Where should you focus brand efforts? Community or customer?

It has become a truism in marketing that you should stay focused on your customers. In most of our organizations, we are attempting to sell something to make a profit. We need customers.

But I often use the word community in places where most people would use the word customer. Why? Am I just being naive about what pays the bills for our organizations to continue to thrive? Am I committing heresy by not staying focused on just customers?

I don’t think so.

I believe that the dogged focus on marketing to customers alone has created a myopic view that makes us ignore many of the important people who interact with our brands.

Customers are important; most organizations couldn’t exist without them. So what is the issue?

Customers are not just listening to us anymore.

When organizations focus on only interacting with customers rather than taking a holistic view of the entire brand community, they forget that in the twenty-first century, the version of the brand represented by the organization might only be a small percentage of the brand the customer sees. Where is the rest of the story coming from?

Everyone else who interacts with the brand: the brand community.

When rolling out brand positioning, ad-free brands understand that it matters what everyone thinks about the brand—not just the customers. By understanding and planning your interactions with all of the communities around your brand, you have a chance to impact the customers’ views of who you are in a much deeper way than if you were just speaking to customers directly through marketing and advertising.

And that’s just if you are only concerned with the success of your business itself. If you are a nonprofit or a member of the growing breed of socially responsible businesses interested in benefitting the communities they serve while remaining for-profit, you’ll see even greater benefits from this approach.

So should you be focused on customers? Absolutely. But just remember that you aren’t the only folks talking to your customers about your brand. When you build a brand strategy that ensures the positioning resonates with all the people around your brand and not just customers, you’ll be on the path to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships with the communities surrounding your brand–and you’ll probably be heard by potential customers who would have never given you the time of day otherwise.

This is the eighth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.

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