Being your own boss can be rewarding. Before you start your own business, you will need to be able to build your own community. You may face competitors who would copy your product and process; but they can never clone your community. Samsung, Huawei and 10 other suppliers deliberately price themselves below Apple’s iPhone and other accessories products. Have you seen a true Apple fan being lured over to the other side?
Apple users feel a deep sense of connection to the brand and they have stayed loyal to the brand despite pricing, product features and at times geopolitical pressures. The art of creating such authentic connection is known as community building. If you do it well, it will elevate your mission and spark insight within your organization.
Many entrepreneurs know the need to build a strong brand community, but they need guidance to find the best path to success as they juggle limited resources in time and personal. So, give yourself the competitive advantage by following the 5Ms of Community Building.
Apple has the mission “to bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.”
The first ingredient towards Apple’s success lies in its ability to align itself with its mission statement. Apple’s community knows that its product are designed centric. This means that if the designers and engineers were to have professional difference, it is the engineers that give way. The entire user experience from the software design and user interface have been given considerable thought.
People form the core of any community. They are a group of people with common needs to be satisfied. When you know your community well, it is easier to make decision that will attract and retain them. You can find your members by going to the community and talking to them. Find out from them what are the important characteristic of your products.
You can ask them open-ended questions such as:
1. Can you recall the day when you decide to pay for my product?
This open-ended question allows them to return details that they might not have otherwise remembered.
2. Tell me the positive and negative surprises
Surprise reveals the difference between expectations and reality. If you found a positive surprise, you have found a new advertising point. For negative surprise, that would be something which your team can work on.
3. Tell me the challenges which other founders in your industry face
It is awkward for people to talk about themselves so focus their attention to the struggles of their competitors. They would be more forthcoming and while they might or might not know it, they might face the same set of challenges.
While Apple is a positive example, let us look at a negative example to understand the importance of engaging your members. In Singapore, we are witnessing the gradual decline in the status of country clubs and it is not due to the High Speed Railway.
Younger members have stopped seeing country clubs as a mean of doing business in the age of the Internet. There are numerous apps and organizations that promote business meeting outside of country clubs at a fraction of their price.
They have also started to shift away from using the facilities of the clubs because there are alternatives out there and they have also generally moved away from traditional sports like swimming and tennis. They are now more likely to be spotted in hip gyms doing Muay Thai and Yoga using ClassPass.
Singapore’s country clubs are the perfect example of what happens when you put yourself in a bubble and not reinvent yourself as the world goes by. They are now at the edge of extinction and only supported by old members. Give it another 20 years and all that’s left of country clubs might just be drawings and building stones in a museum.
Medium is the platform where you are engaging with your community. They can be on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and they allow you to forge connections with them. Before you select your medium, do remember to find out how you will keep track of them. You should have an overview of your members.
Also think of how you will communicate certain messages, whether it is through a broadcast or individually. How would that medium support that? Most importantly, how would they communicate with each other?
Now, let’s look at the positive example of Sheng Siong. They leverage traditional media such as Mediacorp’s Channel 8 and also Facebook. More importantly, they extend their social reach by engaging non-governmental organization.
They get external organizations such as Society for Physically Disabled (SPD) to promote their brand and got their SPD’s audience to speak positively for them on their SPD’s Facebook page. That is a clever use of medium.
You can improve on areas where you can measured and being numerate would be an advantage. You will naturally want to measure your revenue and profit; but the trick is to find the right KPI that will boost your bottom line. After all, it is your business process which will drive your profit, not the other way around. For instance, if you were to start a new Facebook Page for Pets Lovers, you might choose KPI such as:
1. Overall size of the members in the Page
2. Number of interactions on the Page
3. People who signed up for your talks
If you are looking at a more serious business such as creating a store to sell musical instruments, you will need to have a more detailed dashboard as seen below. The key challenge to derive the right metrics that you can track on a regular interval and it is likely that you need different set of metric for different levels of management.
Hard numbers show the way but you should poll your community periodically to find out what is working and what is not. Overall, you should get a sense of whether you are succeeding at your endeavours or not.
Messaging refers to the content which you expose to your customers before and after they had parted with their hard-earned dollars. Before they pay, they are exposed to your public information on your website and social media page.
After they pay, you will need to produce the right content for their onboarding. Ask yourself, how can they join your community effectively. What sort of information would they need at specific intervals?
Humans know instinctively that lots of resources are required to build a strong community. It will take weeks, months and even years to build a vibrant community. It won’t be a one-way street and it is likely to have progress and setbacks as you work on the 5Ms. As you build your community, you will realize that it will bear long term return.