How Brands can Build a Real Community


Does your company have a community behind it? 

Not just some janky web-portal, I’m talking about a true community — a place where people come together to help one another. 

Because without that, you’re driving people away. 

In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Brent Turner , EVP, Strategy and Solutions at Opus Agency , about how to get people to rally around your brand and build a truly thriving community. 

Join us as we discuss:

- Why events are more important than ever

- Why brands like Peloton have built such thriving communities

- Where most companies go wrong when it comes to community-building 

Craving more? You can find this interview and many more by subscribing to C-Suite Blueprint on Apple Podcasts , on Spotify , or here.

If you've ever been to a major conference or experience, you've probably seen the handiwork of today's guest. He's the evp of strategy and solutions at opus agency. Opus Agency is an experience agency. Use Services Thirteen of the world's top global brands. They help them strategize and deliver their flagship experiences. So if you've been to dream force, have you've been to Amazons, reinvent or any of those other major conferences? That's what opus agency does. Today's guest is print Turner. You're listening to see sweet blueprint the show for sea sweet leaders. Here we discuss no bys approaches to organizational readiness and digital transformation. Let's start the show, Brent, thanks so much for being here, thanks for having me. Looking forward to this. So the the event space. My guess would be that many, many, many people underestimate what that means. It's not just getting some booths together and setting up up some avy equipment, is it? That's all this, that's all and and when the pain, when the Pandemic Kitt you just switched to zoom, no big deal, and now after you're just going to go back right. Is that the way it works? That's pretty much. It just building, boost again and Brill try to pile as many people into a small room as possible and and just see where the the health and safety restrictions. Let us go. Yeah, that's it, the kidding aside, the event space itself being a everything from your your family gathering and weddings on through to our space in the corporate side. But they all carry that one commonality, which is in people together, bringing them together live to see what, like we're going to do right now, it conversations, moments, bonding, and so doesn't matter if we're talking a hundred thousand person large scale corporate event filled with activations, booths, inspirational speakers, or if it's ten people for a very bespoke dinner. The idea of what an event is is more relevant, I think, than ever because we've been for two years. We've all been lacking it. It's coming together and meaningful ways of it. So what have you what have you learned to the last couple of years? The most compelling things we've learned is the role of rituals and traditions and what that means when you do come together and for so many things, like in new and I've talked outside of this podcast about the days of just when you'd hop on a plane and travel and while zoom is going to kill that, we're never going to do that again. Well, I actually believe that at its core, things like rituals and traditions of getting on a white board are we took them for granted, but they matter and if you look at us as a species, the more and more you think of WHO and how we've evolved, we still are species that loves its stories and loves its camp fires and loves those sort of today's terms of the last twenty years, terms of Fomo, we've we love those things and really it's not necessarily about what we've learned in the last two years as much as it's put that spotlight on those things that we've missed, the rituals, through traditions and the ideas of just sitting around and telling a good story. That matters to who we are as a species, let alone who we are as a culture, society or a business community. That's a deep human drive and and you're seeing people seek it out in so many new and different ways. You know, you and I were talking about a little bit about how what's the next era of communities and how people are building these communities and engaging if they we're going to go to the last poterk for freer fore ardist you from it. But it's the interesting, the interesting, dynamic and just society of the last really hundred years, as has changed after wars, after the suburbanification, if that's a word, of America, of the rest of the world, the modernization we have seen the institutions that bring us together for those fireside moments, I was talked about before, for the hundreds and thousands of years of getting together in a cathedral, in a and you pick your place, a large theater, whatever it is, to have those stories be told. Well, the the objects in our society that have done that over the last millennia...

