Your Business Needs an Incrediball Community: Tips to Start Yours

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In today's episode, I, Brianne West, will take you on a journey exploring the critical role that community building plays in mission-driven businesses—and really, any business at all (and damn it's hard to build one!). Understand why a vibrant community is not just another marketing tactic but stands as the very foundation of successful ventures. We'll discuss how it can amplify customer engagement and even enhance investment opportunities, drawing from real-life examples like Incrediballs, Girls that Invest, Mecca, and Gymshark. Join me to gain practical advice on fostering an enthusiastic and dedicated community that can elevate your mission-driven business to unparalleled success.

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Kia ora and welcome back to another episode of Now, That's What I Call Business. I'm Brianne West, your host. You probably know me as the founder and former CEO of Ethique, but hopefully you're also beginning to hear about a company called Incrediballs. So Incrediballs has been fizzing with activity and today I'm going to talk about community building because community isn't just a buzzword, it's the backbone of any successful business and it's exactly how I'm building Incrediballs.

It's kind of how I build Ethique, I just didn't know it. But first of all, I have a question for you. What on earth do we call the tablet? We had a branding meeting a couple of weeks ago and there was a few of the Incrediballs team in the room who I'm calling the Irreplaceables, which I think is adorable, and a branding specialist. And we tossed a couple of options around.

So I don't like the term tablet because it sounds too medicinal, but it is by definition a tablet. So how about soda tablet? I don't love it. What about soda ball? Don't love it either. A soda pop, a fizzy tablet, an effervescent tablet? It's actually tricky than you think. Eventually I want Incrediballs to become part of the vernacular, right? So much like you say, I'm going to Google it, I want you to say, "I'll have a ball, I'll have an Incrediball or toss me a black current ball, whatever." However this will get used, right? That's what I want to happen.

But in the meantime, we need a simple way to describe the actual tablet that will resonate across different countries. Soda pop tablet? I don't know. I like soda pop because it sounds fun and it gives me a bit of a nostalgic hit, not because I'm from the 1950s. Obviously I wasn't born then, but because that's kind of like a throwback to what I think was a more fun, carefree time. Easy to say that though of course. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Let's go back to community. When I say community, I don't mean like a faceless crowd. I don't mean your number of followers. Number of followers is a vanity metric that really doesn't mean anything and I don't know where businesses get so caught up on it. A community in a business context is about relationships that are built on mutual values, the mission and the culture. It's not about transactions or anything, it's about interactions. And for mission-driven businesses like ours, being transparent is what fosters that trust and nurtures your community.

Now, I think community is one of the most important things a business can nurture. I think it's part of your brand. It's infinitely more important than bloody paid ads. If you've not heard me speak before, I don't like paid ads. I don't think they build much of a brand and I think they're kind of a never ending spiral of doom. However, I digress. A community will provide you with real value. So it goes beyond the idea of likes and follows. It's real engagement, feedback, advocacy. It's word of mouth. It's a whole bunch of people out there in the world who want your brand to succeed.

Businesses with strong communities are 63% more likely to get investment. They grow significantly faster and they have infinitely more loyal customers. They have a customer retention rate, 2.5 times higher than those without a community focus. Community members help you host events, proofread your next blog post. They will point out issues and error you have on your website because trust me, they'll be there and they'll do so in a nice way, not a you're an idiot way. They bring a wealth of varied viewpoints, which is really useful because you have one way of viewing the world.

Everyone else has a different way. They have passion because the more engaged the community is about your brand, the more passionate they are, which again drives up that engagement and sales. The most important thing is if you as a mission-driven business can drive that passion, that loyalty, you're also driving change because you are here, right? To do so much more than just selling stuff. Just selling a drink or a soda pop tablet or whatever we're calling it. You are there to rid the world of plastic bottles to prove that business can be done better. That's why we are here.

And the more we drive that message home with our community and they then start talking about it with their friends and everybody gets excited about it, the more we will change the world. People call me naive for this, right? Whatever. I have seen it with my own eyes. Ethique changed an industry, Incrediballs will change the next one. So I want to talk a little about how I built community in Ethique because the examples of how successful that was was our two equity crowdfunding campaigns.

Now, I have talked ad-lib about those in the investment episode, so I'm not going to talk about them here. But to recap, we did two equity crowdfunding rounds. One in 2015, one 2017. So the two years apart, and we raised significant amounts for a company of that size at that point, and they were both runaway successes. Why? Community. People were super excited about our product, sure, but they were way more excited about what it's we were doing and how.

The 352 people who invested in Ethique and got that 4,800% return, they invested because they believed in what we were trying to do and they wanted to be on board with that. They wanted to help us change the world and I will never be able to thank them for it enough. Although I do hope that return helped. That meant the absolute world to me. And yes, for those who haven't listened to that investment episode, we were thinking about doing that with Incrediballs too. There's a couple of ways I built community in Ethique. Though to be perfectly honest, I didn't really know what I was doing.

