The Proven Framework For Building A Thriving Community

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Marketing Podcast with Liz Lathan

Liz Lathan, a guest on the Duct Tape Marketing podcastIn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Liz Lathan. Liz is a community design strategist, a community enablement architect, and the Creator of Return on Emotion™.

Key Takeaway:

What would your business look like if every customer was your biggest fan? Community-driven companies grow revenue 30% faster than product-led companies. Liz Lathan joins me in this episode as shares her proven framework for creating a thriving community that converts.

Questions I ask Liz Lathan:

  • [1:11] I read one of your recent LinkedIn posts and you said that community-first companies are growing 30% faster than product-first companies – what is a community-first company in your definition?
  • [6:53] What are a couple of examples of companies doing this really well?
  • [8:44] What’s a more relatable example or way somebody who is seen as much more of a conservative business can approach this?
  • [13:56] How do you get somebody oriented to what their strategy ought to be when it comes to building a community?
  • [15:20] What elements ignite a community when you’re trying to get started?
  • [16:06] What are some ways that you’re seeing people take that literal idea of “show” and broaden it?
  • [17:21] When you talk about gatherings sometimes people just jump to big trade shows or events – but bringing your customers together for lunch could be a really simple way to gather, right?
  • [20:02] Could you talk a little bit more about this idea of being a sounding board and how that differs from an advisory board or an actual board?
  • [21:22] Where people can find out more about your work or connect with you?

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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Outbound Squad, formerly Blissful Prospecting, hosted by Jason Bay. It's brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. Jason Bay is a leading sales expert and he talks with other leading sales experts to get you the information you need. I've recent episode, he talked about how much time you need to spend prospecting. Really, really eye-opening. Check it out. Uh, listen to the outbound squad, wherever you get your podcasts. Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Liz Lathan. She's a community design strategist, community enablement architect. I've got all kinds of terms here, pioneer of community as a service and creator of Return on Emotion, the quantifiable value of experiences. So I don't even know where to start, but Liz, welcome to the show,

Liz Lathan (01:05): . You know, it's fun when you get to make up all of your own. Exactly. Titles right,

John Jantsch (01:09): .

Liz Lathan (01:09): Exactly. Thanks for having me.

John Jantsch (01:11): So I read on one of your recent LinkedIn posts, I think it was, uh, community First Companies are growing 30% faster than product first companies. So there's a lot to unpack there. First off, what's a community first company in your definition?

Liz Lathan (01:25): Yeah, I mean I think when you look at the marketing funnel and the evolution of the marketing funnel, it's how companies are evolving to engage their, not only their current customers, but their prospects too. So if you old days, product first funnel was awareness, consideration, purchase, get the product out there, let people know you have a solution to their problem and your product is it and go down the pipe. Then you move to the evolution of customer first marketing funnel where we have our buyer's journey, discover, learn, try, buy, advocate, all that stuff. We believe that we're now evolving to a community first way of doing the marketing funnel. And so we, the process we see in the funnel now is the top of funnel is the show. That could be a podcast, it could be a book, it could be a TikTok show, whatever it is.

(02:07): It's your top of funnel using the people and the content from your community. And the next one down goes to the site. Where's the place where people can actually find the people behind your community? So it's not Lululemon's Shop of Stuff, it's Lululemon's Events and Gathering and Slack channel and the place where they can connect with actual people. The next one is the series of gatherings because that's what community's all about. Whether it's virtual or in-person, it does not matter, but you have to bring the people together. And then one we like to call the sounding board, which is the small five to seven people. That's either your advisory board or their own advisory board. And you're just mining them for trends and insights and they are your testimonials. They are the people helping you determine what content's relevant. And then finally, our shareable moment is kind of the advocate part of the buyer's journey is it's a swag store or it's content that you've created that they can share or those white papers. But the whole funnel is built on creating content, buy and for the community and re-shared by them. And it turns into actually a flywheel. Usually your flywheel and your funnel are totally different. This is one and the same. You just move 'em down the pipe and then it just spins it all up.

John Jantsch (03:11): So, so, so the topic, it's funny, do you know Mark Schaffer than on the show before? Probably I, and he, he's got a new book coming on January. He just pinged me today to be on this show and it's called Belonging to the Brand, why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy. So I think this is a topic that's not going away fast, is it?