...have been social organizations, and what has happened or or socially oriented organizations, churches, Bowling Leagues and on Right. And what has happened in really the last twenty thirty years, but really accelerated in the latest generations and the latest sort of pushing a digital is the idea of a community and what used to bring people together as as a place for those tribal meetings, if you will, has shifted from the from those more societal organizations and social organizations, to the brands, and it is now from B Toc, which is the easy examples. We all were under armor shirts that says that I'm a certain type of athlete, or our Peloton bike over our shoulder, and when we're on a video call like these are all things that we are now using brands to be with our people and show our people. And then even in B tob it's what we'll talk about. Things like how sales force, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, aws, they are all brands. Big Tech, some of the most valuable companies in the world, have created a sense of community because we as a society or looking to brands to be what brings us together and to give us that sense of purpose, place and identity. Interesting. So the the elk lodges of the world are now being replaced with with your cross fits, of your pelotons. I'm curious why the brands? Why did it? Why does it gravitate that way? Because I don't when I was growing up, man, my mother would just owe any time I wanted something that had a brand written big on it. It's like, we're not getting that you're not getting paid to wear that. So so why is it that we are just gravitating towards these brands to replace that community vacuum? You know, same exactly, like I still like what will go? Why? Like and but, weirdly, personal self reflection is I you will rarely find me in that under armor shirt, but you will find me in the t shirt. I got it a conference, from an IBM event I was at seven years ago or like something like that, and it's weird because it is this place of of affiliation as but, and I think that's been to your question before, one of the biggest things we've learned so especially an American culture, is when you've taken away the sense of being able to get together in person, what has happened is all these online communities have blown up and things like peltonough to tell a time have taken off. But a lot of it is because we are longing for the thing to say I'm part of that, and the wearing the logo on the shirt, especially when you and I were growing up, the logos on the shirt were commercial and consumerization, and then it became the Michael Jordan's and the I'm showing like I can be like Mike and I'm drinking my Gatorade and I'm wearing my Air Force One's and are my Air Jordans and the rest. And what's happened, especially in the last as I see in the last ten years, the wearing of the logo has shifted from trying to be like your idol to say I am like my people and because I've don't have the church on Sunday or the synagogue or the this or the Bowling League or the elk club to fill it in, I have to use the brand to bring me together with people that look, smell, act feel like me. HMM, its like brand tribes, almost brand tribes, and like WHO's doing this? Well, what are they doing best to really engage with the communities? Because, you know, in one sense I can see a brand kind of trying to push to into it too much the wrong way and it's almost like throwing too much wood on the fire. You know, just you it's going to feel like propaganda, it's going to feel on natural. How's it done? Well, the first of the work community is just such a troubling and problematic word in the business community, in the business world right and there's whole organizations now that have been really going after this. There's there's this whole like what do we mean by community? Do we just mean another social network and other intrendet where people can do what you do on facebook and Linkedin? But but the brand logo is in the corner, and really that's been what we see in brands play with over the last twenty years of the digital age. is where what we'll talk about this being in like the fourth...

