Which is first: your brand or your community?

There is a misconception that if we build a brand, the community will come based on the strength and positioning of our brand.  This is what all the great marketing textbooks have led us to believe and told us to follow.  While it could be true for large-budgeted brands with endless marketing budgets, for small enterprises, the opposite is true; a brand is built on its community.  If you are wanting to build a successful enterprise, this rule of thumb could be a vital key to your success.

The greatest example of this is the U.S. motorbike manufacturer, Harley Davidson.  They have one of the most loyal followings of any brand and if it wasn’t for their strong community following, the brand would have most likely fallen into oblivion, just like other great motorcycle brands have in the past; brands such as Indian and Royal Enfield, (although recently, there’s been a resurgence of these brands, again based on their community loyalty).  Another great example of this is, vinyl records, which have made a resurgence over the last decade, (which was never lost by die-hard enthusiasts).  It sounds counterintuitive, but it does work, and I will explain why.  

It’s a case of the “Chicken and Egg Principle”. So, what comes first; the chicken or the egg?  Naturally, the question is how does one build a community if there is no brand in the first place?  Well, there is a second rule: Give them a reason to follow and connect with you.  Offer your potential community member an angle, an insider’s view, or just engaging content, that will drive them to want to join and follow you.  

The key to this rule is tapping into the early adopters’ or innovators’ market.  These days, they are also known as influencers.  This market is most often not satisfied with its existing solution and/or is always looking for novelty or the next big thing and therefore, are willing to take a risk on that novelty.  

Note: your business should initially avoid the mainstream market until you have established your customer base, and are wanting to grow your business, as they are good at ignoring you because they simply don’t care about taking a risk on novelty.

When I started building my online entrepreneurship academy, I began by building my community based on the common interest of people wanting to learn “how to start a business”.  My original idea was to run face-to-face courses (pre-COVID) on this topic and then advertise the courses on Facebook.  Through our customer enquiries I was able to directly connect with the people that were interested, even before I had proper course content, (let alone my brand).  I then established a Facebook group and asked interested people to join it, offering the “hook” of interesting content and special offers on new courses, (if they couldn’t make it this time around or if the classes were full).  The group grew organically very quickly to over 2,000 followers within 12 months.  I started by posting interesting content on entrepreneurship and leadership, whilst I was building my online business to keep building an engaged audience base.  From there, I was able to start building a captive audience and database (through Facebook outreach), that I could easily market to.  This then made it an easy transition to a targeted audience through advertising or indirectly through the group.  

The caveat to building an online community is to remember that “salesy” content should not constitute more than 30% of group posts, whilst the remaining 70% should be interesting and engaging educational content mixed with inspiring memes (which seem to be really popular).  This is what builds trust in your brand.  Too much “salesy” content just drives people away, as they feel they are being pitched to.

So, if you are about to start (or have just started) a business and are wondering how to build your new brand, the secret answer is to build your community first.  If you are unable to build your community, then you should seriously reconsider starting or doing your business, as there may not be a need for your product or service, or worse, you have entered a marketplace with a crowded offering that provides no unique points of difference.  By not being unique it doesn’t allow prospects to clearly differentiate your product or service offering, providing them no reason to swap to your brand.

By Tobi Nagy