Amrita Gurney: How to Build a Thriving B2B Community

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

While marketers mostly focus their efforts on attracting prospects, it's also crucial to connect with customers (aka the people paying for your product!).

In this episode, Amrita Gurney, VP, Marketing & Community with CrowdRiff, talks about the company has heavily focused on engaging and nurturing its customers over the past six months.

Amrita has great insight on best practices to develop a vibrant and active community, as well as thoughts on whether to use a platform.

What would the market spark, the podcast that delivers insight from marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches. Marquis. Spark is focused on delivering insight and small doses. It's conversations that are fifteen minutes or less. Today I'm speaking with an Rita Gurney, VP marketing and community at crowd Riff, a visual content marketing platform for the travel and tourism industry. Welcome to market he spark, am Rita, hey, mark it's really nice to be here. I need to ask you from the get go what's it like to be a marketer in the travel industry? I can only imagine that it has been full of ups and downs and probably the biggest career challenges you've ever faced. So tell me what this last six months has been like and how you've been navigating the marketing landscape for crowd riff. So yes, indeed, I think when things started to shut down from a travel perspective, I think, like many people, we were really just in shock and trying to really just sit back and listen and see, you know, what's the best thing that we can do to like, what's the right way to market right now. And so I would say, at the beginning of the quarantine and the pandemic we really turned a lot of things off in terms of demand generation and most of the the scale of the marketing activities we were doing, and what we did instead was we shifted our efforts completely to just being super useful to our customers, everything from creating content, of course, but also bringing them together as the community. And so I would say that was really the big shift for us at the beginning of the pandemic and interestingly, we're starting to see that there's a bit of a leveling off in terms of you know, a lot of the the downward impact of the pandemic on travel. People are starting to travel a little bit or get out in their communities, and so we are growing again and continuing to turn back on some of the activities that we had had planned for before this all started. So give me a sense of how dramatically things were scaled...

...back. Did you have to did your spending go way down? Did you furlow marketing people? Did you abandon campaigns that you were running? Like? How? How dramatic was it? Yeah, I mean it was definitely dramatic. We had to do all of the above. So we did? We shut almost everything off. In fact, I think at the beginning we did shut off all of our spend that we had planned. So you know, all of our ads, you know the events that we had planned to go to. A lot of them are not happening anymore. Really, we turned off almost everything. And then what we did do? Of course, yes, we did, unfortunately have to lay off some team members. That's never something that you want to do and I think we were really just trying to think about how do we continue to build a healthy company in light of everything that was going on, and I know it was the right decision, but certainly we've been, you know, really feeling for people who have had to make a career transition or job transition right now. And then, in terms of campaigns, I think the big change for us, like everyone else, is that, you know, the things that we talked about all of a sudden really changed in some ways for the positive and fact, in many ways for the positive. We've seen that, though. Our product itself is actually much more useful to people because, for those who don't know, we one of the things that our customers do with us as they source user generated content or, you know, visuals and videos that people are sharing on social media about their travel experiences and that kind of content has actually been extremely important to build back consumer trust. The people are using US are, you know, really happy. They are getting a lot of value out of crowd riffs. I think that's been, you know, one thing that's come through this year for us. Like a lot of companies in the BDB space, crowd riff went to a lot of conferences and for many companies that's been a huge change and how they operate, how they attract customers and nurture them. Can you talk a little bit about how many conferences you were going to and what your plans are, if any, right now in terms of how you get that...

...activity going again? You have any visibility on what's happening, because I know, for example, I read this morning that there was a conference that actually happened in Berlin with real people at them as opposed to know people at all? Yeah, I mean we definitely were doing a ton of speaking as well as sponsoring of events, and last year, for example, we went to about fifty events and I think we spoken about thirty five or forty. So it was a huge part of our marketing strategy and, you know, interestingly enough, this year we've certainly, you know, we've had some events that pivoted to a virtual and so we kept those commitments. And then most of the other conferences that we would have normally gone to this year are not happening, with the exception of maybe one or two, and they're mostly happening still virtually. So I would say, you know, the pivot to virtual was definitely something that we had to do. I personally don't feel like, as a sponsor, a pivot to virtual is really as beneficial. We've really enjoyed opportunities where we can continue to to speak. And then the other realization we had this year is that the benefit of being at these conferences was really about building relationships and building credibility, and so we really thought about how do we do that with the lack of events that are happening in our industry, like can we do that in other ways? And in a lot of ways I'm glad that we did have a few years of building our reputation and community already so that right now what we're doing is, you know, deepening that relationship and just finding different ways to do that. Here's the sixty four thousand dollar question or, when it comes to going to conferences, the hundred thousand dollar question or two hundred thousand dollar question. When conference has come back, do you expect crowd rift to snap back to normal behavior or do you think the company's going to take a different approach to conference is maybe be more strategic, more selective about the conferences that it attends and sponsors? My current thinking is that I hope we don't have to get back to the level of travel,...

