When you belong, the community does your marketing for you. That’s the insight I want to consider in this post, and address the parallels to small town values, when applied to marketing.
I grew up in a little town in Ontario called Sutton. It was the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else by name, there’s a lot of shared history, local pride, shared values, bonds of trust, and a distinct distrust of folks from a far, or as some east coasters might call them, “from away.” It was the kind of place where if you curled, played hockey, belonged to the rotary club, or where active in your church, you were likely a town “influencer” within niche circles, and could yield political influence. While communities certainly exist within cities, the fluidity of people moving in and out gives them a slightly different culture.
I think there’s a lot to be learned in considering the parallels of small-town behavior and consumer groups these days. Consumers increasingly are clustering into self-managed groups online and off, just like small towns. In those groups, they are often blocking others out, increasingly unreachable through traditional ads. The only way in is to be invited, or welcomed by existing members. Those who push their way in, bragging or boasting through ads, are either ignored or dismissed non-verbally with an inferred “you’re not from around here are ya?” With no pre-existing relationship it’s unlikely they even realized how the aggressive move had set them back in the eyes of the community they were targeting online. The small-town parallels are actually quite striking! (Are those sponsored posts showing up in my Facebook and Instagram feed from businesses promising me the world listening? Not likely)
But here’s the thing. Once welcomed into the small town, community members embrace and defend to the core those they consider their own. And since they see that member as sharing values, history and trust, they will protect and spread praise through word of mouth – both online and off.
How do people fit in as part of a small-town community? Most of these points are common sense “be human” type observations, but they are worth noting:
- Be a friend, join and contribute
- Be useful, help and pitch in
- Show shared values, even if it makes you less popular elsewhere, it will make you more loyal to the town people
- Respect their privacy
- Respect their time
- Don’t just say you’re great and belong, show them through action
- Be patient, it takes time to create shared history
Now I want you to read that list again, but instead of thinking about fitting in with a small-town community, consider it from the perspective of your approach to marketing to consumer groups. Suddenly it’s not about broadcasting and interrupting through ads or pushing out content on social media. It’s about engaging and becoming part of the group, so once embraced, the community will do your marketing for you.
The parallels are striking and so obvious, yet why is it that so many marketers are getting it so wrong these days?
Embrace the community, become part of it, and then let that community do your marketing for you. Frankly it’s the only approach that is going to work now, in an environment where consumers control 2/3 of our content through reviews, social media posts, and word of mouth online and off.