Community power – our latest virtual Geekmeet with 100 brands

‘We were weeks away from going bust, so we decided to be completely transparent with our loyal community of Snagglers and ask them for their support through a Facebook SOS. We offered them two tights for the price of one, but the ‘snag’ was that they would pay now and only get both pairs in November. We were shocked when we managed to raise £1.4m in five days!”
 
This was one of the most powerful opening gambits we’ve ever had at one of our quarterly Geekmeets where we had a record 100 founders, CEOs and directors of ecommerce and marketing join us virtually.
 
We have known Brie Read for many years, from her days as Managing Director of a Piper partner brand, Diet Chef. She has since done a remarkable job in launching and growing one of the UK’s fastest-growing ecommerce brands, Snag Tights, by using the power of its community.
 
The brand’s combination of purpose and community that has been especially powerful. Snag’s mission in pushing for radical size inclusivity and body positivity translates into everything it does. For one, it only uses customers in its photography, with Brie calling herself a ‘Size Acceptance Campaigner’.
 
Emails and letters from mums saying just how thankful they are for a world where their daughters see pride in their body shape are as good a gauge as any of the impact Snag is having on society. 30,000 people joining Facebook Live to watch its ‘face of sexy tights’ competition, more than the viewership of some TV shows, is another.
 
Impressively, its fast growth has not involved sending out a single email or offering any discounts. With 225,000 Facebook and 120,000 Instagram followers, all conversations are through organic social engagement. Brie and her team are advocates of ‘extreme ownership’ where customers have an emotional stake in their success. This means they have an impressive 4.8/5 online rating from 32,000 reviews, achieve a 73% repeat purchase rate, and receive on average 25-50 pieces of user-generated-content every day. As Seth Godin says, ‘What you say is not nearly as important as what others say about you.’
 
Loyalty is driven by the engagement customers have with the brand. If brands can create a space where people can talk to others with like-minded values and interests, fostering a feeling of belonging, they will win their loyalty. Communities exist to serve the people in them and that, in turn, propels a conversation among them. Snag does this by facilitating conversations about important, emotional and often untouched topics such as ‘It’s my wedding day and I’m plus size’ or ‘If walking down the street, are you scared of expressing who you are?’
 
Joining Brie at our Geekmeet was Jaclyn Crocker from Duel, an international platform that helps monitor and engage with communities. She spoke about customers who are no longer basing their loyalty on price or product. Whereas most companies are designed to push sales, the best companies (what we at Piper call ‘brand legends’) are engineered to drive word of mouth.
 
She spoke about how imperative it is that brands invest in communities through a long-term vision that is not immediately sales led but builds off an already existing passion point where the product is not the focus. Over time this will generate free traffic and word of mouth acquisition that will drive down or maintain future CPAs.
 
In her previous role as GM of Retail and Community at lululemon, Jaclyn pushed through myriad initiatives that drove community engagement, in particular using employees as a driver of the community. Every team member (25,000 globally) was seen as a brand ambassador and advocate.
 
Customers use lululemon stores for trusted advice on the best yoga, Pilates and meditation instructors in the local area. Together with regular yoga and Pilates workouts in their stores, they have become a centrepiece of their community. They supplement this with one-off events such as the 2,000-person yoga class in Duke of York Square Sea and the Wheeze mini-marathon, London meditation buses, online book clubs and tapped into other communities such as Strava.
 
At our partner brands, we see community building as a business strategy rather than a marketing strategy. Some of our brands have a name for their tribes – ‘Framers’ (Frame), ‘Bayers’ (Turtle Bay) – while the likes of Mindful Chef, Wattbike or Orlebar Brown (#OBsAroundTheWorld) are naturally full of fanatics.
 
Our focus is on helping them make their service as good if not better than the product, building advocacy and word of mouth through exceptional personalised customer service. This also means helping our brands empower staff to focus on the customer, spending time listening (everyone at Bloom & Wild, no matter of their role, still does shifts on the customer services phone line) and surprising and delighting. Above all, this also creates a great team culture.
 
Importantly, given the somewhat intangible nature of community building, prioritising it has been proven to be a big driver of value. Gymshark’s recent £1bn valuation was priced on the strength of its community both digitally and offline. Throughout their journey, this meant scouting and nurturing a community of athletes who acted as ambassadors. Like Snag and lululemon, it still focuses more on overarching brand messaging and user-generated-content – its app is non-transactional and less than 15% of its communication is selling products.
 
Consumers are savvy so it is important to be genuine in using influencers that subscribe to your brand values and mission. Influencers can become your super fans just like your customers, both of whom are the basis of the beginnings of a community. Identifying and taking them on the brand journey as the business grows can be transformational.
 
If you do this authentically and things go wrong, your community will stand by you like they would for a friend. If that isn’t enough, just buy them a sofa as Snag did when a pair of tights discoloured a customer’s sofa. Then you’ll have a friend for life.

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