I didn't know that's what I was doing. I was building a business as a young entrepreneur with no real idea what I was doing, but I was doing it with the people who were following along. I asked them every question on social media, from what color do you want this bar to naming competitions, which were always hilarious because naming suggestions are so much fun. I can't wait to run those for Incrediballs.

Those sorts of questions got people involved. The people who saw their answers come to light were even more involved because they saw those ideas in the real world. Do you know how cool it is walking down the shelves in a foreign country and seeing your product on shelves? Honestly, that feeling is just... Can't be beaten. Anyway. So by asking those questions and involving that feedback in our business decisions, we showed our community that we gave a shit what they said. We listened and we implemented it.

Now, that's a huge part of building trust. Another thing was I was radically transparent. I explained why our pricing was like it was. And when I scaled up and moved into a bigger factory, I lowered the price of our conditioner bars ours and I explained why we could do that now, find a company who lowers their prices.

It's not common. In fact, our price increase earlier this year was our first ever price increase in 10 years in business even though we have fairly sustainably sourced ingredient. Anyway, I'm not focusing on now. I had a group of those earliest Ethique supporters and I made them into kind of like a support Brianne go through her daily breakdowns group. And it was just a Facebook group from memory and I just peppered lots of questions at them. Sometimes I celebrated my wins, explained my challenges. It was like an advisory group but made up of actual customers.

Look, I don't know if this is best practice because it could go wrong in a whole plethora of ways, but it was a lovely way to have an inner circle of people who really gave a shit about the company and that was kind of replaced by shareholders later on when we did that equity crowdfunding round. It was effectively treating our customers like an advisory board, like distant friends.

I valued their opinion. I asked them about a lot of different things, but I did so in a way that didn't come across that I didn't know what I was doing because I had that expertise as a biochemist because at the end of the day I was selling them products to put on their face and skin and I needed to ensure that they knew that I knew what I was doing because that was never the bit I was worried about. The cosmetic chemistry side, I was rock solid. That degree, I was good. What I wasn't sure about was what people wanted.

So I asked and that made all of the difference. So some examples of some incredibly successful businesses that have built business using community. Number one is my favorite example because I adore some girls that invest. Talk about success through a podcast. All they did for about two years was offer great high value information for their followers. And as a result, they have a community, I think over 200,000 members strong, one of the most successful podcasts on earth, a bestselling book on all sorts of lists around the world. And now she travels the world speaking because her mission is to help women understand their finances better for greater life choices to get freedom.

That is an incredible mission. And because she has been so transparent upfront and involved, her followers and given that value without expecting anything back, she's grown an incredibly loyal community. Go and have a look at their Instagram page, go and have a listen to their podcast to understand what they do and how they do it.

My second example is MECCA. MECCA aren't a particularly mission-driven brand, right? But they've managed to engender a community through Beauty Loop. Now everybody listening in New Zealand, Australia, you'll probably know what Beauty Loop is. It's a way that they have managed to get people to join their loyalty scheme. And loyalty schemes don't build community. They are not the same thing. Loyalty schemes, and I don't like the word scheme, loyalty plans, programs are a way to get people to spend more money with you or perhaps encourage them to take other actions. They can be done in a more noble way if you like, but they're not a community builder themselves.

They can contribute to it, but that's not what it is. But MECCA has managed to create a community through these two countries through their Beauty Loop program, and it's really quite incredible how successful that's been. Again, urge you to go and have a look at their website.

Gymshark is my last example because Gymshark is probably the fastest growing gym wear brand probably, and that's through the use of the online world getting influenced to talk about them, building a community online, really leaning into their target audience, which is another big piece of building community, which I'll talk about in a minute. They're another excellent one. It's worth having a listen to a podcast or two of the founders of Gymshark. So if community isn't followers, it's not a loyalty program, how the fuck do you build it? It's actually not that complicated.

It's treating your customers and your followers like friends. It's asking the questions as having conversations with them. It's responding to every comment. Well, not every comment. I don't respond to climate change [inaudible 00:09:14] anymore. It's collaboration, not competition. Now, this is something that's definitely gaining traction in the business world finally, because there's a saying, I can't remember who said it, but I think it's brilliant, "The sustainability race is one when the last business crosses the finish line." Right?

If we truly want to change the world, we need to collaborate with one another, not compete. So collaborative partnerships that help you move into another community are a great way to expand your community. If you can find a business that has the same values or very similar values to you and your customers, it's an excellent way to open up into new ones.

The key to a successful company is a feedback loop. And I'm not saying every three months you throw out a big 20-minute long survey. I'm saying you are constantly available for your customers, whether that is through social media, whether you constantly ask questions on your stories on Instagram, which I highly recommend. That's what I do all the time. Whether you've got a form online that they can fill out at any point in time with giving you an idea or some feedback or, Hey, I actually didn't really like what you did here. Can you please change that?

