One of the fascinating ways to generate loyalty, relationships and even income is by building communities. A great strategic question that you might ask about your business model is, “How could we develop a community (or multiple communities) that would allow people to connect and learn while allowing us to deepen the relationships, educate and monetize that community?”
You don’t have to think about this on Facebook’s scale. Why did Soul Cycle and Crossfit connect so deeply with people when there have been spin classes and exercise programs for decades? Why do online forums with robust connection features do so well? I’ve owned two pretty cool travel trailers (T@B and R-Pod) and the owners’ forums are jammed with comments, questions and tips making you feel like you’re on the team. Individuals like Michael Hyatt and Marie Forleo and many others have used web communities to build small empires by making people feel as though they are part of an exclusive club. Vistage makes money by facilitating face-to-face communities of business owners. The examples are endless!
I have several clients that have successfully moved from a pure product driven strategy (Want to buy a widget?) to a market driven strategy (How can we best meet the needs of this community?) by including events (face-to-face as well as virtual) that capitalize on learning. But the real underlying value is as more about the community than the knowledge imparted. These events, by the way, produce significant income, though using community as a pure marketing tactic to build relationships without revenue can also work.
I can imagine a community pillar to the strategic framework for veterinarians, bankers, grocery stores, business services and consumer products. The benefits of engaging on an emotional level with your target audience (and them with each other!) are many: strengthening relationships (leading to referrals and stickiness), recurring revenue opportunities, faster new product introductions and a deeper understanding of your customers.
The concept is simple; people like to be with people who have similar interests and challenges. Use that to provide real value for them and you.