Geno Church is a strategist, creative director, and community designer with more than 20 years of experience utilizing human-centered discovery methodologies, branding, and word of mouth strategies. He is the author of The Passion Conversation: Understanding, Sparking, and Sustaining Word of Mouth Marketing, and he hosts The Shared Ship Podcast.
In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss word of mouth marketing strategies and the importance of building a digital community.
Discovering the Power of Community
Geno started out as an art and creative director, but became an expert in word of mouth strategies after learning the power of communication and community.
In the early 2000s, Geno worked for a tobacco cessation program. During that time, South Carolina had the highest smoking rate of any state in the US, so he helped create programs to help teenagers understand the consequences of using tobacco. He worked alongside parents who had lost children to drugs and witnessed the power of conversation and a community taking action. Building this community helped lower the smoking rates across the entire state.
Years later, he convinced the people he worked with to do a peer-to-peer program where they educated teenagers about smoking. They brought in people from across the country to help them build a curriculum to teach the teenagers so they could then go and teach others.
Geno spoke at a conference about this program and a woman asked him if he could do something similar for them at Fiskars, a gardening tools and craft supplies company. Geno agreed and helped them with their branding strategy by going out and interviewing people about why they craft. As they did this, he built a community for Fiskars through word of mouth marketing. They built a blog and connected with their community by finding why they loved what Fiskars provided.
“[Word of mouth] is the longest running form of communication that has [had an] impact, that has ever existed for humanity,” Geno said.
After discovering the power of word of mouth communication and community, Geno started working in community design. He launched his business in the beginning of the pandemic and found that brands need community. Building a community helps define our brand’s story and connects us back to the customer.
Geno’s greatest home run was working with Wonderopolis, a program within the National Center for Families Learning. He talked with children and parents about learning and discovered that the best way to teach people was not necessarily by promoting literacy but by promoting curiosity and wonder.
Wonderopolis became focused on how every day holds a new wonder. Geno only discovered this when he went out and talked with people, but because he did, he helped build a community that changes people’s lives.
“The thing that I’m the most proud of is being able to play a small part in communities that are still making a difference in people’s lives,” Geno said.
Building a Digital Community
Geno believes a community is essential for our branding strategies. Creating a digital community for our brands helps us connect with our customers and understand their wants and needs. So, how do we build a digital community?
Talk to Our Customers
The first thing we should do is go out and talk to people. “If you’re going out and you’re looking for your customers and your advocates, you need to go where they are and you need to find out how you connect with them, and also find out what ticks in their life,” Geno said.
As we interact with our customers, we should use the conversation as an opportunity to learn more about them. How did they find our product? Why are they passionate about our product or services? We can use this information to improve our brand and really connect with our customers.
Learn Our Customers’ Journeys to Our Products
“We all have our own path . . . to the way we use a product or a service. We also have our own path as to how we become passionate about that product or service,” Geno said. When we find what paths our customers take to get to our product, we will better understand the reason they choose our products over others. This is what should be the basis of our communities.
For example, Geno was always a Ford Mustang guy, but he ordered a Bronco because of an experience he had. Over the summer, he spent time at off-roading events with some people he worked with. Because of his passion for off-roading, he stepped in a path that led him to become passionate about Broncos as well.
How do our customers become passionate about our products? What are their stories and unique experiences that led them to our brand? When we know their stories, we can use them as ways to market our brand and form a community centered around their passions and values.
“You want to find the different stories that people are living that connect back to your brand, your product, [or] your service,” Geno said. “If you can do that, you can start to find a way to build something special. . . . I really believe we have to build a more holistic ecosystem of marketing that moves a fan that likes your stuff to [become] an advocate that really supports you to [become] an evangelist that loves you.”
Build a Community Around Our Customers’ Passions
Instead of focusing on selling our products or services, we can start off by building a community around our customers’ stories and passions. If we can find out who our customers are by having conversations with them, we can build our products and services around their passions. Then, we can connect to them as a brand.
Often businesses can get so caught up in the urgency of things they don’t take the time necessary to truly get to know their customers. However, the reason our customers buy from us is often because of their passions and experiences, and if we don’t understand that, we most likely won’t be able to resonate with them.
“Community is really, really important, and I wish more brands and organizations understood that; they want a shortcut to not do the hard work, [but] this takes a human-centered approach. Trying to build a community that’s built to add meaning [takes time].”
To help us discover who our customers are, we can leverage influencers. “It takes a community in this human grid to power word of mouth,” Geno said. “These everyday influence servers are really powerful. We need [them] to help us build out a community that, in turn, can [help us] build word of mouth.”
Influencers already have an established community of people who trust them. We can partner with these influencers to help us reach their audience to build our own community.
Help Our Customers Feel Alive
Joseph Campbell, an American professor, said,
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
We should explore this in our brands. How can we help people feel alive? How can we help create experiences for them with our brands? We can do this by creating a community.
As a brand, we have great opportunities to tap into people’s emotions and create moments for them. We should seek to do this by first understanding their passions and needs, then building a community to connect with them around that.
Thank you so much Geno for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
- Word of mouth is the longest running form of communication that has impacted humanity. We should use word of mouth marketing in our brands by building a community.
- We should have conversations with our customers to learn their stories and unique experiences that led them to our brand.
- Once we know our customers’ passions, we can build a community centered around those passions.
- We can leverage influencers to help us build our community.
- We should use our brands to create experiences for our customers where they feel alive.
Connect with Geno
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