Last week I was out for a few meetings and coincidentally they all took me to Starbucks outlets in their respective localities. What struck me was that neither of us particularly liked coffee, but its allied attributes drew us to the outlets. The multinational chain seems like a convenient place given its extensive presence. Add to that the aspirational quotient it brings and an office worker’s need for a break from a mundane schedule.
But the most significant observation was that each of the outlets was packed and many of those lounging around went beyond being just another paying customer. Completely at ease, they chatted, celebrated or worked quietly. The staff seemed familiar with regulars, bringing them their favorite beers without much specific instruction.
So it’s not just the coffee that draws people to Starbucks, it’s the experience. The feeling of being part of a family in a big impersonal metropolis where you can feel alone even in the crowd. This feeling of belonging distinguishes a merchandised product from its competitors and this is what we call “community marketing”.
This type of brand loyalty to a specific community takes years to build and must be nurtured with great care, consideration, and consistency. But ultimately, it’s worth it, because in very crowded markets, customer experience (CX) stands out as an important driver of brand loyalty. According to a Salesforce Research report, 80% of customers surveyed agree that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services, while 67% are willing to pay more for a good experience.
Starbucks has harnessed this art of community building through an impeccable experience, masterfully. Arguably, creating such experiences and building relationships is easier when the business involves face-to-face interactions. But, given that we live in a digitalized world, it’s equally important for digital-focused businesses to enter this space and create willing advocates who will stand behind the brand and its offerings.
And, these advocates don’t have to be the customers! Companies need to tap into their internal ambassadors, i.e. employees, to generate that sense of community and camaraderie. There’s a lot going on there too. This Valentine’s Day, I’ve watched many companies reach out not just to their employees for lasting association, but even to ex-employees. What caught my eye amid the clutter was that Tata CLiQ professes an undying love for its former employees. Impressive gift bags and touching messages were sent to them to revive the association and create a club feeling.
Even on social media, Tata CLiQ tagged them with funny, quirky and tongue-in-cheek messages like “We were both at a loss, but we broke up. Still, the good times should never be forgotten, so I wish you a wonderful #Valentine’s Day!”
These employees responded with their own messages of appreciation, and given that they are no longer part of the organization, their opinions came across as genuine and unbiased, making Tata CliQ a valued premium brand in a crowded market. of competitors. The exercise also helped build mutual trust between customers, which led to growth in word-of-mouth.
NASA, the American space agency, has taken this community association a step further by including everyone and anyone interested in the space world. He keeps coming up with innovative campaigns targeting his 26 million followers. For example, during its Mars 2020 mission, NASA’s InSight 2018 lander, the Perseverance Rover, carried the names of 10,932,295 people engraved on “fingernail-sized chips” to the Red Planet where humans haven’t set foot yet. Such was the popularity of the “Send Your Name to Mars” campaign that NASA reopened it for the next million names to rise during the 2026 mission.
Through this journey of exploration and discovery, casual collaborators are transformed into vocal brand advocates. And NASA Science and the impact of its brand on society are seen and appreciated by more people around the world.
As a brand watcher, it’s also a great crisis strategy – collecting enough goodwill in good times and using it in times of crisis, to limit brand reputation damage to a scratch or a kick in the fingers. The strong positive equity and sense of community can be harnessed in the event of a tragic disaster like the Challenger mission in 1986 or the Columbia mission in 2003.
The differentiator of community-led marketing is that it can be leveraged by businesses, regardless of their industry, to develop brand advocates among stakeholders. A sense of belonging developed through inexpensive, real, and meaningful engagement initiatives can generate long-term goodwill and loyalty that no advertising campaign can provide. Add to that tangible business results and protection against crises, contributing enormously to the company’s reputation.