viewers. Today, I'm super excited to bring you, that's right, Episode 37 of the Marketing Smarts Live Show. This week's topic is all about the what and how of community and brand building for B2B marketing. So if you're ready to get your learn on, buckle up and let's get ready to rock and roll. You know me, I'm your Boy George B. Thomas, speaker, trainer, catalyst, and host of this year's show, the Marketing Smarts Live Show, as well as the Marketing Smarts Podcast found on your favorite podcast app.

Our guest clips today are brought to you by none other than Mark Schaefer. Mark Schaefer is a globally recognized author, keynote speaker, futurist, and business consultant who blogs at one of the top five marketing blogs of the world, Grow. He teaches graduate marketing classes at Rutgers University and has written 10—10, 10 count them, ladies and gentlemen, not five, not six, not eight, but 10—best-selling books, including "Known" and "Marketing Rebellion" too, by the way, that are absolutely great. And if you haven't read them, you should check him out. His many, many, many, many global clients include Cisco, Dell, Adidas, and the U.S. Air Force. He's been a keynote speaker at prestigious events all over the world, including South by Southwest, Marketing Summit Tokyo, and the Institute for International and European Affairs. Also, I got to MC Social Media Marketing World one year and bring Mark on the stage. That was an exciting year. Mark has appeared as a guest on media channels such as CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and CBS News. So you know he's got some stuff to say.

Now, remember, the clips of Mark Schaefer today are pulled from the full Marketing Smarts podcast episode. And if you want to listen to the full interview with Mark and myself, make sure to tune in to the Marketing Smarts podcast. The link to the full show will be in the description below when the live ends. That's right, all the right links in all the right places at just the right time.

Now, in this episode, again, I'm talking with Mark Schaefer about the what, why, and how of community and brand building for B2B marketing. In the original podcast, I started by asking Mark what keeps him up at night. Why is building community important? What should we as B2B marketers keep in mind along the way? And we got some great nuggets of community wisdom from those questions.

But in this live show that we're doing right now, well, I wanted to time travel to when I asked Mark a specific question: How do B2B marketers get started using community marketing strategy for brand building? That's right, the conversation that combines community and brand in one perfect marketing ball of awesomeness. And ladies and gentlemen, here's what Mark had to say:

Mark Schaefer: I love the way you set this up, George, because I think it works beautifully with the thesis of the book. In the beginning of the book, I talk about how, look, you know, businesses got into social media. If you do really good at social media, then maybe you can have your core audience, which is awesome because when you have an audience, you have some reliable reach with your customers in a virtual way. They're kind of opting in to your marketing. But that's where most companies are stuck. Now, the next phase, you've got to think of it as a continuum, as an evolution. You have an audience with your content, great job. But you're leaving money on the table because what is the purpose of your marketing, of your brand? It is to create that emotional connection, that meaning in people. And the ultimate way to do that is community. An audience is still a bit of a cult of personality. I have a blog, I have a podcast. If I go away, the audience goes away. But a community for a business is sustainable. And here's something profound that I found, George. In a community, when people start becoming friends with each other, they... it's not that they just love you, they love each other. That emotion transfers to the brand. Creating these community relationships transfers to you. It creates an emotional switching cost for your brand because now, if I leave, name the company HubSpot or whatever, that means they'll lose this community. I don't want to lose this community. I'm going to be devoted to this brand. So, it's very... when you get into the psychology of community, how it relates to a brand... it is profound.

George B. Thomas: Ladies and gentlemen, did you hear that? When you have an audience, you have some type of reliable reach. Are you reaching for the next evolution and emotional connection, something sustainable? An audience ends with a single human. A community that builds relationships lives on past the individual human. So much good stuff. After listening to this, I don't know about you, but I wanted to dig into the psychology of community. Put the answer to that--did you want to dig into or do you want to dig into the psychology of community?--Put the answer to that in the chat pane or let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B. And of course, tag me using @GeorgeBThomas.

