Since the pandemic hit, consumers have rediscovered the power of community. And in many instances, that means online communities. A recent survey carried out by Facebook and The Governance Lab at NYU found that in most developed countries, people were more likely to say the most important community they belonged to was online rather than offline.
So, how do brands build on this renaissance of online communities to make an authentic connection with consumers? And what role does content play in this process? These were the questions tackled at a working lunch, part of Campaign magazine’s Media360 2021 event.
Hosted by Anna Foot and Dana Whitaker, SVP of international media sales and UK sales director of The Wall Street Journal respectively, the event brought together some of the industry’s leading marketers to thrash out the importance of communities to marketing and how to best engage with them.
A need to feel more connected
“Since the pandemic and lockdown, people have had time to think about what really matters to them,” explained Kat Bozicevich, managing director of the advertising agency Manning Gottlieb OMD. “For instance, since lockdown I have discovered that I care much more about my own multicultural background than I thought I did. That’s why I have been engaging and participating in Media For All, a support network for media professionals from underrepresented groups.”
Whether it’s online groups for the local community you’re suddenly spending all your time in, forums for new dog owners, or digital fitness groups, all of the marketers reported increasing their engagement with digital communities over the past year. “Consumers,” remarked Foot, drawing on her experience working in news publishing, “rely on communities of interest to gather the information they need to make trusted decisions. And content, properly used, is often the best basis for building such communities.”
Monique Elliott, SVP industrial automation global marketing at energy management and automation specialist Schneider Electric makes explicit the link between values and community. “In business, as in life, no one can make it entirely alone.” She went on to tell the story of Schneider Electric Exchange, an open business platform her company set up for its partners and customers to bring them together. Recently, she explained, two customers — engineering companies from Canada and India — connected over the digital platform and decided to collaborate to meet a customer need. “Normally they wouldn’t have found each other and perhaps, before, they might have been competitors. But in this new environment, and with a digital community to connect them, they worked together profitably.”
The role of data and purpose
Another topic which generated lively discussion was the link between a brand’s purpose and its ability to build an authentic and engaging sense of community. “Purpose is central to any content and community strategy,” said Isabella Panizza, head of communications for global customer operations at energy company Enel Group. “Clear purpose makes content more effective. Our commitment to sustainability helps us find a new global audience.” She added, this ties into the company’s long history of community engagement with consumers, but also with those living near its power stations, to help build a real sense of shared values and an authentic connection.
Martin Bevan, head of marketing at Barclays, highlighted the increasing importance of data and measurement. He pointed to the data that communities generate and the power of this data to help companies make informed decisions. An example of this, he said, is the aggregate buying decisions of all those who have chosen to move to a new house during the lockdown (which many people have chosen to do). For the first 12 months after their move, clear commonalities emerge in this group’s spending decisions. By mining this data, the bank is able to tailor its approach to serving this group.
Whitaker drew a line from data through insight and content to community. “At The Wall Street Journal | Barron's Group in-house content studio, The Trust, we recently worked on a content project with EPOS, a manufacturer of high-end audio systems. Their data showed that poor-quality audio actually impacted people’s health. Creating content around this theme, we were able to provoke significant discussion and engagement among our influential community.”
Around the virtual table...
Matt Daley, chief performance officer, Havas
Martin Bevan, head of marketing, Barclays
Kat Bozicevich, managing director, Manning Gottlieb OMD
Phil Jackson, global digital analytics lead, GSK
Adam Dustin, senior manager, PwC
Monique Elliot, SVP global marketing, Schneider Electric
Isabella Panizza, head of communications for global customer operations, Enel Group
Dana Whitaker, UK sales director, The Wall Street Journal
Anna Foot, SVP of international media sales, The Wall Street Journal
Gideon Spanier, global editor-in-chief, Campaign