How should a successful marketing initiative for a startup operate? It’s possible to jump right into performance marketing immediately after launch, optimizing conversion funnels and squeezing every cent out of ad spend. But I think there’s an important step that precedes performance marketing: community development.
Yesterday, I met with an entrepreneur who was researching how best to build a marketing team for her business. After having spoken to many other founders, she decided to prioritize community management before traditional marketing. She wanted to build a community of people who she could educate about her product, who would use it and become vocal champions.
Later that afternoon, a friend mentioned a recent TED talk by Derek Sivers on how to start a movement. In the video embedded below, Sivers speaks while a video of a man dancing in a park plays behind him and a dance mob slowly builds. Sivers highlights the importance of the first man, but extols the tremendous value the next five or so people who dance and bring their friends. Those first believers ally their tribes to the idea, which forms an avalanche of support.
In both the entrepreneur’s case and the dancer’s case, the key to success is building a community of reference users and evangelists who compound the word of mouth initiatives. Another entrepreneur once wrote to me “marketing is intelligent engagement.” I think that’s the essence of community management - aggregating and cultivating a group of people passionate about your cause or your product. It’s all about building social proof to reinforce your sales process.
ZenDesk, among many others, adopted this strategy. By engaging the customer support community, they were able to grow their business incredibly quickly. Layering on performance marketing or sales after establishing a substantial community of advocates dramatically improved the effectiveness of those awareness campaigns. Potential customers would ask current customers and be persuaded to adopt the product by the community.
The idea of starting a startup’s marketing initiative with community management isn’t a novel one. But it can be a powerful first step in building momentum for a business.
I’ve written two other related posts on marketing, engagement and community: