Brand Strategy / Catalytic Thinking

Community Network Marketing – making the global hyperlocal

A constant challenge for the brand manager is how to translate global brand objectives into local sales.

Community Network Marketing may be the answer that they’re looking for…

If asked to explain the Community Network Marketing (CNM) concept in a single sentence, I’d have to answer as follows:

Community Network Marketing is the output achieved when the sum of the formal and informal networks that make up a geographical or cognitive space are aligned with a singular purpose and objective.

That’s a big concept. Imagine the full resources of your local community aligned to achieve a specific aim; the power of individuals, groups and organisations, as well as the local authority figures. That’s immense.

And yet, it’s not that uncommon. Consider local political pressure groups campaigning for a new school or enhanced play areas for children. Or the movement of an entire city towards greener living objectives. Or Mumsnet generating national coverage over childcare issues.

The only difference is that it’s never – to my knowledge – been codified into a complete model…

Here’s a presentation I put together in an attempt to give the model context and form:
(please note, as WordPress doesn’t allow Prezi to embed presentations, the below is a graphical link to the presentation itself)

Who would use CNM?

It’s obvious that non-profits, social endeavours, community co-ops and local authorities (such as councils) are the immediate beneficiaries of this model. All of these groups require the community to back their actions, talk about their initiatives and bring peer-to-peer pressure in order to achieve their aims.

For example, I work for a local authority body dedicated to lowering death and serious injury on the roads. Using the CNM model will create a culture (over time) where all individuals, groups and organisations within the geographical area I cover are committed to road safety. Use of a mobile behind the wheel would become socially unacceptable. The community would shun those who choose to drink and drive. Young kids, behind the wheel for the first time on their own, would understand that speeding through their community is unacceptable.

But it won’t be me or the organisation I represent telling them. It’ll be the people around them.

The brand then takes a back seat – rather than issuing top-down communication, it feeds the community network from grassroots level as a trusted partner communicating with a supportive audience.

With a small shift in perspective, suddenly the model becomes applicable for even the biggest sales brand.

There’s a quote I love from blogger Terry White:

“One key failure of current marketing practise is that it relies on companies selling brands instead of people buying brands.”

It must also be remembered that brands sell to people, not groups. And people buy from people, whether directly over the counter at the local community store or by recommendation through word of mouth (online or offline).

The perspective shift then comes when the brand reassesses its raison d’etre and distils a core function that it can act as an enabler for. Every brand has one of these, it’s just a question of finding it amid the clutter.

For example, Mars Bars help you to ‘Work, Rest and Play’. It therefore makes perfect sense for Mars to initiate community sporting events, as it has done in the past for example. However, in the CNM model, the brand uses the community network to suggest promoting local sporting events, putting political pressure on elected officials to create play spaces etc (rather than just providing sponsorship and support. It becomes an enabler).

Therefore the brand does not sell itself. The brand sells a concept of which it is an integral part. But the concept is rooted in social, rather than individual, consciousness.

The CNM model therefore helps the brand to access community structures, develop key local plans and objectives – even realising localised funding for the initiatives – and use the local community to enact part of the initiatives for it (thus building local ownership). It may also be an integral part of the Trust Economy I advocated a while back.

All of this answers one important question: Why does the brand matter to me?

The brand matters because its actions start to have social meaning and create shared value for the community. And we are all part of a community, whether we like it or not.

Sticking with Mars for a moment, imagine that they acted to create a new sports team, with facilities, in my local town.

    If I was a parent, I’d be pleased because it would be something for my kids to do.
    If I was a kid, I’d be pleased because it would give me something to get involved with.
    If I was a grumpy old person, I’d be pleased because it would get the kids out of the habit of hanging around on street corners.
    If I was business owner, I’d be pleased because I might be able to raise my own visibility through sponsorship, maybe sell more product to the people who came to watch the games etc.
    If I was a local authority boss, I’d be pleased because building a new sports facility would contribute to the health and well-being of all individuals in the area.
    If I was just a local resident, I might be pleased that, finally, everyone I meet stops complaining that ‘There’s nothing to do here’ (and thus I become happier).
    If I was Mars, I’d be delighted because of the co-op communication opportunities between the individuals, groups and structures of that local community.

