Community – don’t fake it to make it: High Growth Scotland with Kim McAllister

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Have you been trying to build a community around your brand?
I feel like it’s the key marketing goal right now. I certainly promote the practice to my clients. It’s much more than building a fan base or following – it’s about creating a two way conversation, a constant feedback loop. This way your product or service really means something to your customers and they become its advocates.
I’m always interested in the different ways companies and brands do this – from the crazy number of BrewDog customers who bought into their Equity for Punks scheme to the passion inspired by social enterprises like Social Bite.

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Normally these communities are facilitated by social media, allowing disparate and international groups to feel really connected.
But what about when the community is a population of an island?
I chatted to Simon Erlanger, managing director of Harris Distillers, this week to hear more about the community surrounding this gin and whisky distillery.
“The reason we’re here is to create employment on the island,” he told me. “That comes with its constraints, doing everything on the island costs more and takes longer, but our island provenance is our selling point.”
Fewer than three years in, the distillery has 28 full time employees, with more set to join for the summer season.
“All our distillers are island folk, we’ve grown our own talent from scratch and that’s a really important aspect for me,” he added. “We want to give the young people coming out of school a reason to stay on the island.”
It all sounds very worthy, and there’s no doubt it creates a great brand story, but the product still has to compete in the very crowded marketplace of spirits in general and gin in particular.

“You need a point of differentiation,” Simon explained. “For us it’s the sugar kelp that gives Harris Gin that unique flavour profile. We also don’t sell it in shops, we only sell it online and so you have to connect with us to buy it.”
It’s an interesting and very successful strategy. The company has had 80,000 people through the doors this year – twice what they anticipated. They’ve also had a huge amount of support from the Scottish government and Scottish Investment Bank, plus the 17 private investors take a long term view, which allows the company to plan effectively.
“All our waste barley is collected by a local farmer and feeds all the cattle on the island for free,” Simon added. “We have a sensory panel that tastes all the products and alongside our staff are members of the Harris community.”
The one thing you cannot do with any community you build, online or in real life, is fake it.
“God no, you have to be genuine,” Simon laughed. “There is too much smoke and mirrors around this kind of stuff, people see right through it.”
On a personal note, I feel quite strongly that consumers have more choice than ever and so are very discerning about who they align themselves with. As a consequence they can be extremely loyal and may even become powerful brand advocates – that is a relationship to be respected and nurtured.
What kind of community are you building around your brand? Drop me a line

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