This is a guest post by Leanne Kent, Marketing Executive at Salad Creative, sharing her knowledge of building startup communities. Salad is a strategy-led brand communications agency and has built a reputation for quality craftsmanship, producing beautifully effective brands and first-class digital experiences for the likes of Mitchells and Butlers, Team England and House of Garrad.
The Importance of a Startup Community
Aside from coming up with a genius business idea, your startup community is genuinely your business’ point of difference and how you engage with them is critical. A community is an inimitable group of people unified by mutual values and trust who are capable of propelling your business from the small-time to the major league.
They’re the driving force behind your product or service. Your unofficial marketing team. And they will become – or may already be – early adopters of your service or product. They’re the perfect investors for your crowdfunding campaign as they’re precisely the people who want to see the business succeed and share in its success. And whether you realise it or not, your community is a home-grown pool of unified folk to hire from as your company evolves.
The People That Make up a Startup Community
Your community starts from the inside out. Whether you are a team of one or a team of fifty, you are the brains behind the business, the team fuelling the fire and most importantly, the advocates for your brand. Maintaining employee engagement is fundamental.
Friends and Family
They are your cheerleaders. Your number one fans. These are the people who’ll give you their faith and generate noise from day one.
They could be buying customers, members, or subscribers to your product or service. The key is to make them feel valued. Less like traditional customers and more like brand advocates who are a part of your journey.
Your Wider Network
This is where your community has room to grow. Are there existing groups in your sector that you can tap into? Perhaps someone in your community has connections who have the same values as yours. Or maybe you could leverage your customer’s existing relationships.
Aligning Your Vision With Your Community
In order to actively engage with your community, it’s crucial that you have your house in order, and at the heart of any community, engagement activity should be a clear value proposition. It should effectively strike a balance between capturing what is unique about your business and what it seeks to achieve, whilst ensuring those attributes are communicated in a way that resonates with your customers. Consider how your business’ beliefs, mission and values align with your community’s desires. Your value proposition will act as a beacon of light which both your external brand ambassadors and your employees will rally around, so make sure it’s something they can believe in. In application, we’ve learnt that brands whose values align with their customers’ are more likely to successfully ‘activate’ excitement amongst their community and ultimately, elicit some kind of action.
Translating Your Mission, Creatively
One of the most effective ways to remain firmly in your community’s minds day after day is through some clever and distinctive creative. A consistent and unique visual brand identity, illustration style, and potentially even brand ‘characters’ will go a long way to helping cement space in people’s minds from day one. Take Rubies in the Rubble, an independent business rescuing surplus ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste, to produce delicious condiments. Rubies created a bold and charming brand identity with vibrantly illustrated labels that undoubtedly stand out on the supermarket shelf. But it doesn’t have to cost the world, beautiful creative can be achieved on a shoestring with the right freelance partner, or if there is more flex in your purse strings, you could approach a specialist brand communications agency.
Bear in mind that your brand creative will have a powerful and significant role when it comes to activating your community because most consumer brands act as lifestyle symbols too. Whether you’re selling healthy soda, fine, handcrafted jewellery or a project management tool, your brand has the opportunity to become synonymous with a certain type of aspirational lifestyle. Do the necessary research by investigating the brands and organisations your community engages with on social media. What makes them attractive to your community? How does your community interact with them? This will help you to build a deeper understanding of the people that make up your community and tailor your brand creative to them.
By putting in the work to craft a brand of distinction early on, you’ll find that drumming up support is made far easier. Instead of asking your community to shout about your healthy soda, you’ve created an identity that being seen to support makes them feel cool or healthy or inherently good about giving back to the planet (for example).
Building a Startup Community
Simply put, the most effective communities are built around a shared problem or desire. Depending on what stage your business is at, engaging with a dedicated group could be the perfect way to diagnose early problems and invite feedback to explore solutions. A trusted community can also act as a ‘safe space’ for you to share ideas in response to a collective need or desire and listen to honest feedback in return.