...era of Quin unquote brand communities, where the first three were basically taking flavors of Facebook, like anybody remembers the old platform like Jive, like dive was a platform that looks like facebook, or the early days of the very simple social networks we all use. We put your little brand logo in the corner. Look, we have a community. Well, what? That's not a community, that's a social network. That's a community. So you start to go around in the circle. And what's really happened and is we're seeing that the ideas of community are starting to be put in buckets. There's communities that are built for support, meaning let's let's have a developer community, let's have a product community, and we're all here and we're in and we're out. We're not justly wearing that on a shirt, but we're in and we're out, for for getting solving problems, providing feedback in the product communities. The interesting work is happening in the spaces where and the the definition I love most for community is when you're your members are providing value to other other people. So that could be in the form of support. But so what I find is the most interesting is the ones where people are in the dialog speaking like the brand, speaking with the brand, and it's the fan the fan community. Maybe too easy to talk about it like. We're not talking like KPOP Fan, but we're talking people who who are in and providing value to each other. But then they are fighting for a larger cause. So the two sort of communities that always come to mind right are the easiest examples to talk about. One is in the consumer side, Pelton. We at this point Pelaton is become its own tribe, cult etc. Because it is built on a belief and it is built on a vestige of product and experience. And then people so ideally and as most positive form, supporting each other and rallying and then, for twenty years in the business side, it's been sales force, where they famously have their trailblazer community. And what is often lacking in the narrative than modern narrative a sales force, was that community, that idea of trailblazers. As we see it, it started by having the two most fundamental forms of even religion, those who two most fun to penttal forms of having an enemy and how having a firebrand. And on both cases the enemy and sales forces case twenty years ago, was the old no software logo they used to have and it was about moving to the cloud, and the firebrand was Benny off, Mark Benny off as their CEO. And what happened behind them is you have an enemy, you have a firebrand, you give them a platform, an additional platform, you give them a identity that they can rally around you and evolves into falls and new grows and all of a sudden you have millions of people around the world who say I'm a trailblazer. Are you sales force to but I'm a trailblazer, I'm doing these things, I care about these things, I'm going after these things. I'm a Peloton user, I exercise like this, I use these things I hang out with people like that. So it's goes back to the exact conversation route being a you where the logo you where. But it's simplest the people who are doing it, well, the Pelotons and, say, the sales forces, as they're given you. They're giving you a badge to where, either the logo of the company Pelaton or the badge of the community trailblazers. Then they're giving you things to rally around. Enemies, firebrands, supporting each other causes ways to provide value, but they give you a reason to turn that togetherness into a moment, a movement of progress and meaning, purpose. HMM, yeah, meaning and purpose and and I really like the fact that there's everyone's got to get some more additional value out of it right, because if it was just I'm here, I belong, I you know, I have the logo on, so I feel like I'm part of something, that's only going to get you so far. But if the community itself and the growth of the community itself implies that you're all going to get more value out of it, then then I can see how that flywheel really just starts starts spinning. Yeah, absolutely, and especially especially when it's like when you and I would have dinner... the old days, right like if you say I just discovered this thing and you're now advocating for and you're almost an ambassador. You're welcoming me and because you would have seen me and say, Hey, you're you care about the same things I care about, so come in. But you're also value singling. You're saying I care about this, this is what I personally brand myself and so, Hey, I think you should join me. That's as old as society and our species can get. As I care about this, I think you should too. I think it's cool. I think you should too. And when you come on in, you're going to see this group of people who have each other's backs, who support each other, who provide value for each other, and the brands that can tap into that in this modern form of customer experience and digital experience. In the rest, the ones who can move from the logo in the corner of the intranet or the or the pickure modern version of dive, there's thousands of community platforms, the ones who can go from just here's a logo and here's a chat bought and here's a forum and the rest, but can shift it into those higher level purpose and meeting are the ones we're going to see keep thriving in this current age of community hmm. And how do you for the organizations that have been so far from this? Where do they start and what are the pitfalls? I mean, you know, we work with so many lagguard industries where you've got manufacturers, you've got alcohol. They they've not been able to engage directly with their consumers at all. Right, they've got the brand and then they're separated from the consumers through be to be, through you know, what have you. And they're just now pushing into being able to engage with their consumers directly for the first time and they're quite honestly excited just to have a crm that's getting populated with names and information right, never mind building true brand communities and so you know, my guess is they could get they could buy a lot of technology. That's probably not that's only going to go so far. But where do you you already advise that they get started. It's two different channels of thought on that one. Is a lot of the companies have to understand just past see you the R and crm. What is the relationship they want to have, and for some it's too much of a leap and to actually think that there will be a direct relationship. And in that case, if they do step into the world of community, what happens is the brand that doesn't understand how to have a relationship with its consumer. They're the ones who create those portals we were just talking about that have a logo and a support page, and maybe that's fine for you. Maybe your version of a community is just going to be an interesting way to democratize and provide peer to peer support for your offerings and discussion around your offerings. The brands who want to step deeper into community, where they want? We keep using the t shirt analogy. They want people to wear the t shirt and then sit at a dinner and say, I'm part of this company or I'm not part of this company, I'm part of the community or I'm part of this thing and I think you should be too. And by the way, it's all under the umbrella of X Company over here the once we're doing that. Well, the way they're getting into it, the way we talked about getting into it, and you know, this is the this is a disclaimer of when you're a hammer, everything looks like nailso where an experience agency that I work for. So here's going to be the answer? It to create experiences. But the the very simple is this, this three part ven diagram, that that is this map to what I believe is the future of or the next generation becomes of customer and digital experience. Is when you figure out, as even especially in be to be, when you figure out, under the word of relationship, how you're going to merge your content marketing issues and you're in. You're going to evolve that from just straight constant marketing into brand journalism. You'RE gonna have a story to tell, you're going to be coming, you're going to realize your role in providing entertainment and value is going to evolve in the stories you tell. You're going to look at how you bring people together. Is it is it just booths? Is it? Or is it going to be your version of in the round fireside chats, peers talking to peers and addressing solutions, not talking about products? Like all that very simple shift of of how you help people talk about and do you have an enemy that you're going...

