2020 Reflections for Growth and Success: Creating Belonging and Building Community
2020 was the most personally challenging year of my life. I can say that with absolute confidence and in full recognition that I am not alone in this truth.
I survived the year because I have a strong professional community here at GrowthWorks and the fortune of working for a firm that provided me with the flexibility, empathy, and care that was required in a year where my family faced a personal trauma right on the heels of COVID-19. These tremendous shocks to life made working in our dual-career household with a 3-year-old and 6-year-old around, ALL THE TIME, a special kind of challenging.
I also survived the year because in our work, work I am deeply passionate about and work that gives me purpose and meaning, I was continuously connected to other humans and their struggles, by way of in-depth, human-centric, and empathy-led qualitative market research efforts we continued conducting (albeit virtually) on behalf of and with our clients. My job is to understand human needs and identify where our clients’ services, products, solutions, and experiences can best address those that are unmet, most frustrating, and sometimes painful. And improve on peoples’ lives in the process.
Whether my 2020 discussions with consumers (though I prefer to call them connections) were about chocolate + confections, “momming”, exercise, beverages, retail therapy, apparel, the outdoors, mobility, or our precious natural resources, one clear finding and common thread emerged: everyone desired to belong…and needed to more than ever.
While belonging had different meanings and took different shape depending on the category, most of the consumers we talked to, regardless of category or industry, were (sometimes desperately) looking for a sense of community and all the benefits that come from being a part of one.
In a terribly challenging year for most, I am sure this comes as no surprise. It is certainly not a new finding or idea, as highlighted by one of the longest running studies of adult life, that embracing community helps us live longer and be happier. But in 2020, this simple human need and truth was more present in our work and findings than ever before.
Community-building is a core part of our work, infused in every step of our approach and something we always strive to help build and strengthen for our clients, as an ultimate outcome, regardless of their specific challenge. For us community-building starts with two key components, with the real beauty in the exploration and outlining and refining of all that is in between the layers:
- INFRASTRUCTURE – We believe you have to build, enable, and foster the infrastructure that supports a living, growing, and thriving community. Your infrastructure might be in your go-to-market strategy, your channels of distribution, your social media presence, the content you put out into the world, or the access you enable to your people (real humans on the other “end of the line” that can help). While infrastructure looks different for every company and challenge, there is a thoughtful, purposeful foundation that community is built upon.
- INSPIRATION – We believe that as members of your community, you also have to do more than just fill a void. You have to educate, motivate, excite, etc. Inspiring people to join you goes beyond your products or services. Belonging becomes a way of life that your audience could never define as one solution, because the experiences and connectivity you offer and bring to the table are so much more.
Note that intention is embedded in both components. Failing to act with intention often means failing, and it could not be more critical than in the work of building communities. However, if done right, the equation falls into place:
INFRASTRUCTURE + INSPIRATION = IRREPLACEABILITY
While your competitors may be able to make what you make, serve how you serve, look how you look, etc., without a strong community they cannot do so in the singular, robust, and fully connected way that you do. A strong community is IRREPLACEABLE as your followers, audiences, and consumers find themselves members of a tribe that only gets stronger and tighter with time.
While community as a word and concept feels simple, delivering against it to build and strengthen the relationship your brand and company has with consumers is anything but. The work we do to help organizations intently build communities requires some fundamental explorations and process steps to make sure the two key components are in place:
- Deep discovery on all the aspects of your target audience’s “current life” that delivers a sense of belonging
- Mapping of their journeys towards belonging
- Extraction of the key elements along this journey to deeply understand their meaning
- Application of those learnings and findings into possible future worlds and scenarios enabled by your progress-driving efforts and initiatives.
As we look forward into 2021 (and beyond), we will continue to explore with clients and put processes in place that help them foster communities for their organizations and brands, better serve consumers, and create meaningful connections that last throughout — and long after — the challenges of 2020.