The Show Must Go On: How Brands Continue to Grow Communities Through Digital Events

Before the coronavirus, brands used a variety of tactics to reach new prospects and connect with their existing customers. Brands like Glossier, Hadley Bennett, and Poo-Pourri were doing everything from in-store beauty tutorials to cooking classes to national roadshow tours in order to meaningfully connect with their customers. 

Sure, products were available to buy at these types of events, but selling was entirely besides the point. 

These brands were investing in a longer-term strategy to build community and that elusive “cult-like following” that would ultimately lead to organic word-of-mouth marketing, new customer referrals, and repeat purchases. 

Community events contribute to the bottom line, but for many brands, in-person experiences are part of a differentiation strategy, whether intentional or not. Community events are an expression of a brand’s unique DNA. 

“We realized that creating an experience was important from day one. That’s how you can really differentiate yourself,” said Charlie Nordstorm, co-founder of Notre, a contemporary apparel and shoe retailer brand. Notre hosts community programs and in-store experiences as a way to contribute to their local community but also to build exclusive supplier relationships with sought-after labels and limited edition products (the kind people wait in line for hours to buy). 

Consumers were engaging in experiences, building new friendships with like-minded individuals, and unknowingly deepening their brand affinity — then the coronavirus hit. 

What was a brand to do? The only thing they could: go online. 

I interviewed two marketers on how their community programs shifted when the coronavirus struck. Each business employed different plans and strategies based on feedback from customers, brand values, and a major dose of creativity. 

See how each brand reformatted the community experiences they were hosting in-person into thriving digital community programs with massive impact. 

 

Leslie Wong: Tell me a bit about Notre and the role that community has played in your brand’s growth?

Charlie Nordstorm: We’re a contemporary men’s and women’s clothing and shoe boutique. We opened six years ago, it’s pretty crazy to think that we’ve made it all this way. We opened as a brick-and-mortar store in Chicago and then launched a digital store. In both of those spaces, community and experience have always been very important to us. 

There are lots of ways to connect with your community and present an experience. We wanted to present the experience in a way that gives someone unique and compelling reasons to visit our store or interact with us online. 

We’ve cultivated that mindset since the early days when all four of the co-founders would work the floor so we could connect directly to customers and listen to what they were saying and hear how the experiences we create in the store impact them. 

We see ourselves as part of the larger Chicago community and want to be able to give back and add to it, so we host unique events for the community that often have a charitable component to them.

 

Leslie: It’s all about giving back and creating experiences. How has this helped you curate the product selection that Notre’s known for amongst sneaker enthusiasts? 

Charlie: We found that the way we showcased the product online and the way we could make our store look and feel were very important to the label when they decided who they would let carry their products. We try to find the most creative ways to showcase a product and what makes it special and that’s helped brands with exclusive products recognize us. 

I think the death of retail is a bit overrated. The generic or big box stores are the ones suffering because they carry products you can find everywhere.

 

Leslie: When the coronavirus hit, that meant a pause on all these community events, which are a big part of your brand. How did you translate these experiences to the web?  

Charlie: We’ve used the online space often, especially in the last few months, to create new and unique ways of directly connecting with customers. 

One of my favorite projects was the online experience we created around the launch of Nike’s Space Hippie. It ties into the ethos and the story of the product and is an experience you can connect with. People are pretty savvy these days and can smell when the intent behind a campaign is all commercial. We try leaning away from that and instead create interactive experiences that help tell a story, even online. 

When the coronavirus hit, we had to figure out how to equitably release high demand products entirely online, which can be a little tricky. 

Normally, we run raffles to purchase limited quantity products in-person. During the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to use our access to a very sought-after product as a tool to actively make things better in our community. We thought, “Why not use that to do something philanthropic during these difficult times?” We thought it could be a way to do something good and it played out. We sent out some big checks from our online raffles to groups like HugsNoSlugs and Boys and Girls Club of Chicago.

"People are pretty savvy these days and can smell when the intent behind a campaign is all commercial. We try leaning away from that and instead create interactive experiences that help tell a story, even online. "

Charlie Nordstorm, co-founder, Notre

Leslie: What Notre’s doing is incredible. From a business standpoint, do you think these digital community initiatives helped Notre grow or made your existing customers like you even more? 

Charlie: I hope our customers like what we’re doing, but that’s not why we do it. I hope we grow a new audience from people hearing about it, but I would be okay if that doesn’t happen because I know we’ve done some great stuff anyway. 

