We all have an opportunity to give back and engage our communities. It doesn’t matter the industry. There are always people interested in your industry, your expertise and your involvement.
Phil Knight built Nike into a powerhouse brand in the 1970s by connecting to the running community. At the time, jogging was viewed as a fad, or something athletes did to support their training. It wasn’t an activity “normal people” did for fun. But Knight saw the opportunity. He was a runner, and he was connected to the University of Oregon’s track team. He saw an opportunity to support a niche group, and get his shoe company highly involved in the running community.
Knight’s timing and focus were excellent. For example, the number of contestants in the New York City Marathon grew from 156 in 1970 to over 5,000 in 1977. Running went mainstream, and Nike’s close involvement with community helped it achieve exponential growth: $14 million in 1976, $71 million in 1978, $270 million in 1980 and over $900 million in 1983.
Seek out your community
Phil Knight did not create the running community, he supported it. Nike sponsored athletes, supported college athletic programs, and worked with athletes and coaches in product development.
With the proliferation of social media, you too have access to countless communities. Just visit LinkedIn, and look at the number of business groups. There are groups for lawyers, marketers, doctors, alumni, non-profits, you name it. These are groups of like-minded people coming together to share ideas, thoughts and experiences. There really isn’t a shortage of groups you can participate in.
You don’t have to create a community from the ground up. Rather seek out communities that already exist, and figure out how you can add value.
Focus on your passions
Select your communities based on your passions. Many companies default to participating in their industry associations, and end up networking with their competitors. Look beyond the obvious, and focus on your customers. What do you talk about with your customers? What passions and interests do you have in common? This is your roadmap to select communities to participate in.
As Nike grew they extended beyond running and supported basketball, tennis, football and other high performance sports. Their core identity revolves around sport, fitness and performance. Based on their passions and brand, Nike didn’t participate in the shoe community. They joined and supported the varying performance sports communities.
Collaborate and create shared value
Where do you and your customers share a passion? Nike is a shoe company that is passionate about running. Runners proved an engaged group with a shared experience that Nike could connect with.
Look for the points of passion in your business. This is a powerful way to connect with your customers, and build a shared experience. It allows you to engage and participate with them in a non-solicitory way.
With the growth of the Web and social media there are so many ways you can engage your community: from producing and sharing content, to participating in events, to formal sponsorship programs. The secret is to focus on the community, and figure out how you can work with them to create value together.
* My source material for the Nike story came from David Aaker’s book, Brand Leadership.