Now, it's time for one of my favorite sections--In the B2B News--where we talk about breaking B2B news or really important tips we find on the Google News tab related to you and your B2B business.

This week, the title is "The Multiplier Effect: How B2B Winners Grow." This article is a collaborative effort and can be found on mckinsey.com. This article is robust, but it shares how consumers think and what B2B marketers need to think about. There are five lessons you can dig into based on the survey mentioned in the article. One of the things you might think is interesting is the fact that the term B2B e-commerce is actually becoming a thing, and I mean a thing. To read this article, check out the link below. When the live show is over, you know all the right links in all the right places at just the right time.

So let's get back to Mark Schaefer and his Marketing Smarts Podcast episode.

So in the last clip, we talked about getting started. But once you start to drive down the road of community for brand building, I wanted to let you know what are the potholes to watch out for. So I asked Mark, "What are some hurdles, by the way?" I know I'm using a bunch of like alliterations or whatever, potholes, hurdles, same thing, same thing. I asked him what the potholes that he has seen B2B marketers face while trying to build, maintain, or drive sales when leveraging a brand-based community. Get your notepad ready, by the way.

Mark Schaefer: Most communities fail. I mean, those are the hard, cold facts because companies are trying to sell stuff. That is not a reason for people to gather. So, you know, you hit it right on the head. The first idea is, what is the purpose? You know, what is our purpose as a company? And how does that intersect with our customers in a way that would want to make them gather? An easy brand to understand, well, I mean, HubSpot is an amazing brand for that. You know, MarketingProfs. I mean, all the emotion with MarketingProfs. I mean, it's almost like there's so much love at MarketingProfs. Their annual event is a family reunion, right? Is that kind of a community? Now, and that is where the power is because you're always going to be with MarketingProfs. You're always going to be with the brands that you love because you want to be part of this community. So, another brand that is kind of easy to understand is Patagonia. When I say that word, you instantly know, you know, sustainability, the environment, responsible recreation. And you know, I have a friend who said, "I will only buy Patagonia because I'm in their community. I believe in what they stand for." And their purpose isn't hitting a quarterly sales goal. It is, "This is our purpose." And people are going to want to gather around that. So, that's the important place to start.

George B. Thomas: Did you hear that little thing? Most communities fail. Wowza. But wait, did you listen to the actual end of the statement? It's important to hear all of it. Most communities fail because companies are trying to sell something with the community. If you're building a community, you need to know what your purpose is and why humans would want to gather around that. How can you make your community get-togethers feel like a family reunion? And I agree with Mark. B2B Forum, which, by the way, is coming up in October--I'm not going to plug it--it's the fourth, fifth, and sixth [of October]. Maybe I'll plug it a little bit. I'm going to be there. There's going to be a lot of speakers. But it does feel like a family reunion.

But does your community believe in what you stand for? Um, I'm not gonna let that sink in for a second. Does your community believe in what you stand for? Not "is" what you stand for, like it's not if it's like you're trying to sell stuff. Oh, I gotta calm myself down. Does your community believe in what you stand for? They don't if what you stand for is always trying to sell them stuff.

Again, I hope you have that notepad out because anyway, we'll get back to Mark Schaefer in a few minutes. But first, it's time for some dope B2B learnings from the Vault of MarketingProfs articles. That's right, it's time to dig into the treasure trove of valuable information, pull out two pieces of gold to help you be a better B2B marketer.

Article number one this week is "10 Examples of the Best Brand Community Landing Pages." You know what I do? I usually find articles that associate to the topic, love it, hate it, whichever it is. Again, "10 Examples of the Best Brand Community Landing Pages" by Andrea Williams. As digital brand communities dramatically grow in popularity, it makes sense to explore some high-profile examples. The customer experience industry is undergoing a shift to mobile and niche platforms, away from conventional social media. But regardless of the platform you use, a good experience for community members always comes first, and it starts with the landing page. The community landing page is one of the most important building blocks of an engaged, growing community. It's what draws people in. In this article, you'll get a chance to look at some of the best communities out there and their landing pages, and discuss how you can draw inspiration from them, as well as get insights into a formula for success.

