Let’s play a game. Imagine you receive this text message from a friend:
“Hey! Let’s dress in all white and pay $50+ to eat our own food and drink our own wine amongst strangers on a land mass in the middle of the Hudson River! Oh, and we’ll also have to bring our own square folding table, two white chairs, a white picnic basket, a white tablecloth and cloth napkins, cutlery, dish-ware, glassware, and a garbage bag to pack everything back out again when we're done.”
Which of the following would you reply with?
Would you pay for the experience of dining al fresco with other like-minded folks?
This isn’t an indictment of the event Diner en Blanc — if you haven’t been, it’s a perfect way to celebrate summer in cities all over the world, despite all of the DIY effort required. But it’s arguably an absurd notion that anyone would eagerly spend money on something of this nature, just for the pleasure of the experience. This is where we’re at as a generation; we’re experiencing digital fatigue and crave real human interaction so much so that spending $50 to run errands has become a social activity worthy of FOMO.
Diner en Blanc isn’t the only example either — people are paying to run 5ks covered in paint and mud. And a company called Snuggle Buddies offers a service where “experienced cuddlers will soothe your mind, body, and soul to blissful relaxation” to help remedy “loneliness and the symptoms it creates from the world through platonic interaction.” I’m not saying you need to spoon your users in a Breather, but I am saying you need to make it a priority to hang out with them in the real world.
Overlooking the human element of managing your community may be the biggest mistake you’re making in growing a sustainable crop of brand loyalists. Instagram Insights, Google Analytics, Snapchat Completion Rates… These are all important metrics for ensuring your efforts are landing with your audience, but they aren’t everything. Nobody’s suggesting you ditch thorough data-driven strategy altogether, but seeing as the UK just appointed a Minister For Loneliness and Everlane went brick-and-mortar after promising investors they never would, it’s clear that a return from the digital realm is what's needed at this current moment in time. After years of living life through our thumbs via devices, society is coming full circle for a digital fatigue market correction. This phenomenon is real — people are paying to have a famous composer play piano while they sleep to combat daily data overexposure, and in Tokyo, locals are hiring random middle-aged Japanese men to get worldly advice that only an elder can provide.
Clearly there's something to this offline thing that's worth tapping into for your community.
1. The millennial and Gen-Z populations want to know what your brand and community smells like, feels like, and tastes like.
If you're a candle, what kind of candle are you? Thinking about your brand with all your senses will help you take your community experience offline.
If you were a candle, are you Maison Louis Marie’s No. 09 Vallée de Farney, or something headache-inducing from Yankee Candle Factory? Are you the Gathering of the Juggalos or the Austin City Limits music festival? Knowing your brand through your senses is just one aspect of taking your community offline.
If you’ve ever experienced a SoulCycle studio, you might know what I’m talking about. Each studio from Montauk to Malibu has the aroma of Jonathan Adler’s grapefruit-scented candle. Every bathroom features Le Labo’s Bergamote shower gel. So in this example, the smell of SoulCycle’s brand is grapefruit, amber, musk, vetiver, petitgrain, bergamot, vanilla, orange blossom and cedar. We know community members want to get to know you and your brand on a more intimate level based on the recent popularity of temporary experiential events, like Museum of Ice Cream, Color Factory, and Human’s Best Friend, where guests get that opportunity to completely immerse themselves in your brand.
2. Research shows that millennials value experiences over physical stuff.
That probably explains why they’re willing to wake up at 6:00am and dance before work without the influence of designer narcotics. There are lots of reasons why this is the case, some ephemeral and some practical. Being a member of an offline community has powerful benefits. Why would you risk getting your bike stolen when you could become a member of Citi Bike? Or shovel the winter snow burying your Prius if you’re a member of ZipCar? Travel has been scientifically proven to make humans happier than having nice things, so when you let your community go on a journey with you via an experiential event, it helps to tap into the human element of community building.
3. Offline experiences build trust at a higher rate than online experiences.
People break out of their shells and show up for an "IRL" experience because they trust you’re not going to lead them astray. That said, you have one shot. If you drop the ball, they’re gone. But if you knock it out of the park, you’ve got a brand loyalist forever.
4. Offline interactions cut through the digital overwhelm.
It’s estimated that the average person sends and receives around 130 emails every day. We see between 4,000-10,000 advertisements in a 24-hour period. 972,222 hopeless romantics swipe their way through Tinder every 60 seconds. People are tired, and getting to know your brand and interact with their fellow community members in a real life setting is just the thing to wake them up. As an exercise, measure your community engagement metrics now, then add an "IRL" event where your online community comes offline. Track those same metrics afterward and see if you notice any upward movement that can be attributed to that human, offline experience.
Here are some companies that get why creating a real relationship with your community is worthwhile. They're not just talking the talk, they're actually putting these values into practice.
The goal with "IRL" experiential events is to create something truly remarkable, not just run up a bar tab during happy hour and load up on free pizza. While complimentary booze and pepperoni slices rarely disappoint, you’re going to get one shot at making a great first impression with a member of your community who trusts you enough to get them out of the house.
“We’re entering a shift from mass marketing to experience marketing,” says Franz Aliquo, Creative Director at ad agency RPM. In a recent Harvard Business Review study commissioned by the event management company Splash, the authors make a solid case that some of the world’s fastest growing companies like Facebook, Instagram, MAC Cosmetics, and Yelp (to toot our own horn just a bit) are investing more in events of all kinds — from one-day seminars to retreats to happy hours. One of the many events Salesforce pulls off annually is Dreamforce, which to this day is the largest software conference in the world, and which attracts almost a quarter million people to San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood each year.
If a company like Salesforce, with almost universal enterprise brand awareness and a market cap of over $102.5 billion, still sees the value of reaching their current and future clients through "IRL" experiential events, consider this your cue to dust off your event planner hat and get to know your community on a deeper level than a double-tap as well.
Engaging with your community offline allows you to connect to their hearts and souls on a deeper level.
If you're just wading into this brave new world, Carrie Melissa Jones’ CMX article on How a Strong Community Creates a Better Customer Experience is a good place to start your future offline community management journey. And before you dive in, make sure you’re aware of the task at hand, because running a community poorly won’t do you any favors either. Furthermore, like any small town community where members of the public play a role in bettering your life — the local post office worker, butcher, fire department personnel — make sure there’s actually something for your community to contribute, be it user-generated content, helpful talk forum participation, product reviews, etc. Simply put, community building is marketing with heart and soul, and taking that experience offline and into the real world is a way of connecting with your community members' hearts and souls in a deeper way.
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