The words “consumer” or “buyer” can be dehumanizing. They treat humans as pawns in the game of buying. As objects that are easily manipulated by advertisers’ compelling copy or the pose of an airbrushed model. As mindless zombies following the customer buying cycle model: awareness, assessment, decision, achievement, repeat.
The word “community” goes beyond this. It places value on people interacting with a brand. It recognizes that the brand is part of something larger than itself. That it’s not an outsider, but, rather, part of a group. And most importantly, it suggests that a brand’s community has a stake in the company.
The difference between these words is more than semantics. It relates to deeper, meaningful themes that reflect the type of work we like to do at New Kind. We believe the best brands engage their community by truly listening to what they have to say, and making decisions based on how they are affected. The best brands aren’t focused on marketing to their “consumers.” They’re focused on learning and growing with their community.
Keeping it real
Recently, one brand has emerged as an awesome example of a community-focused brand: Glossier. Founded by Emily Weiss—the creator of digital beauty mecca Into the Gloss—Glossier is “inspired by what girls need in real life.” And Glossier interacts with their community in an unprecedented and unique way.
One of their latest products, the Milky Jelly Cleanser was partially designed by the people who would eventually use it. The Glossier team posted a question about what people’s dream face wash would be. People responded. “Seaweed extract!” “Something gentle and suitable for every skin type please!” “SLS-free!” “pH at 5.5 or lower!” Glossier listened. They iterated. They designed an awesome face wash. (I have tried it, and can personally attest to its awesomeness.)
In addition to putting something as technical as product development in the hands of their community, they also employ a community-focused strategy to promotion and social media. On their Instagram account—which is one of their primary marketing tools—they repost images of real people using Glossier products more often than they do images of their own models. The Instagram hashtags #Glossier, #GlossierPink, and #GlossierGirl are all vibrant (and very pink!) streams of photos and praise. In addition, Glossier relies heavily on word-of-mouth promotion, rather than in-your-face campaigns.
Through both working with their community to develop and promote their products, Glossier maintains a face of authenticity—a value that deeply resonates with the younger generations who buy Glossier. Glossier isn’t about covering up. It’s not about being someone you’re not. It’s not about making unrealistic claims about beauty. It’s about listening, interacting, and giving people what they really want.
In this way, Glossier is an outsider in the skincare and makeup industries. These industries have historically been “top-down” marketing environments; brands make sweeping claims about a product’s anti-aging, anti-acne, anti-freckle, anti-any-flaw-whatsoever attributes and hope that people believe them. They present a dichotomous world: Brightness vs. dullness. Smoothness vs. wrinkles. Blemish-free vs. acne-ridden. They’re like those “friends” who actually make you feel like crap because they’re always pointing out the negatives.
And often, skincare brands feed off of most people’s ambivalence and unawareness about ingredients. “Dermatologist recommended” is so common on cosmetic product packaging that it’s almost cliché. Think about the last time you bought a skincare product. Did you think about the ingredients in it? Or did you read the front packaging and listen to what it told you it could do for your skin?
But this is changing.
Power to the people
In a world where honest reviews are becoming the new “dermatologist recommendation” and people have access to a wealth of skincare knowledge through the Internet, shouldn’t more skincare brands be adopting a community-focused, skin-positive philosophy like Glossier? The average person may not be a chemist, but they definitely have the ability to say, “Hey, this is working.” Or, “Hey, this ingredient makes me bright red and peel-y.”
Glossier gets it. They’ve empowered their fans and, because of this, they’ve developed a successful brand that works with, rather than opposition to, their community.