The reality of being a marketer today isn’t exactly that Mad Men ideology of “We’ll tell you what you need.”

In fact, that sentiment couldn’t be further from today’s marketing truth.

Consumers know what they what. They want to connect on an emotional level, not be told what to do. However, working as a marketer in a disruptive company means that changing behavior is the essence of your role. So, how do these two converge to find a place where both consumer and brand can come together around something that they care about?

For me, the answer to that question has been in building communities.

To do this effectively, we must be constantly thinking about how to win hearts and minds so that these new behaviors extend into new attitudes and ways of thinking. Customers don’t engage because we want them to or because we ask them to but because they see and feel something that they are passionate about and can see benefit.

That’s why the core tenet of a well-built community is its ability to provide members unique value or something to aspire to that directly connects to your brand. Building something bigger than your product and even brand means creating these meaningful partnerships and relationships with consumers. It’s certainly not an easy task, but it’s one that pays off tenfold.

I have a passion for building communities and have done this at every company I have worked for because I think it’s such an important aspect of customer engagement. While leading a recent CMO Club Virtual Roundtable discussion, I shared how I go about setting up a successful community.

Start by Solving a Big Problem that your Industry Cares About

When I start building a community, I think about its ability to be very visible. Everyone wants to be a part of something people are talking about.

One example of this that I worked on in the past was in the clean energy industry. I was with a brand where we had scientists who were working on getting clean energy developments to the masses but didn’t know how to. The challenge was that, for consumers, we couldn’t make a compelling argument for these services based on cost savings.

Instead, we solved this problem by building a community and creating a home energy efficiency market in the local area.

In order to do this, we had to build awareness not just for ourselves, but for the entire industry – and it involved uniting both non-competitors and competitors as partners in the space.

Our main focus was on creating a program that residential home manufacturers and service providers would want to fund through advertising and sponsorship. We did this through several steps:

  • Consumer outreach – launched a media brand and platform that educated people and creating demand for green energy and efficient products
  • Partnerships – brought together brands, contractors, government agencies, labs and utilities
  • Credibility -with the most credible partners
  • Sponsors – who wanted to be associated with the credibility of the community we were building
  • Engagement – we hosted the first ever energy makeover contest among homeowners that was inspired by the Extreme Home Energy

The benefits of building a community in this way were huge. We tripled non-profit revenue in two years, achieved mass media buzz about clean energy initiatives and had more than 10,000 homeowners enter our contest each year.

Common Components of a Successful Community Initiative

Once you’ve answered that problem or need that your industry is having, there are a few steps your brand should complete in order to build a community that sparks important dialogues and puts your brand at the front of the conversation.

  • Provide a unique value-add that goes beyond what your brand does
  • Ensure that your approach is in service to your community and not self-serving for your brand
  • Leverage resources that you currently have available and add as they gain momentum
  • Identify the desired outcome up front in order to deliver on it
  • Report on the measurable outcomes for your company and board that go beyond brand awareness (while good, that’s not enough to gauge success)

While this process does take time – I’d recommend allowing up to 2 years to gain full traction – your focus as a CMO is to hone in on those last two bullet points and think about where your brand is getting stuck with industry engagement.

Like any marketing initiatives, my community building efforts require an in-depth look at data and a good amount of trial and error in order to find that sweet spot where brand solutions and industry pain points converge.