...and mostly travel actually, to be honest, like it's a lot to have your team on the road that much and it's also a huge expense. So I'm hoping that what we can do is to continue to be at certain conferences and really get a lot out of the ones that we go to and perhaps find different ways to support the industry, because we know that conferences in our industry anyway, and tourism, these conferences are often not put on by private company, so they really are put on by the Tourism Association of that state, and so we want to continue to support our customers in that way, but maybe find different ways of doing it other than going to a conference. Earlier you mentioned that one of the things that crowd rift did post covid was really focus on the community and help its customers, you know, in different ways, providing inside guidance advice. So one of the reasons I want to talk to was how to companies leverage their community of customers to drive marketing and sales, because obviously it doesn't work for every company. It's not a plickle with every company to do that. So maybe you can talk to the approach to crowdwriff has taken towards community. How to that happen and and how do you nurture and grow that community? I think you're it's a great topic of conversation because I know everyone wants to have a community and I think your point about it not being applicable to every company is really valid. And I've been at companies where community played a smaller part and I would say some of the things that we've seen, and I've seen this across other companies, is that, you know, number one, I think it depends on is there already a desire for your customers to learn from each other? Does that exist? For us that was already happening even before crowd of existed. There was a community in tourism and we luckily have now become a part of that community and, through that process, built our own customer community. And I think this all comes down to you know, do you have shared interests? And in our case, you know our product does represent a meaningful part of how marketers...

...do their jobs in tourism organizations, and so I think that's also why community really makes a lot of sense for us, because, you know, it isn't a product that you are spending, you know, a couple of minutes a week using, or even less like it is something that is really a central part of people's marketing. So I think that's also why the community aspect helped. And then, to be honest, I think a lot of it is the DNA of our our company, in our culture. You know, our customer success team, you know everyone from our founders down, are extremely warm, friendly engaging with our community. We work in tourism and social media, so I think we draw people who are naturally interested in like chatting and meeting each other. So a lot of those ingredients were really there and I feel like what we did was we just provide those connections and those forums for people to actually get to know each other, more so for companies that would like to leverage community and they've got customer who aren't competing against each other. So there they can share, they've shared interest and shared strategic focus. How much does a company like crowd riff have to orchestrate, like work behind the scenes to make sure a community happens and is active, and how much is organic? How much activity happens because you community members take it upon themselves to engage with each other? I mean right now, for us, I would say that we are this year really highlighted for us the value of having a community and really there have been so many stories that have just demonstrated to us that we can be a really meaningful part of an organization's ability to serve their customers or their audiences. And so I would say for us a lot of what started was really very organic, like we didn't have a plan to build a community. It came through our conversations. You know, we did make a very specific effort to be really useful and I know people always talk about, you know, content being useful, but we know that most of the...

...time it's not. It's very self serving. But we really did try to set the bar of how can we help provide information that's useful to people, regardless of whether they're not a customer? So I think that was a good starting point. And then we had other opportunities to bring people together, whether it was, you know, every conference we went to, we would normally get a good group of people together for some kind of fun activity. So that also helped to foster community. And now we're doing it oversume. So we're not really running webinars. We do webinars on our Tomangon team, but we're hosting bi weekly customer community calls, which are really like a big hangout for people to just talk and vent and share, and that's been the way that we've really cultivated the community this year. But one of the things I'm really looking forward to is actually seeing what more can we do. You know, I feel like we're just at the starting point. We've heard from our community that it's been super helpful to them to have US kind of stand up and do a lot of the gathering and now we just want to see how can we do more of that. From a structural point of view, when you talk about community, is it built around a particular platform? I'm the on like a some kind of community online community board, or is it done through zoom or like? How do you mechanically operate a community? Yeah, so right now we don't have a formal community platform. So we do it honestly, everywhere social media, whether it's Linkedin or Instagram, even commenting, like yesterday one of our customers had a birthday and like tagged us and we know, we just wish them a happy birthday. Like it's really simple human interactions. But I do think that in the next few months we're going to explore how else we can formalize that community so that it is easier for people to connect to each other, because I know that right now these connections are happening but, like you said, that there isn't one place for they're all gathering, and so we're just going through the the process of figuring out how to model something that could look like that. Yeah, I guess the Balancing Act is is how much control do you have our over the community versus allowing them to have conversations where and when they want? And of course, crowd...