If you’re doing community events for how they look, that’s not really the right reason.

 

Leslie: What advice do you have for brands who are not yet engaged in community-building today? 

Charlie: Figure out how to give things a personal touch. We want all of our communications to feel as personal as they can, across email and our website. All the little things can be used to build connections. 

And it’s important to be thoughtful. Building a community around your brand is really about finding enjoyable ways to connect with your customers without trying to force a transaction.

"Figure out how to give things a personal touch. We want all of our communications to feel as personal as they can, across email and our website. All the little things can be used to build connections. "

Charlie Nordstorm, co-founder, Notre

The results of community-oriented marketing

Notre’s approach to community building paid off big. At a moment when people needed help, Notre led with empathy and used the resources they had to rally a large audience around a unifying cause. 

Charlie and his co-founders launched the initiative with the sole goal of raising money for a deserving cause but ended up receiving attention from The Chicago Tribune and thousands of consumers showing appreciation for the meaningful initiative. 

Certainly, digital events can create buzz and awareness for a brand, but what types of behaviors does that lead to? 

We asked consumers about the impact that digital community events hosted by brands during the coronavirus had on them. Of roughly 600 consumers who attended a digital event during the coronavirus, 61 percent said they would attend another digital event by the same brand or a different brand and 39 percent said they would not attend another digital event. 

When asked if they had purchased a product from the brand since attending a digital event during the pandemic, 31 percent said they had purchased a product featured in the digital event, 20 percent said they purchased a product not featured in the digital event, 32 percent said they haven’t purchased a product yet but plan to, and 15 percent said they don’t plan to purchase any products from the brand. 

Based on this feedback, about 50 percent of consumers who attend digital events will purchase from your brand within three months after a digital event, and roughly 30 percent will purchase from your brand eventually.

But sales may not be the best key performance indicator (KPI) for community events. 

How to measure the success of digital events

Morgan Laskey, community marketing events manager at Klaviyo, shared more about how she’s measured the success of digital community events during the pandemic and gives advice on launching your own digital community events program. 

 

Leslie Wong: How did the coronavirus change your day-to-day at Klaviyo?

Morgan Laskey: It completely changed my day-to-day at Klaviyo. My team and I were so used to bringing the community together in a physical space where networking and collaboration could happen. 

A lot of hands-on collaboration happens at our tour stops and at Klaviyo Boston where customers and team members are working together in the Klaviyo product and doing social activities with one another. 

We knew we couldn’t replicate those exact same experiences online, so we did a total pivot and created brand new digital community programs, Live From Your Laptop and Community Chat

 

Leslie: What inspired the digital community events you launched during the pandemic?

Morgan: For Live From Your Laptop, the inspiration came from me watching The Today Show and thinking it would be an interesting concept to interview customers and get down to the nitty-gritty of what they do. 

I also wanted to help support our amazing customers during this time. If we can help drive new sales for them and give them a platform to teach their greatest passions, that really counts as something. Similar to the initiative to support small businesses over the last few months, we are supporting our community’s businesses.

Based on surveys from live events in the past, we know that brands want to learn from other brands and we didn’t want to do another webinar type event with slides and a presentation.  

We knew this was a really stressful time for people, including myself! When I get stressed I like to do something physically or mentally challenging that doesn’t have to do with work. The interactive activity at the end of Live From Your Laptop brings a bit of humanness to that event. It helps people relax and focus on something else besides work. After hearing what a brand is going through, we want you to do a 15-minute yoga flow and walk away feeling like things are going to be okay. 

With Community Chat, the idea started as a customer panel but then I noticed that everybody else was doing panels and I like creating original concepts. So I reformatted the event to start off with a panel where we talk about a trending topic, then we bring the community together to chat about those topics in virtual breakout rooms. They get to share and discuss how they’re overcoming challenges, which is what I noticed people like doing at in-person events. 

They want to be able to talk to each other, so we let them. It’s not rocket science—it’s putting myself in an attendee’s shoes and asking myself, “What would I want out of this event?”

 

Leslie: I know digital and in-person events are apples and orangesthere’s no comparisonbut what have digital events helped you do that in-person events could not? 

Morgan: I think it’s opened up a chance for more people to get involved with the community. We have a ton of customers who are now tuning in from Australia and Singapore and London where we might only be hosting an event once a year before the coronavirus pandemic. 