Liz Lathan (03:29): I agree. You know, my major concern is that community is gonna become that useless word like experiential where no one has a real definition and it means something different to everyone and then it means nothing. Yeah. So I think it's really important for us to kind of grab that bull by the horns and kind of define it right now.

John Jantsch (03:44): So as I listen to you talk about those ideas in the, in this journey or funnel as you were calling it, you know, how do you, I mean, does it matter what I sell? I mean, because I could see a very product oriented company having trouble wrapping their heads around this where I mean somebody like me, I mean this is what I've been doing for 15 years. , you know, because it's the way for a professional service business certainly to thrive. But I think you're suggesting this is anybody and everybody, isn't it?

Liz Lathan (04:09): I really, we've been trying to poke holes in it and we've been getting a lot of feedback, our own sounding board and we haven't found the holes yet. So I'm open to hearing where the problem is. But yes, from a professional services, from coaching to tax strategist, our own tax strategist is gonna starting to use this for our own services. We were contacted by a c PPG company recently and using that kind of community funnel to the, like the sounding board is the moms of kids will be eating the products and getting the feedback back. So it's really just putting structure to the marketing with the community first. Because nobody trusts papa ads and you don't even see emails anymore cuz they go into spam. And so those normal ways of marketing are kind of, they're hards to do now. Whereas you always look at the reviews on Amazon, you always put it to Slack and find out what your community does. So if you can have the community marketing for you, we've always known that. But now there's a process to it.

John Jantsch (05:00): And I think you hit on like the tax strategist. I think B2B companies in particular have probably been slower to come to this idea. Whereas b2c, I mean m and MS has had a, has a community, right? I mean I think a lot of B2C companies kind of get that. We have to get out there where the masses are. B2B companies I think are probably the greatest untapped opportunity right now.

Liz Lathan (05:22): I think so too. A lot of, I work a lot in the tech industry and so they, the history of a community has been an online forum or a Reddit sub thread or you know Right. Subreddit, something like that. User groups. Yeah. And so they throw a community manager at it that's just throwing some questions in there and to engage the community, which is one way to do it. But I'm suggesting that's one of the five. Yeah. And so the opportunity to broaden that and make community more of your business strategy and less of a simple marketing tactic. And I think it's coming around, I think the problem that B2B is gonna have is actually executing it. Yeah. Because it's hard to get approval or funding for a role that no one knows if it's gonna have value yet. You kind of intrinsically know, but you don't extrinsically know . Yeah. So that's where we have this, the idea of community as a service, which is, you know, helping those companies map out a strategy, map out the monetization plan and either we help execute or we give them the full plan so that they can outsource the pieces they need to execute

John Jantsch (06:15): Well. And B2B companies that were naturally slower to come to say social media. And I think in a lot of ways, I'm not saying this is an outreach of social media, but I think people started realizing what was possible, you know, in community because of the public facing social media. Wouldn't you say?

Liz Lathan (06:30): Absolutely. We've had lots of conversations on is social media community and I think social media enables community. Yeah. And can be top of funnel for community and can be bottom funnel, bottom of the funnel for real connection. But it's, social media isn't inherently community. Same with events. Events. A lot of event professionals are like, well my event is the community. Well it's not the people or the community. The event was simply a vessel for that community to form and bond.

John Jantsch (06:53): So I know you write about some of the companies that are doing this well. So maybe you could share a couple examples of people that you think are really not just embracing this but doing it well.

Liz Lathan (07:04): Yeah, I think that, oh my gosh, there's a lot of really good examples. They just quite haven't quite put it into the structure. But you mentioned the whole variety of things. Think about Mr. Beast, you know, he's like, what was he, he's not a brand, he's not a product, he's not a service. What, what is this guy? He's a philanthropist but he is also, I don't even know what he is anymore. But his community is so rabid and he fits all of the pieces. I mean top of funnel. He clearly has a show. If you haven't seen Mr. Bass, definitely go look at him. I think he's one of the top YouTubers in existence. Mm-hmm. sponsors give him money, he spends it by giving it back to people and then he gets a gajillion views. And so that's his top of funnel. But as you bring that down to the site, he has, if you Google not just the site where the show is, he's a full philanthropic site.

