Community

Community-Led Growth: What It Is and How to Achieve It

Community-led growth is a great way to humanize your brand. In this article, we explain what it is and how to achieve it.
Martine Hammar
September 29, 2022

In the crowded market of SaaS products, how do you stand out from your competitors? You all have an awesome platform with great features. You all have great customer service and you all offer a great pricing structure. 

But here's the problem: you all have all those things! So how can you be noticed?

Before launching StoryPrompt, I was the brand co-ordinator at Sendible. My husband Gavin, was the CEO and Founder. To cut a 13 year journey short, Sendible transitioned from a tiny little idea into one of the top 5 tools in the MarTech space. As a result, Sendible was acquired in 2021 and we launched StoryPrompt in early 2022.

Between 2016-2018, the growth of Sendible stalled. We were 100% bootstrapped and facing a world where our competitors had investment and massive budgets. It’s fair to say, the odds were stacked against us. Statistically speaking, we shouldn’t have succeeded. Their teams were bigger and their budgets significantly larger.

But instead of admitting defeat, we decided to compete. But in order to compete, we had to do things very differently. 

So we embraced our community and humanized our brand!

In this article I am going to explain how our community-led approach contributed to the growth of Sendible. I’ll also explain the differences between community-led and product-led growth and show you the strategies we used to stand out in a crowded market.

What is community-led growth?

Community-led growth is defined by Jatin KB as “The process of converting a product’s users into its best advocates, who then go on to tell their peers about their experiences with the product”. 

Gavin Hammar gave a great definition of community-led growth in this tweet:

Simply put, the best people to sell your product or services are in fact your happiest customers. These are the people your business has impacted directly.

And that does not include you!

Community-led growth puts your community first. These advocates can create user-generated content (UGC) and share that content with their communities. It's considered trustworthy and honest because it's from people just like them.

What is product-led growth?

To explain product-led growth, I need to take you back to the time when you were cold-called by a company who tried to sell you their services. Just thinking about this, I start to bubble with frustration. Surprisingly, this sales-led approach still exists today. But does it actually work anymore? In a time where we value every minute of our day, when we are trying to have work-life balance, do we really want to spend an hour on the phone being sold to? I certainly don’t! 

Product-led growth ensures that those phone calls don’t happen. And this is because the software is so intuitive that there is no need for that salesperson. According to the Product-Led Growth Collective "Momentum is maintained and exponentially grown by the increased inbound interest and word-of-mouth promotion that comes from having a well-designed product". 

How to stand out in a crowded market

As I mentioned, Sendible needed to stand out from our competitors. Having a good product or good customer service was no longer enough. We needed to find a way to get attention. 

Below are some of the strategies we used at Sendible to humanize our brand, which ultimately led to substantial growth.

Become an authentic human

This sounds obvious, because of course, we are all humans. But the difference is, are you a human who hides behind text or are you a friendly face that a customer can relate to?

We made a point of showing our vulnerable sides on social media, showing how we overcame obstacles and learnt from them, and showing the team behind the brand.

So while our competitors had bots, we had friendly customer support. Our customer-facing teams created videos with tips and tricks and uploaded them to social media. Instead of multiple emails to users, our support team responded to tickets with short, but informative videos.

Here is a video of Veronika Vēbere, Sendible’s Head of Lead Generation, talking about how you can introduce employee advocacy into your marketing strategy. 

Use video instead of boring text

Part of becoming authentic humans meant we showed our faces wherever possible. So to achieve this, we scrapped lengthy newsletters. And instead, customers received a video newsletter. A representative from each team shared what they were working on. This served as information for the customer, but also showed them exactly who they would be speaking to if they contacted the team. It made the Sendible team seem approachable and relatable.  

Below is an example of a monthly video newsletter that was created and sent to customers.

We also encouraged the Sendible team to use their cameras on Zoom calls, especially with customers. The customer deserved to know who they were speaking to, and it enhanced the conversation, support, and overall customer experience.

Replace stock images with real photos

Stock images are useful when you need a variety of images and aren't able to capture your own. But if you have an engaged community of employees or customers, then why would you pay to have a model in these images?

We removed all stock images from all our branding – website, blogs, social media posts, and replaced them with pictures of the Sendible team and customers. We were determined to create a memorable, unique brand that conveyed our community. So instead of models, we used actual people whose lives we touched.

Create a behind-the-scenes podcast

We introduced a podcast called Sendible Insider. In this podcast we shared everything! This included the founding story, working together as a married couple, interviews with other SaaS founders, and tips for growing a business. The result was that people really got to know us and respected us for being vulnerable and sharing our challenges. And because they could relate to us, we indirectly helped them along their journey. 