Your role as the brand owner is to find (reach) the people who share the values and beliefs your business embodies and bring them together on the premise you have something relevant and interesting to offer them. Whether your community exists primarily online or offline, platforms like Facebook remain invaluable to brands building their universe as fans can easily connect to you, follow you and connect with one another.
A large community is not necessarily a prerequisite for success, and more often than not a smaller, highly engaged community yields a stronger sense of loyalty. Think about it like a dinner party – you’d be much more likely to share in genuine conversation and get to know the feelings of your ten dinner party guests than fifty. People relish the chance to be part of something exclusive because those kinds of opportunities are rare, so it’s great to engage with early fans and let them know they’re already a part of something, taking them on the journey with you.
Take Stashbee, an online, sharing-economy platform that connects individuals and businesses who have spare spaces, with people who need them. Described as an Airbnb for storage, the platform enables space owners to set up profiles, and generate revenue from their unused space, and gives space seekers an easy-to-use tool to search for and secure space at short notice. Stashbee cultivated a community around a genuine need which in turn spawned a collective of micro-entrepreneurs running mini storage businesses. Stashbee offered these storage owners an opportunity to reinvest their earnings into the business, launching their second crowdfunding campaign which raised nearly £1M from around 700 investors in a matter of weeks.
To effectively engage with your community, you’ll need to maximise your visibility through ownable brand communication channels and carefully curated touchpoints. Consider the emotional state and the context in which your community will most likely see your message, depending on the time of day and the channels you choose to reach them through. Which touchpoints will be the most effective for you? Consider measuring effectiveness by analysing website traffic and conversion rate to see how many visitors are purchasing your product or simply browsing. Social media and email analytics also offer an abundance of statistics around click rates and impressions. Or, if you’re running an event, there are a number of digital tools that can be implemented to measure guest engagement on the day.
A website is an essential channel for any business, and the ideal platform to direct your community to for updates, insights and exclusive content. When it comes to content, shareable videos like that of Commuter Club’s most recent equity round, are a concise and memorable way to broadcast key messages and product or service benefits to your community. A strategic social media drive can work extremely well when you plan your targeting carefully and have stand-out creative to distil your message. As a great place to start, Seedrs created a handy downloadable guide to the Fundamentals of Scaling Your Startup with Facebook Ads here.
More traditional engagement methods such as PR can work just as effectively when targeting your wider network. A stunt in your HQ city could generate localised press coverage and help to build excitement around a launch. Or interviews with your key stakeholders on relevant national news websites could help to spread your brand story even further. If you’re new to the world of PR, Seedrs created a downloadable guide to help you plan your entire PR strategy here.
For offline community engagement, events are a clear winner. Crafting a one-off or a series of events is a sure-fire way to build on your relationships with your community, uniting them in a physical space to connect over shared values and beliefs. Whether it’s a launch party or an exclusive loyalty event for customers, events are a reliable way to make your community feel valued.
One of the game-changing arenas for strengthening customer relationships is through brilliant customer service. Elevating your customers’ experience can take them from a toe-dipper to won’t-go-anywhere-elser within a single purchasing transaction. Modern customer service has been transformed in recent years, with new challenger bank’s introducing lightning-fast application processes and mattress brand’s offering bookable in-store naps – an unconventional way to “try before you buy”.
By curating an extraordinary brand experience through a number of touchpoints, your business will have the upper hand over competitors as you forge authentic, lasting relationships with customers who’ll place their trust in you. To craft the right experience for your customer, you need to dig deep and ask the right questions. What do our customers need? What do they desire? What makes them happy? How can we delight them? This is an exercise in leaving your assumptions at the door to try to understand your community’s values, infusing each brand interaction with the things that matter most to them. Something as simple as delivering a handwritten note with every first purchase welcoming someone to your tribe and saying ‘thanks for joining us’ can be an incredibly powerful way to connect with people. If your community would appreciate the chance to ‘meet the maker’, you could send a personalised email from the founder inviting your new customer to ask them questions directly. Or take the experience one step further by inviting the customer to your store for a personalised complimentary experience as their ‘Welcome’ gift. Making your community feel important will make all the difference when it comes to engaging their help and building momentum around your campaign or investment efforts.