(07:48): And so it's all about the foundation and the people that he's able to help by doing this big crazy ridiculous thing that he does. And then bring it to the series of gatherings. Look at Mr. Beas Burger, the fans, how many people showed up in Minneapolis to get a burger from his place? You know, they want to gather and they want to be a part of it. And he enables that through the next one down, that sounding board of inviting, picking subscribers to win an opportunity to go do something. And so it just again, fuels itself. People get to share. My friend was on that or he responded to my comment on YouTube like, but it's, you know, a super weird way to think of community cuz it's not a product or service, but it totally fits what's happening.

John Jantsch (08:27): Well they, I do think, let's bring it down a little more pedestrian in that because I think a lot of companies, you know, you mentioned your accountant, I love to pick on accountants that, you know, I think they see that and they say, well that's fine. Somebody just wants to be a spectacle. You know, to get, I mean the, you know, the means justify the ends I guess. But I'm not doing that, you know, Absolut, so Absolutely. So how, what's a more maybe relatable example or you know, way that somebody who is seen as much more of a conservative business and at least is shackled by that at the

Liz Lathan (08:54): Moment. Absolutely. Yeah. So when we talk through our accountant and the way that she can bring this to market, she has the email blasts, right? But that's not top of funnel cause it only goes to people that are already on her list. Right? Right. But if she were to either have her own podcast or even a TikTok show where it's you, what are some accounting tech tap, STR tax strategies that you need to know and keep that regularly going. Sure. Now she can be super top of funnel. She does not have to be the one to execute it, but imagine her every Monday she's just gonna set up her phone and record a couple of little snippets of tips and then hire somebody to go do all the editing and put it on TikTok and make sure that it's being engaged with. And so the site isn't just where, how you can find out how you can work with her, but it's a webinar that she's gonna be doing or you know, a small gathering she's doing in Atlanta, Georgia to bring people together to talk about these things. And so she can actually create community around what she's doing. And now people, let me give you another example all with this. I just ran an event this weekend. We had 15 people together and the whole idea was just, we didn't know what the process was gonna be. We didn't know, sorry, we didn't know what

John Jantsch (10:02): The can't turn off your phone if you can't find it. Right.

Liz Lathan (10:04): , it's right. We didn't know what the event agenda was gonna be. It was just 15 people getting together to talk about their challenges. 14 of these people said, you know, I actually am interested in taxes. And she ended up running an hour and a half long conversation around taxes and tax strategies and how entrepreneurs can think about this and left our little two day event with seven new clients. So there's one gathering that brings it together just by her sharing her knowledge.

John Jantsch (10:27): Yeah, that's, I've been teaching that exact tactic, I call it peer-to-peer networking. And it really, you just facilitated and show up and the magic happens if you've got, especially if you've got clients in the room, you know they're gonna talk about how brilliant you are.

Liz Lathan (10:40): Yeah. And you know, all of us that have been in corporate for a while know that you think through an event strategy and a marketing strategy, where do I need to go and be? And that is borrowing real estate, right? You're renting it on other people's property. But when you can bring that into yourself and create your own community referrals is still how most of our small businesses grow.

John Jantsch (10:57): Yeah, and I love that too because, you know, it was 14, 15 people, but you know, again, that accounting is probably not looking for 373 new clients this month. Right. I mean they're, they were in a great environment to spend great quality time and get what they needed out of it. It doesn't always have to be the mass. Thousands of people does it.

Liz Lathan (11:17): That's exactly right. And the CPG company that I mentioned, they have, you know, a niche unique product that they're bringing to the us. They are not a big company. They do not have a lot of money. And they know that they can't just try to get people by pouring all their money into Facebook ads. They really need to build a community. Like think of Liquid Death, the water. Have you heard of this? Yeah,

John Jantsch (11:34): Sure, sure. It's what my kids drink it, let's put it that way.

Liz Lathan (11:38): Yeah. There's nothing unique about it except it's water in a can with really cool marketing and branding. But if you go to their website and join their list, then they're gonna send you a t-shirt. So now you're gonna go advocate for them. And people, when you go to a concert and you're drinking, you have a choice of a beer or liquid death, you and you, you need water, liquid death looks pretty darn cool. So again, bringing the community together to get excited about it.

John Jantsch (11:58): Yeah, it's uh, it's big with the skateboarding and mountain biking crowd

Liz Lathan (12:03): , we just wanna feel like you belong. Like you're not the person with the water bottle. You wanna feel cool. And so again, it's a sense of belonging, which is what community's all about.

