How to Build & Nurture a Community During The Age of Social Distancing

In the age of social distancing, how do we build and nurture a community around our brand? In this video, I discuss the value of a brand community and how to build one while everyone is encouraged to socially distance from one another. 

A brand community is a community of not just your loyal customers but also of your fans who function like brand ambassadors. Members of a brand community actively promote your brand’s products and services to their peers. Herein lies the value of a brand community: having customers ensure steady sales, brand ambassadors foster sales growth.  

What are examples of brand communities? Think of fans of Disney, Lego, or Apple. Fans of these brands converge in online forums and groups to talk about their love for the brand—whether about new products that will be launching soon, or the hunt for old collectibles or merchandise, or even about their experiences, both negative and positive. You’ll find fans posting about their love for the brand on their personal networks, too—maybe a photo from a visit to a Disney park, a new build from Lego, or even their new iPhone. 

While big brands and big companies have been at the forefront, many smaller businesses are applying these in a smaller scale. And these communities have been the secret of how many small businesses have been able to stay afloat during this pandemic. Complemented by a business pivot, which I discussed in the video called the #CovidPivot (link forthcoming), having a highly engaged community has been crucial to the survival and even success of small businesses during this health crisis. 

So what can small businesses do today to build and nurture their own brand community? Here are 3 practical ways that you can apply today: 

(1) Offer compassion, empathy, and solutions to customers 

Now, more than ever, there is a need for empathy and compassion towards our customers. Many are affected by the pandemic, and it would be tone-deaf to market products and services as if things have not changed drastically. We cannot just focus on just selling. It sounds tone-deaf, insensitive, and selfish. That said, a business still needs to be run, and we still need to earn our keep.  

So how do we balance our need to market our products and services with being compassionate and empathic to the needs of our customers? The simple answer is by offering real, practical, and reasonable solutions. After all, aren’t we in business to offer solutions to our customers’ pain points?  

More than that, there is also a need to acknowledge these pain points—we let our customers know that we see these problems, we understand these problems, and we are in the business of solving their problems. 

Think of how Single O (link to CovidPivot video), a café located in Sydney, responded when the Australian government imposed social distancing measures. They created a new product, a coffee brew called Stimulus, which customers can brew at home. It did not stop there—they continued to develop new products and offerings based on what their customers needed. They put up a corner store to sell pantry items, predicting that some of their customers will experience some supply issues for some essentials.  

Another company, Whole Kids Australia, offered kids snack bundles through their online store which may be delivered for free to their customers. It’s a great solution for a busy mom who needs to balance working from home while taking care of kids who are forced to stay indoors because of the pandemic.  

They offer empathy and compassion in their marketing messaging by recognising the difficulty that parents face juggling work, chores, and kids. And because the founders themselves are parents to school-aged kids, the message comes off as authentic and empathic. It reinforces the message that Whole Kids understands their customers’ pain points. 

(2) Be more transparent 

Building a community requires building trust. Trust comes from being honest and transparent.  

If you can’t offer the same level of service for reasons brought by the global pandemic or due to the government restrictions put in place to address the spread of the coronavirus—it’s time to come clean and say it. If you have to limit the number of people in your store, let your customers know. If you need to change certain things around your store or need to add safety measures to protect your customers and your staff, let them know. Acknowledge that these changes might affect wait times or the level of convenience that your customers are used to. 

In the United States, there is a Texas-based Korean BBQ restaurant that offers a notable example of how transparency in marketing works. As events around Austin were cancelled and the government forced restaurants to close their dining rooms, the owner of Chilantro took to social media to explain how this affects their business. He offered solutions to customers on how they can enjoy Chilantro dishes in their own homes. He also came clean as to how government measures are impacting his business.  

He was upfront about the fact that given how they serve Chilantro meals, where customers come in to assemble their own customised bowls, things changed drastically for them. As a result, sales weren’t doing well, but that he is pivoting so that he can keep paying his staff. He frequently addressed his customers through social media, letting them know which of his several locations were open for pick up or take out, and what meals were available.  

Today, Texas is slowly lifting restrictions and are now allowing dining rooms to open, provided certain measures are put in place. Chilantro remains open and in business, thanks to a brand community that it was able to build and nurture prior to the pandemic and even through the health crisis. 

(3) Talk about your employees—the faces behind your brand. 

Your brand community includes the people who work behind the brand—that means your staff. Why? Because your employees are also your brand ambassadors. In times of crisis, it matters how we take care of our own. It also matters how we recognise them. 

Chilantro has been featuring their in-store employees on their social media pages, to recognise their hard work and because they are the faces that customers see whenever they walk into any Chilantro restaurant or food truck. These are the people who lovingly prepare their rice bowls and burritos.  

If you haven’t already, it’s time to introduce these faces—the faces of your employees to the customers and acknowledge their contribution in your marketing message. Let customers know that these are the faces helping behind the scenes.  

Doing so humanises your brand. It lets your customers know that people who care are behind every product, every service, every interaction, every experience. And that’s really all there is to it in any community—people who care about each other, people who help each other, and people who support one another. In the most difficult of times, we all need care, help, and support. 

How are you doing? I hope that, through my videos, I have been helpful to you, especially during these challenging times. If you think you need further assistance or just want to chat, I would encourage you to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you. 



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