...with is playing a anifical part in terms of nurturing the community. I mean is it is bit of a balance you APP that you have to consider as you go forward. Absolutely, I mean, you know, I think this community needs to be a shared gathering of people and you know there's usually community leaders who helped really bring people together. And you know, I read this great book, which I recommend for anyone who's listening. It's called get together and it was written by three people who were working at instagram when they started building out their creator community and there's just so many useful tips around community building there. But I think one of the common threads is that this isn't about crowdriff. This is about the people that we work with and how we can be like a great party host. We create the invitations, you know, we might cook the dinner, we make sure people are introduced to each other, but then we sit back and let them do what they want to do. If you had to somebody came to you and said, am Rita, I'm really interest, or were really interested in creating a community, what would be three tips that would give them in terms of best practices? A number one, I would say educate yourself. So go read this book, Go do a little bit of digging to see how other people are building communities, because there's some great examples out there. Number two is to actually just observe, is, are these community interactions already happening? So if you start seeing people talking to each other, for example on social media or in other places, reach out to some of those people and are those conversations with them and, you know, really to see what is already happening organically. And then number three would be, you know, decide what you really want to invest in this. So you don't want to necessarily, I don't think you can force a community to happen, but you may want to have certain markers in place so that you can say, okay, in our first year, our goal is to just bring people together over some round tables, and then if we can grow the community, let's say we double the size of the community, that we're going to decide to, you know, continue to invest more. But I would say, you know, put put the people in your community first and be willing to give up some control. But at the same...

...time a lot of communities, most good communities, actually have some kind of guidelines, code of conduct, whatever you want to call it, and so it isn't just a free for all. And so again, when you when you educate and learn about how other good communities are built, I think just apply those best practices to yourself. So over the last six months it sounds like you and crowd rift have learned a lot about marketing, the different things that you might want to consider, how to do things in different ways. What do you what are the biggest takeaway so far? When you look back at the last six months, and I think for a lot of marketers there's been tremendous learnings, both in terms of ups and downs. If you had a sort of had to reflect on your experiences as a marketer, what are the things that stand out that you can you could say I've learned these key lessons over the last six months and it's going to change how I operate as a marketer. It's a great question. I'm just thinking about these last six months and all the things a lot I know the consider right. Yeah, I think one of the things that I've thought about a lot is, you know, equipping your team to handle a situation like this. I think a lot of times, you know, we think outwards and we think about campaigns and you know all the revenue are generating, but you know, at the end of the day is marketing leaders. We are typically running a team and I think it can be really stressful for people to go through this degree of uncertainty. So just really being very supportive and visible to our team. So, you know, again we're all working remotely, but I do make a point of spending a lot of face time with people over zoom, you know, one on one, as well as in group settings, and also just overcommunicating, because I think there's just a lot of stress happening this year with uncertainty, and just being open about the things we know the things we don't know, sharing what we're hearing and seeing in the industry and also making sure that people are taking care of themselves. So number one I would say, you know, take care of your team and be a really supportive leader. The other thing that I've really learned is that the best marketers, I think, are just great observers, and we've had to really, you know,...

...we've really paid attention to the tone of conversation and I think we've gotten it right. So I've seen the opposite where people are just are kind of acting like, you know, everything is business as usual. So we've just been really sensitive to feeling the pulse of what is happening and sort of reflecting your tone in your communications and even knowing when to turn on outreach or not. We've really taken a very customer sent trick approach to that. And then I would say the third thing is that a lot of the fundamentals still exist. People need solutions to do their jobs or to live lives that are rewarding and enriching to them, and so it's not like marketing has gone out the window. I think it's actually, if anything, really forced us to look at what is worth investing in and what is not, which we all should be doing, and I think this just made that more urgent than ever before. That's horrific inside. I think what I really like about what you're saying is that it reflects the experiences of a lot of marketers these days. I mean working from home, they operate in silos. That's tough to get feedback because you're not going to conferences and you're not meeting other marketers. So hearing firsthand from you about some of the things that you learn, some of the challenges of you experience, has been really helpful. So thank you for coming up to the PODCAST. It was a great conversation. Thanks back. Really enjoyed talking to you well. Thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review and subscribe by Itunes or your favorite podcast APP. If you like what you're heard, please rate it. For show notes of today's conversation and information about EMERITA, Visit Marketing Spark Dot Cola blog if you have questions feedback. Would like to suggest a guest. Want to learn more about how I help be to be companies as a fractional CMO consults and advisor. Send an email to mark at marketing sparkcom. Talk you next time.

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