John Jantsch (12:10): Let me ask you a few things. Do you feel like you know what differentiates your business from every other business out there? Can you confidently charge a premium for what you offer? Are you working from a plan, a marketing roadmap that allows you to know precisely what to do next? Look, don't worry if you can't answer yes to any or all of these questions, you're not alone. See marketers today get so focused on the tactic of the week, staring them right in the face that they forget to look at the big picture. The overarching strategy needed to consistently grow their business. Over the years I've worked with thousands of businesses helping them do just that. Create the perfect marketing strategy and plan that gives total clarity about what to do next. Confidence to charge ahead and charge more and complete control of the marketing tactics they choose.

(13:01): I would love to help you and your team do the same look to find out if our strategy first program is right for you, visit and request a free consultation. That's So somebody comes to you and says they listen to this show and they say, I gotta look this Liz person up. And they come to you and they say we gotta do this. I, you have like a series of questions that I think you published, but can I go through the process of how you'd work with somebody to help them identify? Cuz it's not just, you know, it's like when viral videos were like all the thing, everybody wanted to make a viral video, but why ? Right. For to what end? Right. And I think people probably are the same way. Some people run the risk of listening to this and saying, okay, R you're right, I need a community. But there's no, like how does this fit in with the objectives of the business ? So how do you kind of get somebody oriented, what, you know, you already mentioned kind of some of the journey, but what are some of the questions that would lead to you unearthing what their strategy ought to be?

Liz Lathan (14:06): I think really figuring out where are you on your community journey? Do you already have customers or are you right Just starting out from the very beginning and you've written the book and you wanna just start from there. And so understanding your, I guess I would call it your community maturity level, right? If you already have a huge following, then that's really easy. You just need to go put a wrapper around them and start doing something with them. But if you're starting from scratch, then we can help identify the strategies. And some of the strategies could be paid strategies, but a genuine community is really more of starting with that sounding board. Can we maybe, you know, I talk about the funnel idea of those five things I brought to you, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop with, start with the top of funnel, right? You can start with the people that are already there. I have five friends who believe in me. Great, there's your sounding board, let's bring them together and start having conversations and then we can build the strategy around what happens next.

John Jantsch (15:00): So I think you're right. If you have a current community, some of this is a leisure to refine. What about starting from scratch and attracting? I mean, are there elements that need to be there? I mean, I'm in marketing. If I started a marketing community right now, it would be pretty hard to cut through, you know, the clutter, right? So what are some elements that actually kind of ignite a community when you're trying to get started?

Liz Lathan (15:24): Have you ever seen that TED talk where they have the guy at the music festival and is the

John Jantsch (15:29): Crazy goes over there? Yeah.

Liz Lathan (15:31): Yep. Exactly. So you have the leader who goes up there crazy dancing and then he's just being weird and then a second person joins him and now the third person is like, oh, it's okay to dance here. Oh, and then it becomes a movement. That's the story of the TED Talk and everybody joins. That is the same thing with community. You get one or two people starting, they invite a friend, they invite a friend. You know, we used to call or we still call it viral ticketing when you buy something and then you go get your friends and you get a kickback, whatever. I mean the concepts aren't wrong, it's just using it in a more authentic way rather than a broad shotgun marketing approach way.

John Jantsch (16:06): So you talked a little bit about the, the show aspect. And I think a lot of people can really, I mean a podcast is a show, a live stream is a show I think about a lot of people can relate to those examples. But going with like your CPG company, you know, what are some ways that you're seeing people take that literal idea of show and maybe broadening it?

Liz Lathan (16:26): Yeah, for that one it's TikTok. So it's how do you get something really funky and weird out there that's gonna hit, you know? Mm-hmm and Viral doesn't have to mean you get 3 million views on something. Viral is just big enough to start growing an audience and making sure that TikTok has a call to action. So you know, even in the comments or some way that you can do it so that you start to bring them into your community. Very few people that I've seen anyway, at least I don't often watch a video and then follow the creator. I just keep, you know, sure. Scrolling through and watch something else. And so the follow isn't the call to action, the follow is to start joining the community so you can do something more interesting. And maybe for the C B G company, it's gonna be, if you sign up here, you're gonna get a sample of our product. And so sampling might be the way to go for them because it's new to the market. And so you can start building the community. Now you got a sample, would you join my sounding board? I'd love to get your feedback. What new flavors should we have? What should we change about it?

