Community marketing for sustainable growth.

Countless marketing gurus seem to be making vast fortunes selling their version of what marketing should be. As a business owner, conflicting messages about which form of marketing to use can lead to confusion, frustration and even financial loss.

This article takes a look at a tried and tested method of marketing that will suit most businesses. Community marketing is not the latest fad, neither is it the most aggressive approach.

The brash gurus of the world rarely have time for community marketing principles. These influential characters tend to favour multi-layered funnels that pummel a prospect into action.

Judging from the sheer number of customers looking for ways to “improve” their funnels, the gurus may be marketing snake oil. Before we go into community marketing, let’s give the alternative model a hearing.

But, aren’t funnels community marketing?

Funnels tend to focus on niches. Podcasting is a popular niche right now. There are dozens of training courses, and systems offering to help you make a success of podcasting. Blogging is another popular niche. You are not short of choices when looking for a system to make your blog work. In one sense, niche strategies target communities—wannabe podcasters, for example.

I have picked blogs and podcasts specifically, as myself, and JUT fully endorse both as highly effective ways to build your business. It is not the product that is the issue. Rather, it is the marketing process we are scrutinising.

Does your business warrant the funnel approach? Is it even appropriate to sell to your customers in this way? More and more people feel that the answer to that question is yes. I would like to posit the argument that aggressive funnels are not suitable for most business models. Yes, aggressive funnels can work, but at what cost to the consumer?

Let’s look at the customer’s experience. I am sure you will have clicked on at least one funnel strategy in your life. If you are not sure, here is a handy tick list for you to print off and keep near you at all times.

How to identify a funnel.

For this exercise, I want to use the example of a funnel which offers a course of some kind as this is a popular model for online businesses. Retail and service industry products are also sold with funnels.

  • A funnel starts with a title headline with an attractive proposition. (Make a fortune from your armchair doing what you love).
  • Clicking the link, you are greeted by a smart-looking dynamic person, they appear to be broadcasting from their beach house.
  • With panache, this person explains that their life used to be as mundane and challenging as yours.
  • You nod sagely, wishing that you had a beach house too.
  • Your new guru teases you with plausible extracts from their system.
  • The wallet in your pocket is twitching.
  • Your guru tells you that there is a whole community of people just like you, that has enjoyed success.

We need to interrupt this article. Do not be fooled by the use of the word community here. Its use is deceptive.

  • The guru explains (ideally in under two-minutes) that you need to act right now.
  • You click
  • Instant congratulations. Well done you. But why not go that extra step and join the really cool people.
  • You are really cool, so you click again.
  • By some strange twist of fate, there is an online course happening in less than an hour. Naturally, spaces are limited.
  • It must be a sign, right? It is 2 AM after all, what are the odds of that happening…it has to be a sign.
  • An hour later, in a self-induced coffee psychosis, you are present with a group of other people who can’t sleep and need money. The moderator and host answer multiple questions, although weirdly, yours remain ignored.
  • Twenty minutes in, and your guru is still droning on. You note that they are saying nothing of substance. Mainly their script centres around how brilliant they are, how amazing their life is now and how you need to buck your ideas up.
  • A growing amount of “Tessa from Illinois just bought the deal” type messages appear.
  • The questions seem to be flowing freely, and everyone is enjoying this late-night party but you. You start to wonder if this is a live feed after all. You opt to try a few comedic responses in the group chat. Nothing happens.
  • Comedic responses turn into slightly more agitated questions. Still nothing
  • You launch into full-on character assassinations of your guru and other candidates, just to see what happens. No response. Apparently, however, you are still welcome to join the “team”!

Okay. I will admit it. I am someone who fell for this approach…TWICE.

How does being funnelled feel compared to community marketing?

I didn’t buy the services on either occasion. I was left feeling cheated, humiliated and angry both times. How dare someone insult my intelligence by pretending to be on a live feed! What kind of a person uses my passions and dire financial situation to lure me in. More to the point, how stupid of me to fall for it again.

Of course, people do buy, and that is all that matters to a funnel owner. If ten-thousand people buy a system at $49.00, then never mind the 100,000 people that bail out before the end of the funnel, right?

So what is the problem with “get rich quick” funnel systems?

In some cases, nothing.

The problem, if we can call it that, lays in the energy of the transaction. For funnel strategies to succeed, they rely on the customer to have one of two strong emotions; passion, or desperation.

Yes, aggressive funnels work, often with significant results. But I ask again, at what cost?

Let me further my humiliation by sharing with you the two funnels that got me. In 2008 a respected producer promised to help me make a living from music production. In 2016 a published author promised me that I could build a successful six-figure income from my writing.

For me, these two subjects are a double threat. They are my biggest passions in life. It is no coincidence that desperation drove both decisions to click. I was behind on my mortgage payments and financially struggling. Why else would I be up at 2 AM trying to find answers?

Funnel strategies, and why they are the opposite of community marketing.

Spend some time looking at funnel systems, and the people touting them, and a pattern starts to emerge. Advocates of funnels tend to be dominant and aggressive personalities. The message is always money, money money. Disciples of these systems often mirror the people selling them.

Having spent decades in corporate and capital sales, I have seen these gurus before. They are entirely familiar to me from the double glazing companies of the seventies to the photocopier companies of the late eighties, and through the multi-level marketing fads of the nineties. I have seen them selling timeshares, and most recently they have been responsible for a tide of self-help, and get rich quick systems.

