The idea and tactics of the community marketing is interesting, especially in the context of China’s digital media market. Although the digital landscape with the forward internet development is vastly different from its counterpart in the West, the elements of a successful strategy are the same worldwide and lessons can be learned from China.
Authors: Siqian Yang and Sari Suominen
The evolution of internet over the decades has widen consumers options and shifted organisations’ ways of doing business. Digital-first remains the key feature for today’s activities. For a company, its business value is established on innovation process and marketing that are driven by its customer value, in which marketing has been profoundly disrupted by digitalisation. The era of traditional marketing campaigns pushing on consumers through mass media is ending, instead empowered consumers are demanding more and more from the companies they choose to build relationship with. (Edelman 2014.) Therefore, companies should not rely on advertising exposure solely, but to pivot towards target customer-centric brand communities to drive values. To understand customer needs and to maintain the relationship with them are crucial in today’s distracting digital world.
What is Community Marketing?
As a marketing strategy, community marketing focuses on the perceived needs of target customers, to engage consumers in an active, non-invasive prospect and conversation. Precisely, a company can create a community across internet within its business vision to grasp specific customers and to build and manage the relationship with those customers. The concept of community marketing transformed the marketing goals from on-time sales to a long-term loyalty program. Therefore, the key to community marketing is to treat the customer base as part of the company’s assets and manage it well. (Lu 2018.)
China, as the world’s largest social-media market with the biggest internet user base, has an incredibly rich and diverse online landscape, providing companies with lucrative opportunities to apply community marketing approaches. The decentralised internet space allows companies to connect consumers without intermediaries. This means that word of mouth and communities are at the heart of the Chinese internet. (YunQiHui 2020.) At the meantime, companies are facing the following three problems with their current digital marketing: 1) valueless user flows, 2) low conversion rates, and 3) overwhelmed online channels. These can be addressed with the 4Cs method of the community marketing suggested by Tang (2017) in “Ignite Community”.
Image 1. The decentralised internet space allows companies to connect consumers without intermediaries (YunQiHui 2020) (Image: mohamed hassan 2018)
The 4Cs Method
The 4Cs method contains 4 dimensions: 1) context, 2) community, 3) content, and 4) connect. It seeks to promote an appropriate content in a specific environment (context) towards certain customers (community) to connect individuals with shared values to make the marketing effect go viral. By utilising a 4Cs tactic, companies can achieve their community marketing goals with precise targets and optimal business values. Next, each “C” will be explained in more detail. An example of the use of the 4Cs method is given at the end.
The concept of “context” in the 4Cs refers to a special environment or circumstance that individuals or communities are involved in with considerations of time, place, users’ needs and moods. It can be a physical space or a social-media channel, but it needs to align with target audiences’ needs and preferences. In community marketing, finding an appropriate “context” is the priority. Marketers should be familiar with their target audiences’ discussion topics, meeting places, lifestyles, emotional states and needs, for example. After that, marketers will be able to select the channels and time most relevant to their audience. (Tang 2017, 26–73.)
A community is a group of people with the same interests and shared values. It is essential to develop communities that are made up of companies’ prospects and customers. Knowing or creating the community culture can be a powerful weapon in differentiating from the rivals. In China, the most used social-media channel for community management is WeChat. It has a large user base and many initial users who are active and highly bonded to the company’s values. In general, it is crucial to ensure a lively atmosphere between members of the community, and sometimes this can be done with offline activities. The main point is that companies should be aware of the power and the value of their customers. (Tang 2017, 161–207.)
In order to attract audience for conversion optimisation, an inspiring content is the trigger. It is well-known that for the digital market, user-generated content is the core value. With the rapid development of media ecosystem, diversified contents have been presented across channels, i.e. images, videos, or manga. For community marketing, seeding, and delivering content is not primarily about driving sales but to ultimately transform audiences into customers. In this scenario, every content needs to be tailor-made with business goals towards target customers’ needs and wants in a special context. That all needs to be adjusted for different media channels. The secret of creating an effective and valuable content is to use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) technic. SEO might be an out-of-date marketing strategy, but it can be a useful tool for user-generated content inspiration. A qualified tailor-made content should be able to cover the company’s values and illustrate its mission from a personal perspective to be emotionally compelling and to show the company’s identity that appeals to their audience. (Tang 2017, 212–251.)
The idea of “connect” in the community marketing encourages natural word of mouth advertising, spontaneously done by community members. As the digital world is hyper-connected, companies who have a well-managed community can promote their online business’ social exposure through customers. With the right push, creative content will almost always foster and generate social sharing. (Tang 2019, 302.)
Case: WeChat Pay
WeChat Pay, a digital e-wallet service with WeChat Wallet, has successfully used the 4Cs method. In 2015, WeChat Wallet team chose the 10 days before Lunar New Year Eve as the “context”, since people were off work and heading home for the biggest festival of the year. A cellular feature, Red Envelope, was established as their creation for “content”. With a group of initial users (“community”), they connected individuals sending and receiving traditional red envelopes, money gifts, on WeChat to their relatives and friends (“connect”). This straightforward initiative shortly led to an exponential increase in the users of WeChat Wallet. (Rock 2016.)
To sum up, community marketing uses customer-generated content in a customer-aligned context for a customer-serving purpose. It is obvious that the future of marketing is customer-centric and how the companies manage and utilise a valuable customer base is the key for them to go further in the era of digitalisation.
Edelman, D. 2014. Mastering Digital Marketing. McKinsey & Company. [Cited 11 April 2020]. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/mastering-digital-marketing
Lu, Y. 2018. The Community Marketing Method: IP + Community + Scenario. Shenzhen Juli Chuangxiang Information Technology. [Cited 14 April 2020]. Available at: https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1599415011925749122&wfr=spider&for=pc
mohamed hassan. 2018. [Cited 30 April 2020]. Available at: https://pxhere.com/fi/photo/1444327
Rock. 2016. From Zero to One. How Many Steps Does WeChat Red Envelope Take to Rise? SouHu. [Cited 17 April 2020]. Available at: https://www.sohu.com/a/66534336_114819
Tang, X. 2017. Ignite Community. 2nd ed. Beijing: China Machine Press.
YunQiHui. 2020. What is Community Marketing? How to Play Community Marketing in 2020. Cloud Enterprise Network Technology. [Cited 12 April 2020]. Available at: https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1655583992620579074&wfr=spider&for=pc
Siqian Yang is studying International Business at the LAB University of Applied Sciences.
Sari Suominen is a Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Leadership at the LAB University of Applied Sciences.
Illustration: https://pxhere.com/fi/photo/1451603 (CC0)
Reference to this article
Yang, S. & Suominen, S. 2020. Inside China’s Community Marketing: the 4Cs Method. LAB Pro. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at: https://www.labopen.fi/en/lab-pro/inside-chinas-community-marketing-the-4cs-method/