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365 community marketing is the future – CLI founder

Community marketing is the model of the future and creates “awesome” monetisation opportunities for event organisers, according to a new association leader.

RD Whitney is founder of the Community Leaders Institute (CLI), which is the world’s first independent global educational body across the sector.

It is the brainchild of experts from the events, media and community industries – offering tools and training to professionals.

This 365 engagement approach has flourished over the last 18 months, when organisations were forced to rethink how they connect and inform their audiences.

‘The monetisation opportunities are awesome’

It now provides a model for organisers to create year-round revenue and heighten their brand awareness using digital tools.

RD said:  “The monetisation opportunities are awesome. 

“Let’s say you have a nice trade show or event around a particular industry where buyers and sellers are creating millions or billions of dollars of transactions. 

“Why wouldn’t you take advantage of the fact that you have a great connection and trust with the buyer and the seller?

“Create validation products, create online training products, create certification products, create online directories that can help people connect 365.

“Create peer networks, subscription-based peer networks where non-competing people can come together to learn from each other’s failures and successes. 

“You don’t need anybody in the middle and then you can just connect them. 

“So there’s so many opportunities to do it. You can do it online and offline together.”

CLI – which is free to join – features a toolkit of templates, worksheets, playbooks and guides to help professionals launch or grow their communities.

It will also include a programme of training led by thought leaders, alongside a directory with around 1680 vendors focussed on these associations.

The organisation is also adding features to the platform to best serve its members based on their input – “people support what they help create,” said RD.

He added: “Marketing is moving that way: associations, non-profits, corporations, media and event companies are moving that way.

“Companies that never wanted to have anything to do with any of this stuff, now they’re suddenly all community companies.

“So I thought, what if we created a community for community leaders – and so we just launched this CLI.

“What we realised was that there was really no organisation, connecting all these community things around the world – that’s what we intend to do.”

RD, who is also 365 Media CEO, said he became certain the community economic model was the way forward after seeing a TechCrunch headline earlier this year.

It claimed that the “chief community officer is the new CMO”, highlighting how companies are paying more attention to various channels as remote work and digital communication have become more widespread.

Meanwhile, 28% of start-up founders told a First Round survey that these associations were critical to their success – describing them as their business moat.

A 365 community can increase engagement year-round by delivering “always-on” content, marketplaces which can traffic leads over 12 months as well as virtual or hybrid events.

Vendors such as ExpoPlatform allow organisations to target potential customers and engage existing ones throughout the year, with a seamless experience from articles, to webinars, to hybrid events.

A robust engagement strategy drives participation all year round, allowing a company to generate a ready supply of leads and brand advocates to help it grow.

This is similar to a business-to-consumer subscription economy model which has seen a 435% surge over the last nine years, according to Zuora research.

The subscription model creates predictable, recurring revenue streams for businesses, and can be used by exhibition organisers to have suppliers subscribe for a year of activity rather than a one-off event.

The good news is, this is incredibly profitable’

But it is the connections and experience built up by event organisers that makes them best suited for making the most of the community approach, RD believes,

He added: “Event companies have some of the best assets to work with – they have got amazing lists, they’ve got good brands, they’re right in the middle of the buyer and seller.

“They should be creating online training programmes around their content year-round, on-demand.

“Netflix taught us that we can watch anything at any time, anywhere. 

“The good news is, this is incredibly profitable. 

“You can do minimally viable communities and grow from there – and the margins are even better than events.”

Learn how to create a year-round online marketplace here.

RD believes there is one main reason some organisers have been ignoring this community approach: complacency.

The pre-pandemic business model had continued to bring in revenue by producing one or two shows each year.

However, a digital transformation was sparked by the lockdown restrictions which forced  organisations to find new ways to connect with their audiences.

Now, many leading event producers have seen the benefits which can be brought through digital offerings.

This does not mean that physical shows will become a thing of the past – rather they will remain the highlight, but can be enhanced through virtual events and engagement.

Those who have been willing to remodel their businesses are now shaping their budgets to be made up of around 25% digital – whereas it is reported to have been closer to 2% in 2020.

The CLI founder likened businesses who are ignoring this change to those who continued to produce tools to prod horses harnessed to wagons and carriages, despite them becoming obsolete when automobiles appeared in the late 19th century.

He said: “They liked the way things were – like people that continued to make buggy whips when the car was coming out – they’re just very, very vulnerable.

“I think they just hoped and prayed things were going to go back to the way they were.”

He believes many organisers hoped the business model would return to how it was before the coronavirus pandemic.

However, he claims the continuing uncertainty brought through new variants show how wrong they have been.

RD added: “I think this is a wake up call, but it’s not just a wake up call – it’s an opportunity.

“Look at the funding of the tech companies now, that’s telling you something.

“That’s telling you that live events are not going away by any means, it’s just telling you that they’ve got a tonne of money to really streamline the interaction between buyer and seller and create a great year-round community. 

“People that are complacent lose their opportunity.

“So this shakes things up and allows competitors to come in and serve members better.”

‘It’s a huge opportunity to be neutral, international and helpful’

The CLI founder believes there are two paths an organisation will be on when working with the institute: those who want to create a community and those who want theirs to grow.

RD said those who are just starting out can benefit from being put in touch with other industry leaders who can share best practices.

He added: “Otherwise they’re going to get all their information from whoever has the most funding in tech.”

Meanwhile those who want to continue to build their community will have access to guides which set out industry standards they can work towards.

This can include professional benchmarks, how to measure them and showing where monetisation opportunities exist.

RD said: “That’s how we think we can be helpful – starting the flywheel by putting a lot of value in making it free, trying to get more and more people involved and interacting online.”

CLI has announced it will be holding a physical show in Memphis, Tennessee, in April.

The inaugural CLI eXpo will feature speakers from industries across different continents as it tries to “connect the dots of the world”.

RD added: “We’re super excited about it – we think it’s a huge opportunity to be neutral, international and helpful.”