Old-school marketing techniques were simple. Businesses offered a product or service, differentiated themselves from their competitors, and advertised to their ideal customers. These techniques worked well for many decades.
Today, the global marketplace is far more competitive. Customers demand more integrity and engagement from the companies they use. It’s no longer enough to offer the best products and services.
Savvy business owners understand that the best way to draw leads in this day and age is to create a community that is attracted to your mission, vision, and ethics.
One way to attract a community is to create a more sustainable business. Historically, sustainable businesses meant ones that created a foundation for long-term profit but that definition has changed.
Today, sustainable business models involve much more. They plan for a future that includes business practices in line with conserving natural resources. For example, evaluating your company’s carbon footprint is critical to developing a business that lasts.
Another important goal for business sustainability is finding ways to give back. Companies that deplete resources until they are not useful anymore are perceived as harmful. However, those that invest in protecting the environment as a part of their corporate vision will attract people.
Topics that address sustainable business strategies should be added to your company’s mission. They give your firm a purpose that appeals to both your employees and a visionary community. Potential topics include:
- Income inequality
- Human rights
- Racial injustice
These issues can get quite political. It’s important to be aware of your target market before taking a stand that can offend your customer base. Of course, controversy can also attract attention and build your reputation. Customer attitudes must be thoroughly reviewed before moving forward in this area.
You can take on important topics without controversy. Instead, find issues that nearly everyone agrees with, such as helping terminally ill children or feeding the hungry. Supporting charitable causes makes a great impression.
Folding these issues into a sustainable business plan is good for your company’s future and can even save you money, at least in the long term. One common example is companies that streamline their shipping processes. Less packaging, smaller boxes, and combining destinations can save you money and impress customers. It also demonstrates that you care about the environment.
You can embrace this model on two separate levels: external suppliers and internally. Start with your company’s products and services. That means looking at supply chains, vendors, shipping providers, and other details. Choose more eco-friendly options.
You can also look at how your business practices impact sustainability. A key way to improve this area is by addressing digital sustainability.
When the concept of sustainability is applied to the use of technology, it’s known as digital sustainability. How can you streamline your business to be less of a drain on resources while still increasing your reach and building community?
One simple way is by offering remote work options to employees. This cuts down your need for office systems and utilities like heat and electricity. It also reduces the time your team spends in their cars and may increase productivity. It’s critical to work with your IT department and human resources to flesh out a plan that keeps everyone connected while safeguarding your data.
Remote options are not just for employees. You can save on travel costs and waste by hosting remote conferences with stakeholders. Develop a plan for digital sustainability to guide your business.
Finally, a sustainable business needs an engaged community, particularly if you decide to utilize more remote options.
There are several key elements to building a robust community that stays engaged with your business. Establish a goal for your community. Understanding your ideal customer and how they differentiate from a community member is important as well.
A recent survey of 30,000 consumers around the globe showed that “62% of them want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues such as sustainability, transparency, and fair employment practices.” It’s important to take a stand on some of the issues that are relevant not just to your customers but to a larger audience as well.
How large? That depends on the size and reach of your company. You may find a global or national perspective is best. Or you might want to address the concerns of your local community if your brand is small.
To start, you’ll need to figure out what your objective is for building a community. What goals will you achieve? What kind of mission and values align well with your products and services?
Ultimately, community engagement is necessary to boost your brand. Beyond that, though, it can serve several purposes. Working locally, your company can support causes and charities that make a real impact. This is your company’s mission.
When writing your mission statement, determine what your core business is and how you approach doing business. Next, figure out the “why” for your company. When your business started, it solved a problem or maybe even made someone’s life easier.
Finally, distill these points down to one or two simple sentences that you can easily share with your team and your community. Next up: attracting people to your community.
There are two groups you’ll want to consider next. The first is your ideal customer. If you haven’t yet, you should create a customer persona. This will allow you to understand exactly what motivates him or her. You’ll get a better understanding of how to engage and interact with them.
Start by looking at demographic data for your current clients. Talk to your sales team to discover what your best clients have in common and what is important to them. You should also be reaching out to your clients with surveys, newsletters, and possibly even calls to find out why they chose your company over your competitors.
