Customer Communities 101: A Beginner’s Guide For Marketers

Steve Hamrick

The Internet is a depthless pool of information. People can find virtually anything they want online, from the number of possible configurations to solve a Rubik’s Cube (43,252,003,274,489,856,000) to the average time it takes to read Leo Tolstoy’s 587,287-word War and Peace (32.63 hours).

Every day, marketers are challenged to provide existing and prospective buyers with the right content to increase brand awareness, drive sales, and earn customer loyalty. But with so much information at your customers’ fingertips – including content from your competitors – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to a) reach your buyers, b) understand them, and c) provide them with relevant content at precisely the right time in the buyer journey.

One way marketers can overcome these challenges is through an online customer community.

Three ways customer communities can benefit marketers

A customer community is essentially a one-stop shop where consumers can learn about your brand and products, interact with your company as well as other customers, and make purchases.

Despite the numerous potential benefits, however, only 49% of businesses are presently using customer communities, according to the September 2016 commissioned study, “Drive Greater Marketing Impact by Leveraging Online Communities,” conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of SAP.

For marketers, customer communities are especially invaluable tools that enable them to:

  1. Create a central location to engage with prospects and buyers: Through a combination of user-generated and company-curated content – discussion boards, FAQs, product ratings and reviews, how-to articles, troubleshooting guides, etc. – customer communities provide ongoing opportunities for prospects and buyers to interact with your company and one another. Creating a site rife with relevant content, where both current and prospective buyers can visit and regularly return, can increase sales and improve customer relationships.
  1. Gain a deeper understanding of consumers: Nearly 90% of companies say that customer data plays an important role in their marketing strategies, per Forrester Consulting research. Through the use of customer communities, marketers can not only learn the ages, genders, and income levels of their buyers and prospects, they can gain insight on customer preferences, perceptions, and attitudes, too. This information can help marketers improve segmentation and targeting and create more personalized offers.
  1. Aid prospects and customers before, during, and after purchase: With the data culled from customer communities, marketers are primed to deliver customized, relevant information and superior experiences, no matter where a prospect or buyer is in his or her journey. Two-thirds of marketers report the greatest dropout of online prospects occurs during the product discovery, exploration, and buy phases of the customer journey, according to Forrester Consulting. And while it’s imperative for marketers to support buyers before and during sales, it’s also critical they aid customers post-purchase. They can do this by posting how-to articles, troubleshooting guides, and other supporting documentation on their customer communities.

Cut through the clutter and deliver more impactful marketing materials

Like a teenager’s messy bedroom, the Internet is full of clutter. As a marketer, you must ensure your current and prospective buyers can see through this mess and find the information they need to make purchases.

An online customer community can help you achieve this, offering you ways to engage with customers and prospects, learn about them, and provide them with timely, relevant content that improves brand awareness, drives sales, and builds customer loyalty.

Explore the multitude of ways a customer community can benefit your organization today. Download this Forrester Consulting thought leadership paper, Drive Greater Marketing Impact by Leveraging Online Communities.