6 tips for building community

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Some time early in their careers, most marketing professionals end up selecting to "major" in either business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) marketing.

B2C marketers develop campaigns and offers often delivered directly to the consumer or through a retail channel. These campaigns are mostly about bringing the consumer to a transaction as quickly as possible. They address a market of millions of people focused on buying products that cost a few dollars up to the low thousands. Buyers are relatively more price conscious and a strong brand can lead to loyal consumers. B2C marketing has been the primary driver of the marketing profession particularly through the use of advanced data capture and analytics tools combined with segmentation and targeting techniques.

B2B marketers develop programs, typically linked to a direct sales channel, that address business needs using informative content and configuration tools. They target markets of hundreds or a few thousand businesses and seek to develop relationships with dozens of influencers, multiple evaluation committees, and ultimate decision makers. This extended team of buyers defines requirements and evaluates suppliers over many months, eventually purchasing a solution that could cost tens or hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars with the cost often spread out over multiple years. Brand value is based on generating interest and getting on the short list of the buyer groups. B2B marketing has typically been a fast follower of B2C, applying the experiences and tools of B2C to the unique needs of their market.

These two majors won't disappear any time soon. However, both B2C and B2B marketing professionals could benefit from taking a class on the new B2C marketing -- business-to-community.

It's all about the community
The power of community-based marketing is being seen in both B2C and B2B markets. Brand strategies that used to be based on "talking about ourselves" are now beginning to embrace "connecting with our community." Building and nurturing communities of people with a natural linkage to your business can be an incredibly effective and efficient way of building your brand.

For example, Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" is a watershed in B2C communities. The campaign uses online forums, published research, education, advertising, fundraising, and many other outreach programs to invite women to engage with each other and the Dove brand through an ongoing dialogue about the nature of beauty -- beauty that is enhanced through Dove products. What were the results? Millions of downloads of one of its videos on YouTube, massive traffic to its website, pervasive coverage in the blogosphere and a spot on Oprah. In Europe, market share for Dove's "Intensive Firming Cream" grew from 7.4 percent to 13.5 percent in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain according to industry publications.

In the B2B world, the Oracle Technology Network (OTN) stands out as a leading community with over five million members in 250 countries. Oracle supports the community of developers, IT architects and database administrators with free technology downloads, podcasts, tutorials, discussion forums, etc. The result is OTN is one of the largest and fastest growing IT communities in the world.

Here are some of the key factors to consider when building your community.

It's an invitation, not an offer
The tone of your communications needs to reflect the fundamental nature of communities -- members select themselves. You are not making them an offer or delivering a call to action. You are inviting them to join a group with a common interest. The common interest is typically not "how do I buy more of your stuff," it's more a desire to engage in a shared experience that enhances their personal or professional life.

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