You are going to get respectful feedback 90% of the time. And yeah, you're going to have some people who are a bit dickish about it. Regardless of their delivery, you want to have a look to see if what they're saying is reasonable and fear. And if it's not, then throw it in the bin, but have a good think about it. A community built brand is self-aware. It has a high EQ. Just like empathetic brand, people who are self-aware know their own failures, understand and respect them and appreciate that they're not perfect, but constantly work on themselves. That's kind of like what a brand is. We're getting a bit touchy feely now, and some people mentioned that they talk about brands like people, people, but they kind of are, or a good one is anyway.

You don't build a community by constantly talking about your stuff by waving your hands in the ear and saying, "Hey, buy my stuff. Buy my stuff, buy my stuff," which is what I have seen on social media recently. People don't go on social media to buy your stuff. They go on social media to be educated, entertained or inspired by and large. And buying your shampoo bar, that's not going to do any of those things for them. You build a community by talking about the other things that matter.

Sure, 20% of the things you talk about can be your product and you can talk about your product tangentially if you are talking about other things. If for say you are a plastic free drinks brand, you could talk about how there's plastic in cans. You could talk about how there's plastic gyres in the ocean. You could talk about why that matters. You could talk about microplastics found in the human heart. And all of those things were negative. So maybe have a think about your personality as to whether you want to be a negative facing brand, which I don't recommend.

But your community is there to have conversations with you. It's not there to be just soldier stuff. So have a think when you have your hair done, who do you resonate more with the hairdresser who gives you a couple of tips and how you can achieve that and then says, "Oh, and this is what I use to help me deal it." Or the hairdresser that pulls you over to the shelf and says, "Oh, to do this, you need this product, this product and this product." And doesn't give you anything further around it.

I've had both and I know which one I bought my product from and was able to sort of badly do what she did with my hair. That's what you want to have a think about. Do not just be a salesperson. Another way to create community is free resources. So whether it's things like blog posts, which are great for SEO if done correctly and education, but they also help build community because people will go to your website to learn more.

Now, in the case of Business But Better, which is my online education hub for entrepreneurs, it's totally free and it's got 50-ish lessons and I add to it every fortnight of how to export, how to build a product, how to go and build a brand, how to go and market something, and it's all totally free. So I have built a community of people who are very excited about this because I'm giving them a whole lot of value to go back to girls that invest.

That's what they did. And then finally, and I think this is really key, is long-term vision. The bigger a company gets, typically they lose that community feel. Now, scale makes things a little bit harder. Obviously a lot of companies lose culture as they scale. That's a hard one to hold onto. A lot of companies will lose that one-on-one touch with their customer as they scale. All of those things are a real shame and it's something you need to work on not losing long-term vision because community building is a marathon, not a sprint.

So if you have a long-term focus on building a truly passionate community and how you're going to continue to serve them, even as you become like a $100 million company or a billion dollar company and, hey, let's think big because I am, how are you going to continue to serve them? Because your long-term commitment will pay off and customer loyalty and word of mouth marketing.

Now, my building community and Incrediballs, and many of the ways I've just talked about, there will be an incredible loyalty program which will actually encourage things like actions and what you can do to save the planet versus what you can do to buy more stuff. Well, it'll have both, right? I'm asking you every question under the sun. Yesterday I talked about how we're going to have merch, but not on the typical way because I'm not going to make more T-shirts. I'm going to create some way that we iron on transfers or we use embroidery to put the Incrediballs brand on clothing people already own.

My poor Irreplaceables are going to have more Incrediball clothing than they know what to do with, but it's all going to be stuff they already own. So we're not creating more waste. I'm going to have such a tight community on our social media. Then I'm going to get instant feedback on things like flavours and slogans. If you haven't read the slogan read on social media, I highly recommend you go and do it. It's hilarious. But the key is I'm going to be transparent.

I'm going to be honest. I'm going to build trust. I'm going to explain when things go wrong. I'm going to explain when things go right and we're going to celebrate together. We're going to commiserate together because I'm building a brand that's going to change the world, and I can't do that on my own. That's how I'm building community in Incrediballs. That's a wrap on community building. My exercise for you this week is go and have a think about how you're going to do it too, or how you're already doing it and celebrate yourself and give yourself a pat on the back for already nailing something that big businesses can't do.

Go and have a look at the engagement rate on many businesses that are part of our integral life and see how many people actually respond to what they're doing or see how many people respond to what they're doing in a positive way. I do feel for these social media marketers often at many companies because all they get is negative comments. So you may already be smashing this out of the park or you might need to work a little harder on it.

I'm not very good at making friends in person. I always feel silly. I'm always worried that I'm annoying them. I guess that's called social anxiety, right? And if you've ever come up to me in a supermarket and I act weird, I promise I'm not being standoffish. I'm also surprised when people come up and say, "Hello," and just, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude. I am trying to have a conversation with you. I'm just a wee bit awkward at times." Anyway, I'm off topic. So that's a wrap for today.

If you're not focusing on community, you really are missing out on one of the most powerful assets your business will have. So I'm Brianne West and this has been Now That's What I Call Business where we're not just talking business, we're creating communities that are changing the world. As a quick PS, next week is all about export and retail strategy. So where Incrediballs is going and how on earth you can build a strategy too because they matter. See you next week!

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