For the last 22 months as we’ve been in this on again, off again lockdown rollercoaster, marketing teams around the world have had to rethink their plans and overall investments…for the umteeth time.  Embrace more agility. More front, and fleet, of foot. More creative with less budget. More interesting to cut through.  More dynamic to optimise spending. More, more, more for less, less, less. A task that is only fit for the strongest Gladiator.

And what this has done is laser focus our efforts on channels that cover a multitude of sins: broad reach to scale but also provide the ability to segment audiences to target. Keep investments lean and CPAs below target to allow marketing dollars to go further. Repurpose creative through various formats that will look and feel different. 

And as we all know, there are only so many channels at our disposal to accomplish this mammoth task - email. social, display, and direct mail. Yes, I did say the dirty word…direct mail: the return of the envelope.  With the entire population of the world now at home, mail has become intriguing again. It’s the old, but new kid on the block.

But with every brand focused on the same channels and the same audiences on top of the very fact that every customer has been at home - online, glued to their screens 24/7 (scrolling and searching), opening every envelope that comes through the letterbox, how are we supposed to cut through?  How are we supposed to stop and arrest the new, younger audience we all need and crave?  Who is going to stand up and out? Differentiate? Win the sign up and/or purchase war?

On top of that, the pandemic has shifted the way consumers think. Entertainment has been reimagined. Shopping has been redefined. Connecting with people has shifted. Consumer’s trust and transparency in brands has been heightened and quite frankly altered. People want inspiration, not just information. People crave purpose and want brands to meet them where they are, aligning to their emotional state and belief system.

So out of the rubble rises the community.  The collective of a brand's members - their ambassadors, their cheerleaders, their champions. Advocates: the ones that will stand up for you and come to your defence when others mock.  The ones that share their own successes and provide real and honest proof points that you are better than your competitors.  The ones that new customers go to for reassurance and validation.  And the ones that are skeptical but witness real, authentic, and relatable member stories and say, “Yes, I’m in!”.

These communities, if not already, should form the bedrock of any brand’s marketing plan.  Think Peloton. Airbnb. Lego. Brands like these seamlessly integrate their communities to hero their brand. Peloton’s community galvanises its own to discover and join rides. Airbnb hosts thrive on offering space for people to build relationships, learn more about each other’s cultures and become better hosts.  And Lego even goes so far as getting their community to drive product innovation.

Reliance on communities has evolved over the last two years and is here to stay. As marketers we need to lean into this crowdsource to grow and cultivate them as real advocates and ambassadors of our brand.  They are the ones that are going to differentiate us from the rest; raise us up and out from the infinite number of brands clamoring for attention. They are the proof points that our brands are what we say and do.  They are the ones that will inspire others because they are real, authentic, and relatable.

So in this sea of sameness and ongoing lockdown life alongside increased competition for time, space and identical eyeballs, every brand needs something different to shout about.  Your community will set you apart.  You can keep it hyper local or scale it to national. They won’t erode your ever shrinking marketing budgets. They should help you grow your prospects and customers. And they will set you free from your competition. If there is one thing that the last 22 months has proven, it’s that community is here to stay.  Find them. Build them. Grow them. Cultivate them.  And most of all, thank and reward them so they stay with you.

And as one of my favourite business leaders, Walt Disney, said, “People spend money when and where they feel good.”  Make sure you lean into your community and encourage them to shout about how good they feel about you to help you win this ever growing audience war.