...after? And I and a larger ideal. Well, events and online, virtual, in person, small, huge. They are a great forum for putting people in a room to find out that they are like and that they they can form a bond. And then the last is the actual digital side of the community. What do you want that to feel like be like? What do you are you asking for not just support, but you're asking for feedback and you want to bring people into your product iteration and you want that relationship and you're going to own you're going to own this sort of modern push toward authenticity and transparency and that's going to be a pillar of your community. And if you want that, under the are of CRM, to be your relationship as a brand getting into it, well, then you're going to build one in the stories you tell, content, you're going to build it in the events you to bringing people together and sharing, especially peer connection, and then you're going to do it and you're going to round out that in diagram and how you pulled all together with this before and after community that can live on a tie the other two things together. HMM. So some real soul searching as far as what is your identity as a corporation and what is your relationship going to be like out there? I've I've been getting I don't know how close you've been to this, but I've been getting rather annoyed with how higher Ed has been approaching this space, especially with the pandemic where in Boston. So there's no shortage of exclusive schools around here and I feel like a lot of their focus in a virtual or a hybrid world, has been more about the the content and the curriculum and not that much about how are they going to engage and create a community. And so in one sense you're they're just cranking out content. And there's this there's this battle between democratize the content, make it available to more people, now that you that you can, versus make it exclusive. And if you don't make it exclusive or have some semblance of exclusivity, do you now start to water down your brand and water down the value of your organization? I think you've got a lot of Ivy League schools around here that are now saying, well, if this I'll gets democratized, then you know, high dollar value that we present ourselves ass is not going to exist anymore. And I'm curious to you know, have you been looking at that is deep. Does exclusivity factor into you know, how you define and curate your communities? You know I used to run digital at MT for a while and this was now going back ten years, so it's on. It was on the early phase of this, but being on that side of the table and Higher Ed, it's actually what got me into events, ironically, and community becoming so passionate. It was sitting in the world of Higher Ed, because so much of when you think of High Ed you think of what you've learned exactly you were going courses and curriculum and really the value as I as I have interpreted it and feel it, and there's probably much more thoughtful studies and blogs and books on the topic, but I see higher head has two things. Access and the idea of a brand of sort of what you've been the exclusivity and what you've been welcomed into and they hey, I worked at him, I just named checked. I are might like. Hey, I worked at in Mite. Like I'm named checking them because they let me in. There's a level of exclusivity and the other part of the value is the networking or the community and the the all that those alumni networks are as important to not just their funding and the endowments at these organizations, they're important to the grads. I've been out of college for twenty something years and it's what still matters to me. I went to Boston University. was still matters to me from Boston University is or and I went to stracuse before that. Like in both those cases, are the connections in the network, not anything I learned in the classroom. However, however, to your question and sort of the challenge we're seeing is, when you take away the ability to put students in a classroom, also to puts the focus on the curriculum and the course and all these amazingly well paid professors who do beautiful research and the rest. And so the what an organization like highered immediately does is it looks where it spends its money and where and what it does. I have very big buildings filled a classrooms with very well paid professors. So what...

