Why belonging is good for business

With everything that’s happened in 2020, the importance of community has become more evident. Communities offer a sense of belonging that like-minded people are hungry for, and the surge in attention around their value is no coincidence. Communities are chosen through a process of self-discovery, of shared circumstances, resulting in that feeling of togetherness. In the end, a person doesn’t simply belong to a community; in more than one way, they become that community.

And communities, because of their impact, their authenticity, their engaging nature, they’re alluring to brands as well.

As marketers, we’re just beginning to understand and tap into communities. Because community marketing fits between the more traditional and understood disciplines of mass and personalized marketing, it’s easy to get confused or miss the mark on how to authentically engage with communities as a marketing tactic.

To understand the keys to success, we explored what community means today, paying particular attention to digital platforms, the role of individuals within those platforms, and how community can nourish the human need to belong. Then we analyzed some of the most effective and meaningful community marketing initiatives and how those brands interact in mutually beneficial relationships with those communities.

The result of that research is the foundation of The Belong Project. We took the project a step further, creating a new metric — the Sid Lee Community Quotient — to help marketers measure their strength of attachment to communities.

Through our research, we have identified four recurring factors that make up the Community Quotient and cultivate true human belonging: identity (the emotional attachment to the group), social capital (the influence and impact of each member of the group), oneness (the cohesion and similarity between group members), and mobilization (action potential to deliver on a common goal).

Throughout our research, one key insight stood out: brands don’t own communities.

Not only that, but brands shouldn’t try to create or own communities; communities are created, owned and operated by people. That’s an important mindset shift for marketers. What brands should instead focus on is how to enable communities, empower them, and participate in them. The results of doing that can create powerful network effects. As engagement grows, communities get smarter and more responsive, thereby generating more value for a brand.

As a marketer, this might be easier said than done, but the solution lies in observing your customers in a new light. In addition to representing them as demographic and customer segments, you should also be attentive to the communities your customers belong to. Where do they find purpose in their lives? Where are the physical and digital spaces they dwell in? What are they doing there? And why? Understanding not only who they are but how they define themselves is vital to community marketing.

For context, here are three projects where Sid Lee was able to build upon traditional marketing tactics and help brands successfully attach to naturally occurring communities to cultivate belonging and deliver results.

The resonance of an outsider
Back in 2014, the Toronto Raptors were on the cusp of celebrating their 20th anniversary and were looking for a new identity and brand campaign not only to support this milestone and expand their fan base, but also to attract and retain sought-after NBA players.

The communities to which the Raptors belonged were easy to identify: first, by location, Toronto, and second, by sport, in this case basketball. Within those two communities emerged a clear belonging cue: that of Canada’s status as an NBA outsider.

We the North was born out of an identity-shaping truth firmly rooted in the culture of not just a city, but a whole country. The Raptors, the only NBA team north of the U.S. border, embraced their outsider status and sparked a movement that spread across the country, igniting a sense of patriotism and belonging with first-, second- and third-generation Canadians who had also, upon arrival, felt like an outsider.

To this day, even after their 2019 NBA championship win, We The North is still the rallying cry that enables the Raptors and their fans to take pride in their Canadian identity. In addition to unifying an entire country, through strategic partnerships the campaign received $1.1 million in earned media and generated an ROI of 378%. The effort drove new purchaser ticket sales that exceeded the sales targets by 18%. And in one year, brand health scores showed that brand connection surpassed objectives by growing 14.7 points to 63%, making the Raptors the highest-scoring MLSE team for brand connection.

The relevance of a community member
TikTok, the latest social app to land in a sea of social apps, was looking to increase their brand awareness through their social media accounts with the intention of increasing TikTok app downloads. Their social interactions had, up until now, left much to be desired as they were using traditional methods in untraditional media spaces.

TikTok’s community realms were anchored in the digital leisure category by the simple nature of the app, with a strong inclination towards lifestyle, dance, and entertainment content supported and amplified by influencer culture. The belonging cue for TikTok was to become a part of its community – to speak organically as a member of the community rather than blatantly speaking to the community.

To shift people’s perception of TikTok as a faceless corporation to TikTok as a community friend, a social persona was created to head their communications. This younger, first-person character would actively participate with the community with confidence and authority. A good example of how this tactic came to life to mobilize engagement is #TikTacos.

Sid Lee created a TikTok takeover of “Taco Tuesdays” by rewarding fans who posted their favorite TikTok video on Twitter with the hashtag #TikTacos. Users were then given a digital gift card for a free taco from Chipotle or Taco Bell. The #TikTacos hashtag became the #3 trending topic on Twitter and the campaign generated 20 million organic impressions, 33.6K brand mentions, and 50K engagements. It’s campaigns such as this one that contributed to TikTok becoming the most downloaded app in the world with more than two billion cumulative downloads.

The role of the Camp Counselor
The North Face is all about the great outdoors and recreational activities, but when the world came to a halt, the brand quickly realized that “typical” seasonal activities, including summer camps, were no longer going to be possible in a traditional way and looked for a thoughtful alternative to engage with its customers.

Typically associated with individuals and families living an active outdoor lifestyle, The North Face’s belonging cue focused on cultivating parents’ sense of oneness around nature and wanting to share that with their children, especially during this difficult time.

The brand stepped in to inspire both parents and kids to explore the outdoors with fun and educational activities through a free virtual summer camp experience. In addition to giving tired parents a helping hand, the camp boasted world-class athletes who shared their knowledge over the span of two weeks. In total, 20,423 people signed up for the camp, 80% of which were new members to The North Face. The campaign generated a total of 156 million impressions and 135 million earned media impressions, in addition to boosting e-commerce activities by $83,523. Email open rates for camp activities were a whopping 40%.

Ultimately, there are multiple ways for brands to authentically attach to communities. Whether it’s through cultivating identity, social capital, oneness, or mobilization, the goal is the same: to participate in existing communities.

Many brands have been doing this exceedingly well in the last few years, and we identified 10 in particular that thrived in 2020 using this new context of community marketing. To dig deeper on the subject, and to find out who the 10 brands that earned a place on Sid Lee’s Belong Index 2020 are, visit The Belong Project's website.