Oct 06 2020

Own communities - a chance for companies and customers

Customer communities are an excellent tool for customer service, customer loyalty and market research, which is not used enough by the German economy. How furniture companies can benefit from them, ambista author Christine Sommer-Guist asked an expert for corporate and sales communication, Dr. Roland Heintze from the agency Faktenkontor.

Mr Heintze, how do you define communities?  

Dr. Roland Heintze: Same interests, a common goal, similar values: The people in a community are united by a sense of togetherness, a strong "we-feeling". In corporate communications, we find communities on our own platforms such as websites or social media accounts.

The decisive factor for a community is the regular interaction between the company and the community, but also among each other, because all this creates bonds and relationships.  

What role do communities play for companies and what could they do better? 

Companies should use communities more often as a marketing tool and as an image and reputation builder, as the number of active social media users worldwide has risen from 2.1 to over 3.8 billion in the last five years.

Nevertheless, they have so far played a rather subordinate role for the German economy. Communities can develop great strength, increase reach and sustainably consolidate a brand. Or, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos puts it: "We don't make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions."

By the way, Amazon is a very good example of a company that gets the best out of its community for itself. The company has integrated its community into its corporate philosophy, as it were, by having its members consult with each other and accumulate a diverse pool of opinions.

Another is the toy manufacturer Lego: With "Lego Ideas", the company has created a platform where Lego provides suggestions for toy sets or announces which products could be added to the range in the future.

The community members can develop new sets and make suggestions themselves - a great added value for manufacturers and customers alike. Such examples show that communities are really relevant in today's digital world and that any company with the right strategy can generate added value from them.

  

What role can communities play, especially in the furniture industry? 

The exchange with like-minded people is an advantage that the furniture industry can take advantage of. On the B2C side, it can benefit above all from strong customer loyalty. Whether it's a matter of discussing specific pieces of furniture, furnishing tips or recommending good furniture shops - a community offers advice, help and the opportunity to exchange views.

Community ratings of virtually furnished rooms, so-called showroom concepts, are also a great way to exchange and test furniture in "real" surroundings.

Incidentally, half of German citizens do not have a precise idea of a product when looking for new furnishings, and a large proportion of 70 percent of them then use the social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest as a guide. In this respect, communities have long played a major role in the furnishing sector. 

How does a company create a community? What resources must be planned for it?  

The organic structure of a community should not be underestimated. Vision, goal and strategy must be precisely defined: What unique selling points does my company have? Who do I want to address and what do I want to achieve? Awareness, reputation, sales promotion?

These are all questions that must be answered in advance. An external communication environment analysis helps here. In addition, success monitoring is essential, because what good is the largest community if it brings nothing but additional expense to my company?

Measuring success is crucial for this, whether it is observing the length of stay, user behaviour or benchmarks. SEO must also be taken into account so that my online community can be found. Tools like Google Analytics or Sistrix can help here. 

How can companies maintain their communities? Will they eventually become a success? 

Community management is a relevant component which, once the community has been established, is the most important instrument for controlling marketing and PR. Here too, there are tools such as Facelift to manage a community and analyse where the company stands within the community.

Quality assurance and optimal interaction with members should not be left to chance. The Berlin public transport companies are showing the way: With fancy answers, they respond to customer complaints from passengers with wit and humour on their Twitter account "Weil wir dich lieben". Such community management is worth its weight in gold and helps to improve the company's reputation.  

But community management does not become a matter of course. If you leave it to itself, in the worst case this can even lead to a communication crisis. A company should not give up steering or moderating member discussions and determining topics and content.  

Is it important for furniture companies, especially in times of (corona) crisis, to form communities and how can this best be achieved? 

Dr. Roland Heintze, managing partner of the agency for corporate and sales communication Faktenkontor. ©Faktenkontor GmbHAt the moment, the furniture industry is well placed to focus on the use of Augmented Reality and thus boost online sales: If I can furnish my living room digitally and in 3D and walk around in it without leaving the house, it saves the customer time and is more convenient for him. This could be an incentive and can be playfully integrated into a community platform.   

Corona cocooning - i.e. the desire to make your home as beautiful and comfortable as possible - has saved the furniture industry from a major crash. After a drop of almost 30 percent in turnover in April, the furniture industry recorded a plus of 2.2 percent again in June 2020. In addition, people travel less and therefore have more budget for furniture purchases.

Moreover, in times of Corona people tend to spend more time on the internet than normal and hygiene regulations allow fewer customers to visit the furniture store. Furniture stores should use this to their advantage and, if they have not yet done so, tackle building their community - with the right preparation, of course. Then they can even benefit from the crisis.   

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