it's a relationship


3 steps to shift from audience to community

June 20, 2014

Any savvy marketing department, sales team or innovation lab is innately aware of a distinct shift in their sector, from one of a passive audience orientation to one of a collaborative community.

Let’s start by wrapping our heads around those terms, audience and community. Audiences are often created as segments, arranged by demographic or psychographic data. Community is formed as an audience evolves from possessing common traits to having a shared purpose and then taking action. (We could easily fall down a rabbit hole here in pursuit of academic purity of our definitions, but work with these for now.)

So if the days of tailoring tactics to audience segments have passed, how do brands or causes make the shift to becoming a facilitator within a community?

First you must understand why communities form: shared purpose. The shared purpose is a community’s vision of what can be achieved together. Being clear about your brand or cause’s shared purpose will draw the most valuable members to your work and repel those who would be a distraction or worse, slow you down. Patagonia, as an aspirational brand, does this at every touchpoint, using consumerism and clothing as a hook to raise awareness of living in a more ecologically conservative way and encouraging preservation of the places in which their clothes are designed to be worn.

With a crystal clear shared purpose your community members will be ready to take action. This is where members’ aspirational identities show up. An aspirational identity is who you are constantly striving to become. It’s not limited by what you do—like your job title—it’s how you approach everything, regardless of the job. Every community has roles that leverage aspirational identities; builders, connectors, sharers, curators, storytellers and innovators. The roles each need and offer different things to achieve your brand or cause’s shared purpose. Patagonia does this in many ways. For example, it may be low-tech but as a “curator” I’ve been known to rip pages from their catalogs and share them with friends to convey a point of view or suggest a destination for the next trip.

With all the roles invited and aspirations activated it will take clearly-aligned rewards to sustain the interaction with your community. While money often pops to mind first when talk of rewards comes up, our experience has demonstrated that experiential and reputational rewards are critical to sustained commitment. Exclusive experiences like customer film screenings after hours are an example of what I’ve taken part of as a Patagonia devotee. Customer photos or essays being featured throughout each catalog are a reputational reward, visible to all in the brand community.

So how does an existing organization make this shift?
Consider starting with an incubator, one area of a business or even your own department. Shifting the focus from pushing messages to instead inviting collaboration toward a common goal while realizing participant aspirations is a worthwhile tactic. Brands like Patagonia and causes like are seeing the value in increased loyalty and advocacy as well as innovation sourcing. These brands are out front, and you can be to. Make the shift.

Charlie presented as a Guide at the exclusive SHIFT Summit event in Mountain View, CA June 10-12. SHIFT Summit is combining the compelling storytelling of TED, the digital creativity of Khan Academy, and the intellectual rigor of Harvard Business School.

3 steps to shift from audience to community

Charlie Brown

CEO & Founder


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