I am I doing? I am a curriculum business and the organizations who are going to figure out how to pivot in this is cross all of higher head from High Prestige on through. We're going to be the ones who understand their brand and the ones who understand their network and the courses in the middle or just just the not even just that's going to Balis the wrong way, because amazing professors do amazing things, and so it's not just but they're going to put a three threepieceman diagram of themselves together and they're going to probably value brand and community more than they realized they should have going than they were going into the pandemic. HMM. Yeah, you just can't avoid those, just the the core fundamentals of who are you and what the relationship is, what kind of pitfalls or you know, I always love to figure out where the BS is and a certain space. So what kind of where's the BS live out there in in this space? Who? I would say? Well, it's going to be curious in the race toward this fourth era of communities, and we're seeing it. We're seeing it like sort of the last few years have been two big trends that we see specially perpetuated by Silicon Valley, by VC's. One is the community. It's go to community, not go to market, and there's this whole narrative now community is getting spray. You Google, you Google community and it is sprinkled with advice and it's so prevalent. Specially again, you your when your early questions. What do you take away from people's the ability to share and I didentity get together. So what gets filled in the void? Community and of course the other is this whole web three in ft Blockchain, own your privacy piece, and they are related of each other. It's about establishing and a firm identity and privacy, which is web three, and it's about connection and connectivity, which is community. And, of course, coming out of the last five years, privacy and community of the hottest things. But the BS is like any good organization when the buzz words carry forward and people don't actually interpret and understand what they mean. Oh, I'm web three point owing right now. Well, I build my community on a web and I've issued nfts for everybody in my community. You did what? How do think that matter? So the biggest bs is we have a whole new round of buzz words that are dominating consumer digital live experiences and it's going to be just don't the biggest level of BS is going to be letting yourself use the buzz word but not actually implement the process. The idea is the purpose that goes underneath all of these buzzwords that have emerged. HMM, I'd like to buy three web three please, and and with a an add on of community. Can you just wrap that up and send it on over to me, please? What do you think the over unders for the first RP you guys get? Six months, I say, is when you get the we need to digitally transform ourselves into a community first web based organization that issues nft's on the blockchain like it's common. I thought, I'm going to say July I will be your first one. Yeah, that's coming next year, for sure. Yeah, in the mid of verse, I would imagine, in the meadow. Oh, I didn't all that without dropping the metaverse. Yes, interesting. So when you're advising your clients and really setting up the strategy for them, where do you find the people? When people go into this, what are they underestimate the most? You know, I feel like you know, when someone might be thinking about how to be engage with the community, they might just think, oh well, just hire a few community managers, you know what, we'll spin up this event and and that's are those are two or three budget line items. Where do they underestimate. It's the cultural change. MMM, and some of those same things we're just talking about a moment ago is opening up yourself to a community brands. Most in especially to get to a brand of scale, but most sized companies it's almost we're just talking about with Higher Ed. Let's conect a couple dots and Higher Ed. You think of what is my product, right? All, my product is education. I make this thing or, if you are...

