Best Practices for Effective Community Marketing: An Interview with Michael Brenner
Communities don’t just magically grow on their own. In addition to time and dedication, engaging content, and a curated member base, community growth requires a well thought out marketing strategy. To learn the latest tips and tricks, we spoke with Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, an empathy-driven marketing agency that believes that creating positive and helpful content, facilitating genuine human connection, and practicing meaningful leadership are the keys to unlocking massive community growth.
Brenner helps hundreds of brands drive organic traffic, increase leads and turn leads into clients, by implementing strategies that solve customers' real problems. Over the last decade, he has become a best selling author and international keynote speaker on topics that include business culture, leadership and meaningful marketing. He’s been named a Top Business Speaker by The Huffington Post and a Top CMO Influencer by Forbes. Today, Michael spoke with Panion to share his insights on best practices for community marketing and how to bring people together in ways that actually create impact.
Panion: Tell us about your background and early career. How did you first become interested in applying empathy to marketing and business?
Michael: In my very first job, I found empathy was the key to sales success after I naively tried pushing products on people I didn’t know. Once I started asking them questions about their job, their life, their hometown, their favorite restaurant, I found that people opened up. They even started asking how they could help me. Showing an interest in other people goes a long way!
Panion: Back in 2010, you started your innovative blog ¨B2B Marketing Insider¨. Ten years later, what major ways has community building changed?
Michael: There weren’t nearly as many people as today who were actively blogging or sharing content on social media in 2010, especially people in marketing or high level executives.
Most people and almost all companies are sharing some type of content through social channels today. I always tell clients that it’s never too late to get involved in the conversation. Looking back, it feels like a recurring party that keeps getting bigger and there are always new people to meet and new relationships to build.
Panion: We’ve seen entrepreneurs both starting new and reviving old brands. How can communities be used to build a brand?
Michael: The community is the brand. The brand is the perception of your company that exists in the minds of your community members. That’s why tapping into the power and passion of your people is the best way to build community and to increase the amount of trust in your brand.
Panion: Building loyalty in a community can be a major challenge. How did you convince your earliest members to trust you - especially before online communities became normalized? Can those techniques still be used today?
Michael: Building trust is earned, whether online or offline. We earn it by telling the truth, treating others with respect, communicating to your teams as peers. Those techniques work in any situation, now and in the future.
Panion: You have also spoken about ¨yesterday’s ideas not working today¨. Can you think of one example of an outdated idea and an innovative alternative you have discovered?
Michael: You don’t walk into a party and tell people how great you are. And yet, there are plenty of people who still think that works. When we meet new people, we typically start by asking them about themselves. Not talking about ourselves.
Panion: Alternatively, can you think of an innovative idea or experiment that hasn’t worked when growing a community? Why?
Michael: Outside of the fashion, cosmetic, or nutrition industries, I don’t think using influencers is a great way to build a community. I do, however, recommend businesses to form strategic relationships with influencers. Get them involved in a way that helps both sides, more like a collaboration.
Panion: Using analytics is a huge part of tracking the success of an online network. What advice do you have for managers who are less experienced in this field?
Michael: I don’t know if there is a good way to measure your community. It’s kind of like trying to figure out the ROI of your friend group. Instead, I recommend looking at the engagement of your community and your groups within it. Ask them how they feel and if they would recommend you as a community manager, or recommend your community to others.
Panion: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how challenging 2020 has been. Have you felt like last year’s events have emboldened your passion for empathy and keeping a community feeling positive and engaged?
Michael: According to Google, the number of searches for the term ¨empathy¨ has doubled in 2020 compared to 2019. When so many people are struggling in a tough situation, we look to others for comfort. And I think the interest in empathy will continue to grow as we learn that it truly is the secret to success in both business and life.
Panion: What projects or campaigns are you excited for in 2021?
Michael: In 2021, many businesses are re-discovering the power of storytelling, thought leadership, and basic helpful content as the foundation of their business websites. We are excited to be riding this wave. Our agency, Marketing Insider Group is seeing huge growth from big brands and startups alike who are shifting away from promotion to marketing content that actually helps people.
With extensive experience in marketing strategies that convert, Michael Brenner, Author of ¨The Content Formula¨, profoundly transforms businesses by shifting the focus from traditional advertising campaigns to recognizing and solving real customer needs. Panion’s mission to enable more meaningful connections within communities is very much aligned with Brenner’s work, which is why we are so honored he has taken the time to share his story and his insights with us today.