By leading with community focused activities, and refining your customers experience, you are able to

How do you want your business to be perceived?

I have a three-point checklist to spot a bullshit proposition.

  1. Does it sound too good to be true?
  2. Is there a ticking clock? (Literally or figuratively)
  3. Is the proposition pressing emotional buttons, particularly passion or pain?

If your marketing approach centres around capturing prospects in this way, is this in keeping with your own moral principles? How do the majority of people who interact with your company feel, and is this in line with how you want them to feel? Even if your offer is entirely genuine, is that how it feels?

What is the harm of aggressive funnels?

Nothing.

If you, as a business owner, choose this method of marketing and feel it is appropriate for your market place, go right ahead. If you start to notice mass unsubscribes, or negative social media comments, then you may want to think again.

It is entirely normal for people to buy from a range of emotions. In the eighties and nineties, it was popular to sell on fear. Entire sales strategies designed to help companies capitalise on the fear of the consumer flourished. Aggressive close techniques were a common feature. Sound familiar?

Passion is the least damaging of the emotional drivers which prompt customers to buy. We all have passions in life. A funnel that helps us improve what we love doing, and introduces us to a genuine community of like-minded individuals has merit.

Passion is positive, and providing your course or product adds some knowledge, skills and resources at a reasonable cost, then great. For you, the business owner, your responsibility is to follow through with your claims, deliver on your promise, and provide the forum your customers want.

If you absolutely must use a funnel strategy, build it with integrity. The challenge will always be to make sure your system doesn’t look or feel like a scam. This conundrum begs the question; if your product, service or system is that good, why not just allow customers to buy in their own time? By building an engaged community, where consumers can read, learn and watch related content, customers will naturally develop an attachment to your brand.

Aren’t all community marketing and sales techniques manipulative?

Yes. At some level, all marketing and sales rely on manipulating the emotional drivers of a target audience. The difference lays in intention. When done right, there are even elements of the funnel marketing strategies that can be combined with good community marketing. When you lead with content, customers are highly engaged and more receptive. this level of connection reduces the need for aggression in your sales close.

Why is Community marketing different?

Community marketing is a simple concept, friendly in its approach and offers incredible value to your customer base. Simply put, community marketing builds a family of fans who engage regularly with your core services, products or platform. In this way, community marketing is very much like funnel marketing. There are two significant differences, though.

First, community marketing dials down the urgency to buy. Prospective clients consume content and share in conversations with no pressure. You may even offer value-added freebies like a blog, podcast, e-book, or free tutorial. As the business owner, you offer this content willingly and with integrity. There is no obligation to buy anything, just an ongoing, open invitation to engage.

Secondly, and for me, most significantly; there are no outlandish claims. Your offer will deliver what the customer wants. It will solve a problem, improve their life by a measurable and provable amount, or complement an existing hobby or interest. Preferably, your offer will do more than one of these things.

The key difference between community marketing and aggressive funnel selling is in your user’s experience. The question is, how do you want your customers to feel about their interactions with your company. Would you buy from you?

Get rich slow

JUT makes our crew a good living from blogs, scripts, content, design and branding. We see first hand, the work that goes into developing a sustainable and viable business. Building a successful business, with integrity and added value requires the one thing aggressive funnel gurus seem to have an issue with…

Time.

As business people, we are naturally entrepreneurial. We have goals, desires and high expectations of ourselves. It is natural for us to want to drive growth and achieve success. Social media would have us believe that instant riches and untold wealth lay just around the next corner. Sometimes they do. More often, success follows the consistent implementation of strategies, backed up with investment and integrity. As business owners, the danger comes when we attempt to shortcut the process with aggressive, outlandish messages.

Here is a simple truth.

If your product or service is as good as you believe it to be, then there is a natural price point at which people will buy. You will not need to rush customers into a decision or make unsubstantiated claims. To get to a point where significant numbers of customers purchase every day will require a robust strategy and personal investment of your time and money. Brand loyalty, excellent customer reviews and organic growth are the results.

Is community marketing best for your customers?

If you want to build short term, high turnover businesses and then flip them so you can get on to the next thing, aggressive funnel marketing may suit you.

To me, this type of business feels like a battery hen farm. Battery hens live in uncomfortable boxes, force-fed until they no longer lay eggs. When they stop laying, they are discarded. There are a lot of people getting rich farming like this, both literally and figuratively. To me, it feels wrong.

Maybe you see your business as a long term project, have a commitment to your industry, and a personal passion for what you do. Building vibrant, engaged communities may work better for you. Free e-books, lessons or podcasts will grow your audience over time. Quality content is always shared. You may even be invited to guest on industry platforms. You will become an authority, and maybe even an expert in your field.

This type of model is sustainable for decades without burning out or reaching a plateau, strategies like this deliver the success which we all dream about at some level. Community marketing builds trusted brands and empowers customers to become super-fans, who spread the word for you.

To me, this approach feels more like organic farming. Your customers are free to graze and roam at will, consuming when they want, and as much as they want. Happy hens lay better quality eggs, for longer. They also stick around.

If you were a hen, which would you rather be? Therein lies the secret of how to market.

For a marketing audit, and a full report on your businesses strategies you can talk to the crew.

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