Recession-proof your business by investing in your community. Here’s how

How has 2017 impacted diversity in business?
The age of promoting your products is officially over. Consumers are no longer making decisions based solely on product selection or price; instead they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for.

Businesses with purpose are unique because they attract a community of like-minded supporters, customers and partners. But how do you nurture and grow your community at a time when sales are down and business survival is in question?

Last week, branding expert and co-founder of BoB (Business of Brand), Linzi Boyd spoke on an exclusive Prosper² webinar about how businesses of all sizes can prosper if they put aside product-focused marketing and invest in building communities to connect with customers.

Watch the whole webinar below, or read on for the highlights.

Prosper² is a unique business that sits in the heart of the UK’s growing business community, featuring a rewards programme and private business club for SMEs. Prosper² launched a webinar series in May to cover key topics that are top-of-mind for 3 in 4 SMEs surveyed today; building recession-proof brands, the value and benefit of building communities, and the hidden opportunities for product innovation.

Hosted by managing director and founder Michael Wilson, commercial director Gerald Bradley, and Real Business editorial director Praseeda Nair, the Prosper² webinar series will run live every Thursday at 12 noon. Click here to register for the next one on product innovation during a recession.

Why do we build communities?

Branding and trends expert, Linzi Boyd, (pictured).
“We were all brought up in communities,” says Boyd. “In communities, people traded and connected with each other but then came globalisation and communities started to disperse, but people still crave them. That’s why today people have moved into new digital spaces and created virtual communities through platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook.”

The pandemic has offered an opportunity for businesses to reengage with customers and build communities by tapping into renewed interest in making genuine connections, says Boyd. And Prosper² founder Michael Wilson has built his business on this very concept.

“Community is part of the DNA at Prosper²,” says Wilson.” It’s about people prospering together, from how we run our business to recruiting people, it’s all done by establishing a sense of community. We don’t do lots of advertising and marketing, it’s through community building.”

With community building taking place online, it’s likely that businesses will be using digital media to build up networks and tell their stories. Real Business editorial director Praseeda Nair shares her insights; “community building through communication is important, what I do is try and get the core story of every business, including what makes owners get out of bed and get started, because we’re all here to prosper together, and that runs through our media business, and through the rest of Prosper².”

“At a time when people are starting to lose faith in mainstream media, we’re seeing the democratisation of the media as more people get their voices out,” adds Nair. “For example, Michael has an opportunity to have his voice heard through this webinar and to engage with his community, he doesn’t need to have an interview with the Sunday Times or take out an advertisement in The Guardian, we now have an opportunity to have a direct conversation with the people we care about.”

How to lead with a human response

So, we know that living and working through communities is a natural human inclination, and something that’s been reignited by the current crisis, but what practical steps can businesses take to build their own community? For Boyd, the first step is called ‘connecting people to unite.’ “People need to come together with a common purpose and goal,” she says. “The era of building communities around selling is over, and so is the era of broadcasting and synthetic fame, now it’s come back to purpose.”

Prosper²’s commercial director Gerald Bradley is another person that values purposeful connections. He retells a story of a Prosper² member whose business partner created Celebrity Esports, a company that grew their community to 8m people with a marketing spend of only £240. The key to their success, Bradley says, was leading with purpose;

Both entrepreneurs have wives that work for the NHS, so they built an online gaming platform featuring celebrity matches to raise funds to help NHS front-line staff fight coronavirus. “In the end they raised £1m for the NHS,” says Bradley. “It went from an idea between mates to online games that were watched by 8m people in six weeks.”

How to lead with purpose to drive awareness

For businesses engaging with customers right now, Boyd suggests they “lead with a human, not product response.”

“Due to the pandemic we are in a shock phase and consumers can’t hear anything. So they want the human response and they want to know what a business stands for.”

A human approach could make your business stand out in the market even after the pandemic ends, she adds; “when you drive a business model via a pull approach, you attract consumers to you. A member of a business that I’m working with asked my opinion on how best to connect with me on LinkedIn. I told her that if she messaged me promoting her business’s services, I would block her straightaway. However, if she approached me talking about her passion for say, connecting women entrepreneurs through a network, I would go back to her as I’ve heard her purpose.”

Forget the product push

Forgetting the ‘product push’ strategy will require an entire mindset overhaul for many businesses. For Bradley, this was a game changer that went on to define how Prosper² hires and does business.

He recounts how in the early days of his career, people were encouraged to just sell products. But that approach can only take businesses so far, he says. “Once, I walked into a meeting and realised that the person was not interested in me. He was only interested in what I was selling. Ever since then, Michael and I came up with a strapline of sorts; we only want to deal with PLUs, people like us. This mindset leads to longer lasting relationship with individuals and business rather than a product fulfilling a need.”

Give your team members a voice under a common goal
Consumers aren’t the only people looking to connect with purposeful businesses, says Nair. Employees are too, and especially those from the millennial and Gen Z groups, who will soon become the majority of the modern workforce.

So, the winds of business change have well and truly arrived…are you ready?

For more tips on building communities across a recession register for this week’s webinar here

Read more: The post-COVID-19 recession is here. Are you prepared?

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