You can even host a “town hall” event to get opinions, ideas, and gauge the pulse of your supporters. But what about people who are not clients?
Your community need not — and should not — consist only of current or potential customers. Not everyone needs what you offer but anyone can have a positive or respectful opinion of your brand.
Once you have a clearly defined mission and a handle on your desired community, it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of community engagement.
There are several options here. You’ll want to have an online presence. It may also be valuable to engage locally. This is a must for small businesses but even nationwide businesses can consider local involvement.
- Support charity events. Your firm can sponsor or even host an event. Some ideas include walks or races. Another excellent option is to start a fundraiser to benefit a local charity.
- Sponsor community development. If your area is growing and building public projects, such as parks or museums, you can get involved by supporting activities and functions in these areas.
- Partner with local businesses. If there is a company that complements your offerings, partner with them to advance more opportunities. You can also host or sponsor business events, like information sessions. Or, become involved with fun gatherings such as sponsor tickets to a local sporting event.
- Host contests. These are fun ways to get people engaged. They can act as a public service when they address the concerns of your community. For example, you can run an essay contest on how to beautify your local parks.
These events should also be promoted virtually once your online presence is established.
Before you start crafting content to engage your community, you’ll need to define a “brand voice.” To begin, discover how your community primarily communicates. For example, different generations use different social media. Gen Z prefers SnapChat and Instagram, while Millenials are mostly on Facebook.
To develop a brand voice, examine what attributes describe your particular brand. How do these reflect your company’s actions? Take some time to write this all out. Your brand voice should also reflect your industry. Insurance companies and realtors require a more formal look and feel, while companies that sell food or athletic gear will be more casual in tone.
Brand voice will impact the look, feel, and tone of what you write. It should be consistent throughout your company. The tone of your content will range from formal to more casual, however, your voice should be recognizable across it all. This includes emails, newsletters, social media, videos, images, and web design as well as formal and internal communications.
You may want to create brand guidelines to keep your staff on the same page when engaging your community, both off and online.
If your company is new to social media, you may be confused about how to build a connection with your community online. Start by choosing your social media platforms. Which one you select will largely come from the work you did to define your community. Additionally, each platform offers a different focus.
For example, LinkedIn is more of a business-to-business platform. Facebook is used by nearly 70% of all Americans, primarily those in their early 20s. Another option to build community engagement online is to host a webinar. These should address issues your community cares about that still align with your brand.
While you can use multiple platforms and tools, it’s wise to master one before moving on. You may also need to tweak your brand voice for the best fit on each. Be authentic, consistent, and welcoming to people you encounter online. Check-in frequently to make sure your response time is quick.
Once you’ve chosen your platforms, invite current customers and anyone on your email list to join you. Engage with those who shout you out online with engagement. Promote virtual interaction by rewarding those who share their experiences online with points, discounts, or even free products or services. These “brand ambassadors” will attract more eyes to your brand.
You can also build a completely separate online presence that promotes an ethical cause within your industry. For example, Ryan Kulp, the founder of Fomo Marketing, started Honest Marketer, a site that helps marketers make ethical choices when promoting their businesses. This social proof shows that business ethics is critical to Ryan and his company.
Think of “outside the box” ways like this to demonstrate your brand’s values. These will give you a stand-out reputation in your industry.
An online presence means that customer grievances can be aired on social media. Clients may call you out when things go wrong. You need to create standards for addressing these issues.
First, be honest. Things can and will go wrong: shipping gets delayed, items break, people are on hold for too long, etc. The wisest course of action is taking responsibility and owning up to the things you cannot control.
Next, find out what can be done to remedy the situation. It’s ok to handle this discussion online. If not, your community will not know what steps you’ve taken to address the problem.
Finally, keep the discussion calm and focused on the customer. How can you meet his or her needs or challenges? What is a logical resolution that satisfies the client yet is doable? Once the situation has been solved, you may even get a testimonial from this person!
Your offline and virtual presence needs to demonstrate the character and integrity of your company. Consistent engagement and demonstrating concern for the issues that affect your current and potential customers builds goodwill and a great reputation. Effectively done, building community can draw leads, creating fans that are excited to share your brand with the world.