2018 is the Year of B2B Communities
Entering a new year is traditionally a time people reflect on the future and how they plan to tackle the potential it offers.
Which is why I wanted to take this opportunity to lay out the vision which will be driving MPG in 2018. Here I make our ‘statement of intent’ – the philosophy that both inspires and drives us to help our clients not just survive in an ever-changing B2B marketing world, but thrive.
From tribes to communities
Since the 1990s, the marketing gurus like Seth Godin have talked about the concept of tribes in marketing. Essentially, people are social beings and as a result identify with and belong to groups and that – in the most basic terms – form target market segments for marketers to focus on.
From this emerged the concept, mainly in B2C, that communities should be at the heart of marketing strategy. Despite the success of this approach in B2C, the B2B world has never fully translated this philosophy into its own practices. Have we wrongly assumed this model cannot be replicated in B2B? Or have we never really had to think about things in this way before?
It is MPG’s belief and conviction that B2B tribes – or communities – are a key concept that should be built into marketing strategies in 2018 and beyond. We’re committed to supporting our clients and partners to enable them to move forward confidently into the ‘B2B community era’. MPG’s own community centres around B2B media, intelligence and events brands – a tribe of people who spend a great deal of time and energy bringing their own B2B communities together and trying to strengthen engagement with and within these communities.
We’ve had a seat with a privileged view of the ‘B2B tribes’ movement that we believe has now come of age. And what we have learnt is that sustainable growth comes from a focus on delivering unique value to a defined community, and definitely not from blinkered, product-focused short termism. This is an even bigger concept than ‘putting customers at the heart of your business’. It’s about marketing providing the strategic leadership to drive a community-focused organisation forward.
Your target audience is the foundation, not the ‘all’, of community
Many marketers who have embraced a community approach have limited their sights to their target audience only. This is a mistake.
Think of a B2B community as a town. It’s not just made up of the local residents. It’s also made up of shopkeepers, doctors, police, schools, politicians, officials and so on. A true B2B community isn’t composed of only the people you want to sell to. It also includes other partners important to your community, including other suppliers they use, the media they read, the thought leaders they follow, etc. The success of your B2B brand depends on being at the centre of the whole community.
Humans make communities
A key factor to success is recognising that communities consist of people. In this sense organisations must think always in terms of H2H (human-to-human).
Effective communication with your community members should be genuine, personal, targeted and two-way. Communities are not built by ‘generalised’, spam-like, one-way communications. You must have a deep understanding of who is in your community and engage on a personal level – listening more than you speak, seeking to understand more than seeking to be understood.
The foundations of the community concept are built by identifying and forging strong relationships with your most engaged customers and stakeholders. These people will form your ‘inner circle’ of your core community members and brand advocates. Hopefully most of these individuals will also be influencers within their peer group. They should be strong advocates of your brand, loyal and open to cooperating with you on new ideas, innovations – sharing information and best practice.
This investment in your community’s ‘inner circle’ should reap great rewards – in the short and long term. When these people move departments or organisations, they take their brand loyalties and community connections with them – becoming your most important sales people.
MPG’s Community Marketing Model
We developed this model to very simply show the B2B community development concept.
Your ultimate aim is grow both the inner circle and outer rings. Developing the centre enables growth in your retention rate, upsell and referrals; while balanced expansion of your outer circles nurture a constant fresh stream of potential new community members who should become new clients and advocates in future. If the marketing messages resonating out from your inner circle are on point – especially through your earned media – then the customers sitting on the fringes of your community should soon begin their journey towards the centre.
It’s worth noting here that there can come a point – when market share has ‘peaked’ – the circle should stop growing in volume. At this point your strategic focus should shift to the development of new products for that community (which should be inspired and informed by community insight) and the defining and developing of new communities. The Ansoff Model, beloved by management consultants since the 1960’s, still applies!
Strong communities feed themselves
Intelligence and data drive the success of modern B2B businesses. If you want to remain relevant and not just keep up with the evolution and trends within your sector but also help shape the future, you need to be tapping into as much of both as possible.
Again, communities are the most effective way of sourcing the vital information and insight you need. When you run a focused event for your business community, you can smartly use the content shared and created at this event by your core community members to engage and draw in members of the ‘outer circles’.
B2B media businesses have learnt they need to bring their subscribers together at physical, face-to-face events to grow brand engagement and revenue. The most successful B2B brands have their advocates bringing their communities together for them. HubSpot’s annual INBOUND event is the stellar example of this. Each year over 20,000 enthusiastic attendees gather to hear world-class speakers from an impressive range of industries. These thought leaders are bought into HubSpot’s inbound marketing philosophy and therefore become advocates for the HubSpot brand.
Every time you bring people together in a great environment to connect H2H – you are building your brand, gaining insight into the current and emerging needs of your customers and, crucially, gathering data and intelligence you can use for product development and to feed back in to the community as unique and valuable insight. You are creating a self-sustaining, engaged community whose members see your brand and people as essential members of the tribe – making an important contribution to drive value in their businesses.
2018 – The year of B2B communities
2017 has been a year of great growth at MPG. From the clients and partners, we’ve worked with, to the refinement and expansions of our services, community has been at the heart of our progress and will be essential to maintain our success in 2018 and beyond.
The insights we’ve gained and best practices we’ve developed to successfully build B2B brand communities so far – for our clients and for MPG – will be further enhanced by some great new projects in the coming year. We’ll be spurred on by a powerful and growing community. So, we’d like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to MPG’s community members, and ‘welcome’ if you want to join us!
We’d love to hear from you if you have ideas to share about growing B2B communities – please get in touch.