Article number two is this week: "How Communities Are Changing Marketing and Four Community Building Lessons" by Jen Evans. Not all that long ago—I mean, think back to 2022, actually, that is a little bit ago, but I mean, maybe it could be construed as not so long ago—anyway, people would think you were crazy when you talked about the powerful intersection of community and content. Online communities? Those died in the dot-com bust. And content? Like copy, you mean? Yep. Today, marketing professionals and their bosses are starting to come around, believe it or not. I've actually met some that aren't starting to come around yet, but maybe you're one of the ones that is starting to come around. They still have a ways to go. Even if you are, a few people fully grasp how the interplay between content and community can change how organizations function internally and externally.

Want to keep learning more? If so, check out the links in the description below after the live show to get access to both amazing MarketingProfs articles.

All right, back to Mark Schaefer. Let's dive back into this conversation of the what, the what, the how of community and brand building for B2B marketing. Well, if you're driving down the community road and we understand what potholes to watch out for, how do we know when we have arrived at community and brand-building nirvana? In other words, what does community success look like? And is that even possible? Of course, it is. I mean, if you do the right things and you pay attention to what you're doing. Anyway, that's exactly what I asked Mark, so listen to what he had to share about what success looks like. It might take you by surprise.

Mark Schaefer: Number one, most marketing as we know it is ephemeral. We have an ad, or we don't have an ad. We have a budget for a campaign. Gets approved when the money runs out. The marketing project's over. Community, there's an implied social contract. Now, can you ever think of any marketing you've ever done in your life where there's an implied social contract other than Community? All right, so that's the first thing that's like really, really different.

Number two, the person you hire to work in your community is probably the most important person in your marketing department, not your CMO. May not be the most experienced person, may not be the highest paid person. This is the star of your company because, and it could be a team of people if you're a really big company. So that's a second thing that I think is very, very different that you need to really pay attention because I talk about in the book, there's this thing called a parasocial relationship where you may not really know a person, like you've met them before, but through a community, you create this relationship. It's almost like they become part of your family. That is awesome for a company, right? So you've got to really pay attention to the people who are doing this and give them the budget and give them what they need to really succeed.

The third thing I would say that's different, that would have to be in place, is something that you and I have spent our career struggling a lot with, and that is how do we create something? It could be a content or an activity to make it worthwhile to be there. You have to make it interesting. You may need to make it fun in some way. Almost every successful online community I've seen has had an offline component. So even, I would think, I don't know for sure, I think the biggest community in the world might be Twitch, right? So, whatever, 75 or 100 million users on Twitch right now, they still have conferences, they still have meetups to bring these people together. So almost every sort of online community has some kind of offline component.

So those are some just three things off the top of my head that are really important, but there's a lot more. I mean, it really takes a different leadership mindset to succeed in community.

George B. Thomas: Whoa, whoa, I hope you jotted some stuff down about Nirvana, AKA success pertaining to this topic. Couple things: You understand that a community equals an implied social contract, that makes it way different than historical marketing efforts. You, as an organization, understand your community manager or your community team are most likely the most important people in your organization. I love that Mark talks about make it interesting, make it fun, and the fact that he mentioned the online communities having offline events and meetups, hashtag priceless. Lastly, did you hear Mark say this? It takes a completely different leadership mindset to succeed in a community approach.

We're going to get some words of wisdom from Mark Schaefer here in a few minutes, but right now it's time to turn the spotlight on you, the MarketingProfs Community. Yep, time for from the hashtag MPB Community. We searched far and wide in the hashtag MPB to be universe to find amazing information and conversations to bring to you, the masses. So first, make sure you're using that hashtag, and second, make sure you have fun and add value to the community along the way. Then we'll spotlight you or your crew on the show.