Here is a video we created for the Sendible Insider podcast. It was made at the beginning of lockdown in April 2020. This podcast was called How To Run A Business While Homeschooling The Kids.

Create an experience that people talk about

In 2019 and 2020 we attended the Social Media Marketing World conference in San Diego. Initially we contemplated sponsoring a booth. This is where we could have demoed Sendible and given swag to our customers and prospects. 

But we knew we wanted to stand out so we decided to create an experience. If we had spent money on a booth, we would have been one of a few hundred companies doing exactly that. So instead we hired a trendy bar and hosted a mixer. We had an open bar, delicious food, and an exclusive guest-list of Sendible users, potential customers, and conference attendees. 

We also surrounded the venue with swag that guests could help themselves to. There were large TV screens around the venue. This is where we could have displayed features of Sendible (product-led approach), but instead we showed our community. We showed the people behind Sendible, happy customers wearing our swag and those all-important testimonials from our happiest customers. 

Below is a post that was created by an attendee who had a memorable experience at the mixer.

Create moments of delight for your customers

One of the ways that we rewarded our community was to delight them wherever possible. We believed it was not okay for us to deliver exactly what we promised. To stand out we needed to be truly remarkable! 

We sent our customers swag to reward them for their loyalty, this included hoodies, t-shirts and notebooks. In exchange they left us online reviews and told their wider community about us. Gavin, our CEO connected with all new users on LinkedIn, and he surprised customers during customer meet-ups.

Below is a post from an Instagram story created by one of our swag recipients.

Provide ungated content with no strings attached

Gated content requires an action from you, so for example adding your email address in exchange for valuable content. We removed this "exchange" completely and created ungated content. This meant that our content was available to our community and we asked for nothing in return.

The reason we did this was simple – we wanted our community to feel respected and receive value from the content we were creating. This became another way of delighting them. And due to the frictionless experience for them, they in turn shared the content with their wider communities.

An example of ungated content that we created was the Sendible Social Media Calendar. This calendar serves as inspiration for social media posts that users could create and post directly from Sendible.

Create a relatable movement

When trying to distinguish ourselves from our competitors, we knew we needed to create a movement that people could identify with, and in turn want to support. 

We therefore came up with the message “Every brand has a story. Be its voice”. We could have simply created swag with a tagline like "Social Media Management Software". That would have been simple, after all that’s exactly what we offered.

But we wanted to attract the customer and make them the hero. What this means is that we wanted them to be remarkable, not us. And we would just help them along this journey.

Essentially “Every brand has a story. Be its voice” means that every brand has their own story they want to share. And we were the company that could help them share it. 

Customers and prospects absolutely loved this positioning and instead of being social media management software, we became a storytelling platform that could help them become the best storytellers they could be. 

They believed in the messaging and the movement we created.

Build real relationships with industry experts

Thought leaders and industry experts who like your product will have significantly more reach than the average user. This is simply because they have already established a community of people who trust them and value their opinions. Their community look to them for recommendations and advice so it's great for you if they like your product.

It’s also nice for you to delight them to get them supporting you and mentioning you to their community.

And if you're ever in the same city, try and meet up. Below is a picture from Social Media Marketing World when we met keynote speaker, Donna Moritz.

Encourage customers to create video testimonials and UGC

I've spoken about the importance of customers creating user-generated content for you. A brilliant way for them to capture the content is to use video testimonial software like StoryPrompt. 

StoryPrompt allows you to easily capture authentic and trustworthy testimonials. By integrating with AI, your videos are automatically edited and produced with your own branding, music and b-roll. These can then be embedded on your website, on social media or in email campaigns.

For more information, this article will show you why video testimonials are so effective.

This is an example of a video testimonial for StoryPrompt created by Park Howell.

Conclusion

There’s a very well known quote by P.T Barnum “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else”. And the same is true for your brand. Your brand deserves to stand out from the crowd. You’ve likely poured your heart and soul into building a brand your customers love, so it deserves to be noticed. 

The strategies listed above are not text-book based. They are tried and tested strategies that we applied at Sendible.

Want some proof? Just check out the graph of Sendible's growth below. Here you can see how our strategies for community-led growth resulted in the spike shown in this chart, and ultimately to Sendible's acquisition.

There's no doubt that putting our community first contributed to substantial growth at Sendible.

So never forget about that loyal community you have around you. They deserve to become the best advocates of your brand. Empower them, delight them, incentivize them, and get them sharing trustworthy content with their communities.

Martine Hammar

Chief Storyteller at StoryPrompt

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