Community Building as Marketing

Think about marketing like you think about building your community.

Your community is made up of the people who will buy your products, because they trust you and believe in what you are doing. It’s possible to build a solid following before you even have anything to sell, so think about how to take advantage of the marketing reach of your budget, whatever it may be.

To start, let’s brainstorm some clever approaches to your business, making use of online tools, and, well, providing free stuff.

Hear me out: build your community first, with free stuff! 

If you’re planning to launch a new product or business, think about how you could establish a following first, positioning yourself as an expert or resource in the space. Then, when it comes time for the launch, you’ll have already grown a following and your audience will be eager to support you (and they’ll even be ready to drop a few dollars on your business).

You could start a podcast interviewing others in your industry, set up a team of like-minded creators to run a blog together, or use Instagram to highlight other business owners in your area. This establishes you as an expert or thought leader in your industry, and strengthens your ties within your own business community, too.

Of course Facebook is an obvious place to build a following, but think beyond the standard public page. Set up a Facebook group for your community - it’s free and gives your audience or customers somewhere to gather. People seem to be more inclined to join a group than like a page, too: beauty podcasts like Natch Beaut and Forever35 have more members in their private Facebook groups than on their public Facebook pages. Forever35 has over 16,000 members in their Facebook group versus a public page with just under 5,000 likes.

Think like a boovie

In their “roadfood tour” memoir, Two for the Road, about eating their way across America, authors (and a couple at the time) Jane and Michael Stern recount what it was like to have a literary agent known for books that became big budget Hollywood movies - or boovies. Books written to become movies. It may sound a little far fetched and cynical, but also illustrates the point of building an audience in one way first, to benefit your launch in another channel later on, a marketing idea that at least dates back to high powered boozy lunches in the late seventies.

On that note, take a tip from Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. In advance of the movie release, they launched a guerrilla poster campaign featuring fake vintage movie posters of character Rick Dalton’s movies-from-within-the-actual-movie.

Tarantino commissioned several poster artists to create a series of Rick Dalton posters, which were published online and posted up around Los Angeles. Obviously we don’t all have Tarantino’s marketing budget, but I think this is an inspiring example of how to market your product, without the product itself.

Try to think objectively about your business and take a long distance look at it. Interestingly, Tarantino wrote his own boovie, he spent the last five years writing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the novel! 

Build an audience with purpose

To find out more about building an audience, I spoke to Katja Hentschel, the founder of Travelettes, a website aimed at women who love travelling.

“Travelettes was the first blog to launch a flea market,” Hentschel told me from Berlin recently, “The flea market idea had this novelty aspect at the time back in 2010, so a lot of the other bloggers wrote about it. Our concept had a charity approach behind it: it was free to run a stall, as the idea was that you would use the proceeds from selling your stuff for an upcoming trip - because one argument many people have is that they don’t have money for travelling. Each stall also made cake or lemonade to sell, where the proceeds from that went to charity. This reflected positively on Travelettes, and it was a great way for us to get backlinks from large blogs who wrote about it.”

For a while, the flea market was even more well known than the Travelettes website itself, “That totally launched us - it took us from two hundred visitors a day, to legit numbers,” Hentschel told me. Travelettes has gone on to become a book, (though not a boovie, yet!) has over 350,000 monthly page impressions and partners with brands like Sony, Nissan, and Contiki.  

Hentschel believes if you provide people with something for free, you will see the returns later when you have a product available to buy.

“Something I really like in marketing is the idea of giving,” Hentschel says, using the example of finance author Madam Moneypenny. “She gives out so much free information, and you just become obsessed with it, and get excited about getting better with your finances - how likely will you then be to purchase her €250 online course? Very likely. That’s the kind of person you want to give your money back to.” 

Natascha Wegelin launched Miss Moneypenny in 2016 with the aim of guiding women to financial independence. “She built a community that is excited about her products,” Hentschel says. The Madam Moneypenny’s women only Facebook group is nearly 50,000 strong, there’s a weekly podcast, newsletter, and meetups, too. Her previous seminars and webinars have ranged in cost from under €15 for a webinar, to €699-€899 for a daily seminar. You can buy her book or e-book, too.

Think about the expertise that you have. Is that something you can share?

You can record your own webinar with a smartphone in a tidy corner of your home or using a screen recording tool like loom. E-books are easy to create with many free tools out there, and it’s a nice way to earn passive income. E-books can be used for a wide range of topics - it could be a recipes, artisan how-to’s, business advice, or photography tips. If you already have a following, you could draft a survey on your industry and publish an e-book of your results. This is something that could be picked up by the press and lead to coverage of your business. 

Don’t just toot your own horn

Spending time online can sometimes feel like a one way street of sell, sell, sell.

Think about curating the content that you publish, so that it will be interesting for your followers, not just pushing sales all the time. Share articles about others: perhaps interesting updates from your industry, a jolly good meme, or a thought provoking news development. Start conversations, and engage your audience, so your feed isn’t just “please buy my stuff.” Pose questions, offer support, and share behind-the-scenes tidbits. Posting consistently will also increase the chances of your followers actually seeing your posts regularly, too.

“Our Travelettes Facebook page works so well because we share 90% outside content,” Hentschel told me, “It’s all about giving the follower the best user experience, gathering content they wouldn’t have found otherwise. That’s a very big factor in successful marketing on a budget.”

Elizabeth Rushe is a freelance writer and radio host from Ireland, based in Berlin.

Elizabeth Rushe

Freelance writer and radio host from Ireland, based in Berlin.

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