This week, it's Big Omaha SEO and Web Design Co. You'll want to click this link anyway. They said we picked a bad audio clip here, but the graphic is dead on, and this made me giggle. There's no better sales tactic than connecting to the human being on the other end of the line/meeting/email chain/communication and talking to them like they're here, or talking, sorry, talking to them like they're a human being and not just a mark or lead. Like you're some kind of smarmy Alec Baldwin-esque character from "Glenn Gary Glenn Ross," always selling.

Want to know what the headline in the graphic was or why they said it was a bad audio clip? (Which, by the way, it was one of our audio clips.) I don't disagree with them. Check out the description and click that link to check out the post.

Marketing Smarts viewers, I have to ask, are you gonna be next to get the spotlight? Remember, community, use the hashtag #mpb2b on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, and get the light shined on your awesomeness in the next episode or a future episode of the Marketing Smarts Live show. Pro tip: it won't hurt if you tag me into your post as well. I'm at George B. Thomas on LinkedIn and Twitter, and Mr. George B. Thomas on the Book of Faces.

OK, let's kick it back to Mark Schaefer. Wow, I'm really being a dork today. Let's kick it back to Mark Schaefer and some words of wisdom around this topic of the what, why, and how of community and brand building for B2B marketing. Here's what Mark Schaefer wanted to leave us with: words of wisdom. I kid you not, man. I don't know what else to say but other than I love Mark.

Mark Schaefer: Well, I mean the words, I almost always end things with are some words that you hinted at earlier: The subtitle of "Marketing Rebellion" is "The Most Human Company Wins." So think about the kind of marketing you're doing today, and if people hate it, stop it. Just stop it. You, and you know if people hate it because you're a person too, and you would know if you would hate it, so just why are we doing that? I mean, George, 20 years from now, we're gonna look back at interruptive ads, spam, robocalls, our mailboxes filling up with direct mail from things we don't even remember we signed up for, and we're gonna think, What the heck was that all about? I'm so glad we found a new way to connect to our customers. I'm so glad we created that community. I really believe that's where we're going to be in 20 years. And so, look, you know humbly, I would say, give the book a chance, read about these ideas, and you know, I never tell people what to do… All of my books, all of my speeches, it provides a new way to look at the world, and I think this is a new way, a new and very relevant way for people to look at the world.

George B. Thomas: The most human companies or company (I think you only work for one. Well, I don't know, you could maybe work for a couple), but the most human company wins. #micdrop. If you're doing marketing that people hate, just stop it. I love that Mark said that, by the way, and I can't wait to see where we are as marketers in 20 years from now. I really look forward to those days, ladies and gentlemen.

Time flies when you're having fun. Have you enjoyed today's journey? Let us know! Use that hashtag #MPB2B on whatever platform you are using to join us today. It's that time, it's that time. It is, my goodness! Head to the description below, click on the link to the full MarketingProfs podcast with Mark Schaefer, and keep on learning more about the what, why, and how of community and brand building for B2B marketing. Remember, these were just a few clips of the original MarketingProfs podcast interview. If you got value out of today's show, hit that like, and, better yet, share it with a friend. All of that in one breath. To keep learning more, hit that subscribe or watch additional MarketingProfs videos on your favorite social channel. Or head over to our YouTube channel if you're not there yet. Or you can go tune in to the original MarketingProfs podcast episode on your favorite podcast app. Don't forget to become part of the MarketingProfs Community by heading over to mprofs.com/MPtoday. That's mprofs.com/MPtoday.

And as always, remember, ladies and gentlemen, to be a happy, helpful, humble, marketing human. And we'll see you on the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Live Show next week.

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image of George B. Thomas

George B. Thomas is a marketer, video Jedi, and HubSpot certified trainer with 25+ years of sales and marketing experience. George is owner and HubSpot Helper at georgebthomas.com. He has a record-breaking 38 HubSpot sales, marketing, service, CRM, and CMS certifications. George harnesses his expertise in graphic design, Web development, video editing, social media marketing, and inbound marketing to partner with, teach, and develop solutions for companies looking to develop their businesses and increase their revenue.

LinkedIn: George B. Thomas

Twitter: @GeorgeBThomas