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Communities and the new era of brand influence


June 27, 2023

Influence has evolved, and communities are at the heart. This is why every brand needs good neighbours… An expert panel dissects the latest evolution of influence.


How people choose what to purchase has changed, and successful marketing means keeping pace with the evolution of influence.

Brands must know where consumers go to get the insight they need to feel confident about spending their hard-earned cash. So understanding where the power of influence lives is critical, and increasingly it is found in communities.

Campaign, in partnership with Reddit, brought together a dynamic group of industry thought leaders from brands and agencies to delve into the challenges of navigating the influence ecosystem.

Stages of influence
Data makes the world go around. Without it, marketers would struggle to reach the right audience at the right moment. But there is a downside to data, and that is relying on it at the expense of human connection. This is where influence comes in.

“In the last 10 years we’ve forgotten the importance of connecting with real people, because it’s all been about the data,” said Lizzie Nolan, chief transformation officer at Havas Media. “So at Havas we increasingly talk directly to the audience, talk to the places they hang out, and that way we get a much more genuine, real-life, and qualitative perspective.”

The beauty of human connection is that it can happen in different ways, and from different people, depending on where the consumer is on the journey. 

“We have seen that experts, through testimonials, educational content or personalisation, can provide an experience and advice that will influence buying,” said Alexandra Bolten, global head of marketing & social content at L’Oréal. “But the further you get down the tunnel you want real people to give advice and comments that help the decision. And in the middle of the funnel are the influencers and the creators that build trust and engagement.”

The rise of communities
Reddit – which sees itself as a community of communities – is home to over 100,000 highly engaged communities, which are also known as subreddits, that span every topic imaginable – from pets to parenting, cooking to cars. The rise of communities shows no sign of abating, and this can be great news for brands looking to influence purchase decisions.

“There has been a fundamental shift in how people are coming to the internet to seek information,” said David Trencher, Head of large customer sales, EMEA & AUS at Reddit. “Communities offer a big part of what people are looking for: seeking advice, seeking information, and that can lead to buying. That has come out of the pandemic, when people suddenly found themselves with more time to pursue passions and interests. Communities drive a sense of belonging and have a real impact on purchase decisions.”

Amanda Hoyle, senior creative strategist, EMEA, at Reddit, believes the major shift is consumers no longer falling over themselves to follow celebrity influencers slavishly.

“Five years ago, people would take what celebrity influencers had to say as the holy grail,” she said. “But consumers are savvier now and want to break free from siloed influence; they want to find like-minded communities with shared interests. That’s the big change: looking for real people who you can have real connections with.”

Getting communities right
Brands can’t just jump into communities and hope for the best. Communities are very aware of the equity they hold over brands, and have a huge influence on how brands are let in.

“Communities are naturally cynical and guarded about brands wandering in, so it’s difficult for brands to insert themselves,” said Natalie Cummins, CEO at Zenith: “It is a struggle to use communities as a communication tool, because authenticity is so key, and these communities are inherently bullshit-free.”

So, what’s the answer? Brands need to understand what truly influences a community, said Fritha Hookway, chief strategy officer at Initiative:“Go and talk to them, in their world, and be very prepared to be disarmed about what comes out because you can guarantee if you were pulling up a list of influencers you would not know why these people are connecting with a particular community. Audiences have become so fragmented, so you need to listen to them.”

Adding value
Brands that create an authentic connection with their audience have a head start, but the job is far from done. Once you’re inside a community, you need to add value: “Every time you go into a community, you have to think about what value you can add around the audiences’ reasons for being in that community, and their interests,” said Hoyle. “Spend time in the communities you’re advertising in, get to know the rules, get to know the inside jokes.”

Because communities now have the choice of which brands they want to partner with, they want the brands to have a positive impact. “To do that, you have to become part of their culture and endorse the same codes and values,” said Aurelia Noel, global head of innovation & transformation, dentsu X. “But it’s also important to stick to your brand values, and be brave enough to stick to the right strategic areas – even when under pressure from CFOs or CEOs to try and move into every community or space. There was a famous beer brand that backtracked on some of its values to fit into communities, and it just ended up looking disingenuous.”

Bolten highlighted a campaign run by Nyx Professional Makeup, part of the L’Oréal Group, that successfully added real value: “Nyx takes a very strong stance on representing all kinds of beauties, and it took a big step in creating its community in the metaverse. They created the world’s first decentralised autonomous organisation, called GORJS.” 

The result? An authentic experience, with a Discord channel of over 15,000 people actively engaged in the community.

On changing attitudes
Elaine Rodrigo, chief insights officer at Reckitt
“Communities are a great way for brands to drive change. At Reckitt, we choose a fight for each of our brands – what they stand for, and what they want to fight for, linked to sustainable development goals. This helps big brands to still make a real difference in communities, if done so authentically, like Vanish’s award-winning ‘Me, My autism, & I’ campaign.”

On collaboration
Adam Puchalsky, global head of content, at Wavemaker
“One thing we don’t do enough of as an industry is figuring out how to collaborate with other brands. A couple of years ago there was the Lady Gaga Bud Light Dive Bar tour. Bud Light drinkers weren’t really Lady Gaga fans and Lady Gaga fans weren’t really Bud Light drinkers, but they had the same values. So by creating a piece of entertainment, and streaming it, it created a new channel of authenticity and influence through collaboration.”

On challenges
Rhys Williams, head of digital & data at 7stars
“It is hard work to fit communities onto a media plan when you’re looking for reach and scale. It can be really hard work to reach what can be quite small communities, and we’ve got to be careful about the investment you’re putting in across different platforms.”

On smaller brands
Cat Chappell, head of biddable media at MediaHub
“Smaller incubator brands that really adopted communities at the heart of everything they do as a growth strategy have one thing in common: they leverage those communities through brand ambassadors and reward programmes to deliver a value exchange. The communities know they are useful to the brand as a focus group, but they also know they’re getting something back.”