Helping a person belong is the ultimate marketing achievement. If a customer opts into an engaging, supportive, and relevant brand community, we no longer need to lure them into our orbit with ads and SEO right? What we used to consider marketing is essentially over. … Brands are meaning systems. Community is the definitive meaning system that helps our customers discover—and even create—our brand’s connection to their world.

 Mark Schaefer, author of “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy”

What We Can All Learn from Mark Schaefer’s Latest Work

I met Mark recently, and what I’ve learned about him already is that he’s obsessed with being helpful, and he has a bottomless well of curiosity. And despite his breadth and depth of expertise in the field of marketing, coupled with his reputation and experience, he is probably one of the most approachable people on earth. 

Each of these qualities begets the others, and Mark’s perspective and curiosity about the world around him is on display in our conversation on the latest episode of “The History Factory Podcast.” In his new book, “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy,” he makes the case for a new mindset that runs counter to traditional marketing strategies and tactics—whose effectiveness is waning. So what is this new community marketing strategy all about? In our new age of more sophisticated customers and consumers, marketers must embrace a new mindset in which brands are conveners and forum creators. It requires courage and the conviction that your brand and business will grow if you invest in creating markets of cultural currency and idea exchange with others who share your sense of purpose, values, and passions.

History and heritage have much to offer organizations and brands that are pursuing stronger bonds not only with their customers but also with their employees, communities and other stakeholders. Strategies such as leveraging nostalgia and spotlighting passionate collectors are natural tie-ins to marketing and community building. There are entire industries and companies that traffic in the power of nostalgia and people’s fascination with old stuff. 

History and heritage have a less obvious, deeper role to play in bringing people together. They share who we are and where we’re from. History and heritage help us celebrate our differences and our shared humanity. In that sense, whether it’s on the scale of our planet, our country or our company, history and heritage are powerful catalysts for building better communities and better markets. In fact, this new social community marketing strategy isn’t really new at all. Humans have always been wired to be social and community-oriented. If anything, Mark argues, our marketing strategies need to go back to being more human because, as he says, the “most human company wins.”

In “Belonging to the Brand,” Mark emphasizes that the present and future of marketing success will be driven largely by community and peer influencers. He draws attention to an incredibly important and underemphasized global issue that I believe is only going to become more relevant to organizations—just as global warming, DEI and geopolitics organizations increasingly need to address how the global loneliness epidemic has created a global mental health crisis, which the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated. The opportunity for brands to create genuine communities that enable connection and belonging has become a critical factor not only for economic success but also for the well-being of society. 

Since our first introduction to Mark’s work, we are increasingly becoming part of his community of marketers (and huge fans) committed to what he calls reimagining marketing “through the lens of fundamental human needs like love, meaning, and respect.” Mark has become a fan of History Factory too: This summer he visited our Archives and Digitization Lab and was the keynote speaker at HF Fest, our annual all-employee summer get-together.

As we explore our own community-centric lens of history and heritage, I encourage you to check out “Belonging to the Brand” and our recent conversation on the podcast.What brands give you identity, meaning, and a sense of belonging?

Interested in exploring how you can make the most of your heritage and use it to strengthen your brand’s community of customers and employees? Drop us a line.Interested in exploring how you can make the most of your heritage and use it to strengthen your brand’s community of customers and employees? Drop us a line.

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