Now, they’re able to tune in every week if they want. With virtual events, there aren’t as many creative options and formats as in-person events, but it’s definitely an opportunity to reach more people. 

 

Leslie: How do you measure the success of these digital marketing events?

Morgan: We set up goals and KPIs prior to the event. We measure engagement. We look at how many people register for the event and how many attend it. 

We also look at product usage. We pull out like three to four features that were talked about during an event and we measure the use of those features 30, 60, and 90 days after attending the event. 

Other than those, our goal is to create a community of Klaviyo superfans who are going to share their Klaviyo experiences with ecommerce brands. That is harder to track and measure. We see comments and sharing on social media, but can’t track all the referrals and conversations had between brands. 

Primarily, it’s our job as a community events team to bring the community together to collaborate and to hear from other business owners. Other teams are focused on things like product training, but that’s not what our goals are. Our goals are to share growth and success stories.

I think the true measure of success is when we get feedback from the events. We’ve received over a hundred amazing responses just over the past two weeks with comments about how much they love the events and how much the events help them. If they love it and are getting value out of it, that’s all that matters.

"If they love it and are getting value out of it, that's all that matters. "

Morgan Laskey, community marketing events manager, Klaviyo

Leslie: How does the Klaviyo platform help you make these events more successful? 

Morgan: We segment customers in a variety of ways that makes for a meaningful experience, both in-person and digitally. When we hosted live events around the world, we segmented our audience by geographic location depending what city the event was happening in. Beyond location, we segment by behaviors and characteristics so we can reach certain audiences, like our early customers and loyalists, first. We’ll send promotional invitations based on how long someone’s been a Klaviyo customer and even their engagement with past events. 

For our digital events, we want the content and conversations to be as relevant and valuable as possible so we segment based on industry. If a men’s apparel brand is speaking on a Community Chat, we’re sure to prioritize inviting other apparel brands to the event so they can relate to and learn from one another. 

Just prior to digital events, we send reminder emails at strategic times and we make them very personal. We’ll segment people who registered for the event and send them an email an hour before it starts reminding them what they’re going to get out of the event. 

Then during the start of the event, I’ll send a plain text email to anybody that registered letting them know one more time that we’re starting and can’t wait to have them join. The open and click rates on that very last email have been unbelievable—that last touch is important. 

For the people who have opened an initial invitation but haven’t registered yet, we send them an email 30 minutes prior to the event letting them know it’s not too late to join. We’ve also seen a lot of great traction there. 

 

Leslie: I loved your earlier advice about creating events that customers will get value out of. What other advice do you have for brands wanting to host digital events? 

Morgan: First, figure out where your customers are spending time. Is it email? LinkedIn? Instagram? Figure out which account has your biggest following and most engagement and start building there. If it’s Instagram, you could host Instagram Live tutorials, “Ask Me Anything” events, or interview some of your loyal customers so they can share how your product or service has helped them. 

Also, just be human. The beauty of Live From Your Laptop and Community Chat is that they are very raw. It’s not polished. It’s not overly produced. 

People want to feel a connection with you and your brand and you won’t achieve that by putting on a show that isn’t true to who you are. Simply talking to your customers goes a long way. Be relatable and empathetic with your customers and help them in any way that you can.

"People want to feel a connection with you and your brand and you won’t achieve that by putting on a show that isn’t true to who you are. Simply talking to your customers goes a long way. Be relatable and empathetic with your customers and help them in any way that you can. "

Morgan Laskey, community marketing events manager, Klaviyo

Final Thoughts

There’s no question that community-minded marketers have had to pivot plans because of the coronavirus, but it’s clear that digital events have brought about some advantages to their business like reaching broader audiences without geographic limitations. 

In the case of Klaviyo’s community events, a digital format allows them to bring people together for conversations they wouldn’t normally have access to at the same frequency if they were in person. 

Brands that can deliver hope and human connection during these tough times have the opportunity to make an even greater impact on consumers than before the coronavirus. 

While data supports that these events promote product sales in the short term, marketers like Charlie and Morgan are betting on the long-term payoff that comes with creating human-to-human experiences that people love, whether in-person or online. 

Want to hear more from brands who have shifted their marketing strategy to outlast the coronavirus pandemic? Find out how the founder of Esselle SF grew her D2C business 600 percent.

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