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Countable Series: On the Power of Brand Enthusiast Groups

Here is episode three in the Countable Podcast Series. In this conversation, Countable Founder and CEO Bart Myers speaks with Fmr Tesla Sr Program Manager William Masterson. William is a big believer in the power of brand enthusiast groups. He explains the role of community in building winning products, which he has seen first hand at Apple and Tesla. He also argues that brands should let enthusiasts take the lead. Meet them where they are and get out of the way. Finally, William argues that community is the future of products, solving problems of marketing, retention, and customer outreach. As he says, “Community is everything.”

On the role of community in building winning products

Among the first topics discussed was the formula for winning products. William says sometimes it involves timing. But to really grow a product, he believes in community.

William says, “Let's assume that a product comes to market at the right place and the right time, and roots itself into the zeitgeist. And maybe it's one of a handful of similar competing solutions. I think the question ends up being, how does a product win out over its competitors? And that goes back to Betamax versus VHS. Some of those factors really are being in the right place at the right time. 

“Then, from a concept and design perspective, does the product actually solve the problem it sets out to solve? Is it a viable solution? Does the product have a reasonable learning curve for its target audience? The product needs to fulfill the most basic of day one user expectations. If the product is something complex enough to have a varying array of different user expectations, there needs to be an appropriate support structure for that product. Are there knowledge bases or appropriate training? If someone has a question, can they find an answer? Sometimes that is a website, or videos. 

“And sometimes it's being a part of a community. That's the stuff that I get most excited about. I love seeing how communities can grow a product. And what they'll do is literally turn around for the company and say, Here's what you need to know. Here's all of the trade secrets. Here's all the experience that we've built up over time. And you're gonna find out much more about why that product is a winning product, from the community, than you will from the company.”

On letting brand enthusiast groups take the lead

William discovered the power of brand enthusiasts working at Apple and Tesla. At Tesla, he oversaw the global “Owners Clubs” which unite enthusiasts who enjoy modifying their vehicles, among other things. While Tesla laid down some ground rules for these groups, they recognized their power in growing brand loyalty.

William says, “We started off with 15 or 20 groups and about 20,000 members in early 2017. Five years later, there were over 200,000 members in almost 200 clubs globally. The only thing that it required was letting these people do what they love to do, and building a relationship. We said, You're doing this thing already. Tell me about what you're doing. And let's find ways to legitimize what you're doing. To that end, there are going to be some rules. But how do we grow from there, and how do we work together? And how can I introduce you to all these other amazing people that are doing the same thing, so that you all can learn from each other?

“We continued to look for new opportunities, people, and emerging markets. To find people ahead of taking products to market and saying, If you want to be an advocate for our brand, let's find ways to make sure that you're doing it that aligns with our priorities. And that's not necessarily to say, We're going to muzzle you and prevent you from saying stuff. Quite the contrary. We're going to say, This is a direct line of feedback. Let us know if we're not doing things right.

“You have to work with those people. Recognize that they love your brand. They love your products, they want to use them. They want to be a part of your story. Show those people that you care.”

On why communities are the future of technology products

In the end, William’s experience has taught him one clear lesson: “Community is everything. Communities are an opportunity for us to share ourselves with other people, and other people that are into the same stuff that we're in. 

“Right now we're seeing a saturation of marketing. Anywhere you go online, you are inundated with ads. Whenever you spend time consuming content, you're inundated with, Here, buy these things. Care about what we're doing. Maybe that'll help you sell the product. But is it going to help you keep the customer and the community?"

Leaning into brand enthusiast groups

“Brands need to recognize that the community is part of your brand story. Lean into the hype, as we say. That draws more people in. And the more people that you draw in, and get into your little group, the more people that you can focus on brand loyalty. You can focus on customer retention. 

“It drives down marketing costs. It makes it easier to support your customer, because you're not the only one doing it. People are going to Facebook groups, to Twitter, to Reddit, to a Countable site to actually talk to each other about why they love a brand. And saying, Oh, by the way, while I'm here, I got this little thing that isn’t working right. Can you help answer this question? That saves that person having to go straight to the company to ask that question. 

“Leaning into communities allows customers to be more nimble and allows companies to run a little bit more lean. And maybe they don't need to. But if it makes your customer feel better about their experience being your customer, then do it. That's what matters. The customer experience is paramount. If you don't have a good customer experience, then you don't have a customer.”