A woman shops at a Lululemon store in New York. Author Mark Schaefer says the athletic apparel retailer does a good job of creating community around its brand. (Shutterstock photo)

Book Review: Is Community the Last Great Marketing Strategy?

When community becomes your business brand

Back Article May 18, 2023 By Michael Scott

With the COVID-19 pandemic now in the rearview mirror, society’s yearning for human connection and belonging has been re-awakened. Whether in-person or in the digital world, we are all craving community in authentic and purposeful ways.

In his newest book entitled “Belonging to the Brand,” bestselling author and marketing guru Mark Schaefer asserts that the next — and last — great strategic marketing approach will be predicated on a healthy dose of community, connection and belonging. 

With lockdowns and quarantines behind us, he believes that now’s the time for businesses to embrace co-creation and advocacy in delivering the engaging community ecosystems that today’s consumers are increasingly seeking. 

In an excerpt from his book that expands upon this theme, Mark writes:

“In a world where fewer customers see or trust our ads, the white-hot competition of content marketing isn’t sustainable, and profitable success with search engine strategies is out of reach for many businesses.”  

He contends that today’s new marketing approach should emphasize community; namely, the intersection between belongingness with brand. Here, customers are aligned with the company, its brand tenets and what they stand for. As he writes in his book:

“Helping a person belong to something represents the ultimate marketing achievement. If a customer opts into an engaging, supportive and relevant brand community, we no longer need to lure them into our orbit with ads and SEO, right? What we used to consider marketing is essentially over.”

Excitement for Schaefer’s futuristic projections began back in 2017 when his book “The Tao of Twitter” presented radically different views on the practicality of social media. Since then, he has written nine additional books focusing on marketing, social media and the influencer economy. 

In “Belonging to the Brand,” he provides insights on how three global megatrends are colliding, fueling community as the new epicenter in the marketing world. 

Schaefer offers a thoughtful look at why businesses often overlook the value of community as a marketing strategy despite its growing popularity among consumers. Filled with a smorgasbord of ideas and pragmatic case examples, “Belonging to the Brand” is a must-read for business leaders or entrepreneurs seeking to successfully pivot in today’s rapidly evolving digital marketing and customer relations landscape. 

Asked by phone about the main catalyst behind his decision to write the book, Schaeffer had this to say:

“Writing a book is such an important decision. It’s a commitment, because when you have a theme, you better be right about it, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with it.  You’re going to be sacrificing many months of your life over this idea.” 

He said that the idea around “Belonging to the Brand” first started to take hold for him back in 2018 when he wrote a book called “Marketing Rebellion” which helps readers re-imagine the future of marketing. 

“There was a chapter in ‘Marketing Rebellion’ where I predicted that belonging and social connection would play a pivotal role in the future of community,” he says. “Then, boom, a short time later, we’re in the midst of a pandemic where we’re locked in and we’re locked down and we’re lonely and we’re isolated. People sought out online communities in droves and businesses started to take it more seriously. People started telling me, ‘Mark, all these ideas you had are coming true right now.’”

In his book, Schaefer cites examples of a number of companies that are fostering belongingness through careful attention to their community and brand. One such company is the multinational athletic apparel retailer Lululemon, founded in 1998. He points to how the brand’s customers are called “The Sweat Collective,” as a way of unifying and inspiring people with an active lifestyle. 

Here, Lululemon fosters what Schaefer calls “unique, inclusive community-led experiences in its stores, its neighborhoods and online.” Included here are belonging experiences like in-store yoga classes, a 10K community race, and areas for gatherings and events. He notes that a year before a store opens in a new location, Lululemon scouts the local landscape to identify and connect with prominent yoga, exercise and other sorts of wellness instructors who may have an interest in becoming community ambassadors. 

“At the end of the day, people need community,” Schaefer says. “And in my view, it’s the only type of marketing people actually want amid this world of ads, marketing pitches and other sorts of in-your-face marketing approaches we are often subjected to. Whether digital or in-person, when there’s a commitment to building community, you naturally attract people who love you and support you and will buy whatever you have for them.” 

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