This social meaning then answers the question: Why does this brand matter to me?

The brand matters because it has positioned itself as an enabler in building a stronger social community. And because we as human beings are social animals, it is very difficult to separate us from the communities in which we live and associate. Therefore the brand matters, even if its actions don’t affect each and every individual directly.

I have to admit, in the interests of full disclosure, that I’m a great admirer of the way Edward Bernays sold pianos. His trick wasn’t to sell a piano. His idea was to sell the social convention to have a music room in every house.

“The music room will be accepted because it has been made the thing. And the man or woman who has a music room, or has arranged a corner of the parlour as a musical niche, will naturally think of buying a piano. It will come to him as his own idea”

Propaganda; Edward Bernays 1928.

Which leads to another shift in perspective…

This final shift concerns the way that the brand is built in the first place. To take up Terry White’s point, people should be buying brands, brands shouldn’t be being sold to people.

For people to purchase, they have to have a key set of drivers in their minds before they spend their time or money.

I believe that CNM places those drivers firmly in the minds of the audience through integration of the brand into the community in a socially meaningful way.

Therefore, people may be more inclined to buy a Mars bar because of the social meaning Mars has created around the sports teams and facilities in the examples above – which in and of itself is nothing to do with a Mars bar…

I blogged previously about three exciting psychological theories (Approach-Avoidance motivation, Somatic Markers and reinforcement theory), all of which play a huge role in our interactions with our community. As does cognitive consonance for that matter, as this quote from R Michael Brown demonstrates:

Almost all of the residents of Florida are migrants. Many become like the place they live in. They adopt the attitudes of the location and culture. Others find a place that is most like them – or their view of themselves.

I think a person’s view of their own personal brand and their perception of the location’s brand, and how they fit together, is a prime motivator [in migration].

Source: LinkedIn discussion

While Michael talks specifically here about migration, the ethos of his words is equally applicable to any purchase or investment (financial, cognitive or of time).

A combination of these theories therefore places these key drivers deep in the mind of the consumer creating a virtuous circle of community engagement, marketing and brand positioning, especially if the original brand build is created with the community in mind

To be honest, this post probably should be a book. Every strand of the CNM model contained in the presentation could be expanded upon massively because we live in a complex, multi-layered society. I find it thrilling, daunting, terrifying and energising in equal measure.

But I’ve got a feeling about this. I feel that this is Right.

I would love your feedback on this first attempt to explain the process, concept and benefit of the Community Network Marketing Concept. Am I on the right track? Am I on a new track, or has it all been done before, just under a different name?


13 thoughts on “Community Network Marketing – making the global hyperlocal

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  2. Great blog post Neil and it was certainly worth the wait.

    The CNM proposition is certainly very ambitious in scope and I will struggle to tackle every point that I would raise.

    For myself though, this paragraph beginning with stuck out:

    “Using the CNM model will create a culture (over time) where all individuals, groups and organisations within the geographical area I cover are committed to road safety.”

    Is that a realistic proposition, one of the apsects of society is that it is full of people with differing opinions and views. Could, we really convert ardent libertarians into believing and promoting community health and safety policies. Would, people with those views even care if their actions become socially unacceptable?

    • Hi Edmund

      I think that such a ‘conversion’ is possible, but not through existing Authority figures. Through the CNM model, because the whole infrastructure of the local society is bought in to a principle/concept through value sharing etc, then the objectors would be persuaded by the people around them.
      If a friend/family member/trusted local authority figure (i.e. one of good community standing) is giving an opinion, then the resistance level should be lower than the same opinion being given by someone in a position of authority, with whom the recipient doesn’t have a relationship (and may even have resistance to).

      I believe that people do care about the communities around them (physical, cognitive, associative etc) and want to feel part of that community.
      If their actions then rub against the grain of community opinion/action, this may make them experience discomfort causing a behaviour modification (approach/avoidance motivation, I think).

      In the case of ‘elf and safety, that’s a very tricky one as so many health and safety laws are constructed to protect those with no common-sense from themselves. We shouldn’t need warnings on take-away coffee cups that the contents may be hot for example!

      However, we should be able to establish a common baseline of what is common-sense and achievable, and use the community network models for that.

      For brands, the situation should be a lot simpler!

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