John Jantsch (17:20): So when, when you talk about gatherings, again, I think a lot of people might jump straight to like a big trade show or some, you know, something on that scale. But you know, I can't tell you how many times over the years I've told uh, business owners, small business owners that maybe they ought to just bring their customers together for lunch percent and how like foreign that idea is . So I mean it really can be that simple, right?

Liz Lathan (17:43): And you don't even have to have content. And in fact right now, after two and a half years of pandemic time, where we are are bombarded with content mm-hmm and I to get me to go to a top golf, to listen to your sales pitch, to then swing the Golf club is kinda like, eh, I'm gonna have dinner with my kids instead. But if you invite me to go to a splatter painting room and we're just gonna be crazy and get messy and splatter paint everywhere and now you're gonna follow up with me next week when my painting is dry and you know, get it to me and we can have that conversation, well that's a little bit more interesting. And it does not, I mean that's five people, 10 people bring 'em together for something doesn't have to cost a lot of money. One of those splatter paint rooms is like 500 bucks for six people, you know? So yeah, like you're saying, it's, I think the more impact you can get from a smaller group, then that's gonna start your share, you know, word of mouth, your community.

John Jantsch (18:34): You know, it's interesting, I've noticed too, and I think this is maybe here to stay, but it's certainly a pandemic driven, we're also sick of Zoom, we're also sick of being lectured at, you know, joining courses that you know, when watching videos. I've had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from varying people together with zero Agenda. Literally a let's just get together, we're all business owners or we're all entrepreneurs, like what's going on in your world? And it's amazing how peop you, we get the best like feedback , you know, it was like, that was awesome. That was so great. You're amazing. I was like, we didn't do anything .

Liz Lathan (19:08): That's literally what we do. We'll show up with a stack of the large format, sticky notes, sharpie markers, we, it's called a spontaneous think tank. And you put up there, what are all the challenges that you're trying to solve right now? And then you have everybody go back across those challenges and write their name and phone number on ones that they've solved and can help each other with love that. And so it's, this is how we love to format those events. The one we did this weekend, 15 people we started out with, first of all, you start out with a big shared moment. You have to have a shared experience. And so for us it's the family style meal, but we did a nacho table night where you like cover the whole table in aluminum foil and chips and put all the things there. So everybody's there eating with their hands. Pass me the jalapenos, like breaks down the walls immediately and then break out the sticky notes and sharpies and figure out what you're gonna do this weekend. It was incredible.

John Jantsch (19:54): I can't get past the health department moment there,

Liz Lathan (19:56): . There's only 15 of us. We didn't have to have Art .

John Jantsch (19:59): Alright, talk little bit more about this sounding board, you know, idea for anybody who's not done, I mean it's people I've read books over the years, you know, you shove an advisory board or an actual board, right? The companies have, how is this maybe different from any of those concepts?

Liz Lathan (20:13): I don't think it is different. I think people just need to do it. You can even buy your sounding board, you know, join a mastermind group, be a part of a community that exists out there. It's, if you don't know anybody, you can get that way. Well you can ask some neighbors. It's just having a few people outside of your normal day to day that you can ask real honest questions out and get real honest feedback of. And when we were first testing out this community as a service idea, we went to someone in our network and pitched it and he manages an incubator with very new startups and he was like, absolutely not. If any of my startups hired you for community as a a service, they'd be out of my incubator because they need to start their own community. There is no way I would let them hire that out. He goes, but I would absolutely bring you in and pay for a strategy session to help them identify how they should grow a community, what their priorities are. And then once they hit that tipping point that they do need support, now they can go bring it in. And like that wasn't a perspective we'd heard before and it was very outside of what we heard. Although we wanted the negative cuz we haven't found it yet. , it was hard to hear, but it was like, okay, this is, you just need more diverse perspectives.

John Jantsch (21:18): Yeah, absolutely. Well that's a great place for me to ask where people can find out more about your work or connect with you and learn about the community as a service.

Liz Lathan (21:27): Absolutely. Community v community is the website and I am Liz Lathan with an N as in November on LinkedIn. I'd love to connect.

John Jantsch (21:36): Awesome. Well Liz, I appreciate you taking a moment to stop by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and maybe we'll run into you on these days out there on the road.

Liz Lathan (21:44): 100%. Thank you.

John Jantsch (21:49): Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find [email protected],, dot co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketing I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network.

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