...sales force in a different light, or all the other crm companies that exist in the world. I make this APP and it's my thing. And somebody over here saying I need a community, let's make a community, let's bring our people together, and it's like, AH, yes, those people use my app, but that's cool, they're just users, they're not there, or or the markers who do constant marketing, they're just my audience and the idea of a community. And then you hire a community manager and that person walks in and says we need authenticity, we need transparency, we need we need a firebrand, we need an identity, we need something to rally these people behind the like. No, no, those are users. All I need is them to tell me what they want in the next feature set and to report bugs over here. And now you get into organizational change, because you're finding that brands, if I go back to the hunt thousand year millennial like equivalent of religion, all of a sudden brands are now building cathedrals with their own fire brand leaders of a congregation. And you people like no, no, that's not what I do. I'm a business. I'm like, yeah, okay, like and forget, though, the theology majors are going to be calling. But like, what happens is when you realize that you need to build your own congregation and your own community, what you got to build the Cathedral to put them in and bring them inside, and now they're not just going to stay quiet, they're going to have advice and feedback and want to talk and on on. And many brands would rather just build the beautiful castle, not build a cathedral where they sit up on the hill and they say, look at us, I Lord over these lands. Well, HMM, the differences in the biggest hurdle is the culture to realize that your castle is now a cathedral. I'm like, very medieval here. Your Castle is now a cathedral. Is a cultural change that starts with your organization and if you can get that right, then all your community managers you hire, your programs you've develop will all find the platform to be successful. So who are the dragons? Where the dragons in this, in this scenario? Right, I don't, you know, I've never used I've used the cathedral analogy before, I've never used this castle, the Cathedral. That just hit me as I was babbling. So it's not well thought out. But now I can see some beautiful white board of the dragons floating in the moat. Maybe your competitors, the disruptors, kind of coming up every every fifty years they awaken and and they come to disrupt you and and knock down some of your walls. Right, we got to figure this one out in this analogy because it just longs for that. There will be dragons, like or there, because dragons. Yeah, it's interesting to think about because I feel like for so long, you know, you view the customers, are the users, very transactionally, and then we pushed into this era of really trying to focus on the user journey and mood maps and and now it's just this next level up where it's really what is that relationship what is that community, the the entire cathedral that, quite honestly, it's not even like you're building the Cathedral. You're giving them the tools to help build the put the bricks into that cathedral themselves, I would imagine. Yep, yeah, so that there's a sense of ownership there, that it's not just something that's been given to them. It's great, well brand it's exciting stuff. I always like to end these conversations on a fun one, which is, what is the best advice you've ever received? Oh, Jeez, in life or work? Well, there's a saying that I love personally, which is the old and it's a Cliche, but it's I this. I just love it. It's the lift as you climb, and it's not me as an individual like yes, sure, like, what do you what is climbing mean? Or Charts on that jazz? No, but it's the idea that organizations, things like purpose and all that. They all become weighted words. It becomes as buzzwards we're just talking about but the very simple human lift as you climb. It's the do one to others. It's to give back, give more than you receive. There's a cheese we're back in religion, and I've been a church forever, but we're back in religion. But it's that idea of lift as you climb and sort of give more than you receive, right, that very human piece. And then the second is the one that I was come back to, which is, at the end of the day, your personal brand, like can be all sorts of interesting things, how people experience working with you and all that jazz, but you're always going to be built on the relationships you...

...form, your accountability and the quality of your work. And if you if you can't bring those three baselines to the table, then don't even bother showing up. And then, once you do show up, remember that what you do is, this is especially true for us as an agency, but what you do as an individual in your role as you create two experiences. You create the experience somebody has working with you and then in our business, your business, my business, we create the experience for our customer, for our Xyz, for our partner, for our whomever. And if I can, if I can do if you and I were, great advice I was given was if you and I take a risk and that experience, we try to do something for the customer and it doesn't work. But you and I had a great experience working together. We were I brought the accountability of the quality and built the relationship with you and we had a great time together. If that didn't work, you'll call me again because you're going to want to take another risk with me and you won't want to lift and climb and try something else with me. So that very simple. Do not, do not let the output dry be everything. Make sure that the inputs and what you do together and all those things that I just talked about ground you sometimes, if not more than, the output, and then you will find personal and professional meaning and what you do. Then a lot more joy, I would imagine, along the way. I love it, Brent. Well, Brent, thanks so much for joining me. I really enjoyed this. Thanks for letting me talk your ear off. I enjoyed it as well. Technology should serve vision math. SET IT at intivity. We design clear blueprints for organization readiness and digital transformation that allow companies to chart new paths. Then we drive the implementation of those plans with our client partners in service of growth. Find out more at didwwj have becoms podcast? You've been listening to see speet blueprint. If you like what you've heard, be sure to hit subscribe wherever you get your podcast to make sure you never miss a new episode. And why you're there. We'd love it if you could live at it. Just give us however many starts you think. We desert until next time.

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