Brands' gateway to entering pop culture conversations is through online communities

Patrick O’Keefe of E.L.F. Beauty and Emma Ferrara of Viral Nation, during a panel discussion at Cannes Lions 2024, spoke about building communities, role of influencer marketing and things to keep in mind for brands to stay relevant for consumers

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Cannes: In the era of personalisation fueled by data and AI, community building has become crucial in influencing consumers' buying decisions, suggested Patrick O’Keefe, VP of Integrated Marketing Communications at E.L.F. Beauty, and Emma Ferrara, Chief Business Development Officer of Viral Nation, during a panel discussion at Cannes Lions 2024.

To foster a genuine connection with the customers, O’Keefe mentioned how brands need to listen, learn, and then lean in on customer feedback. Providing examples of how E.L.F. Beauty responds to customer feedback, O’keefe said, “I started with listen. When they tell us they want something, we do it and we do it fast. There's several examples. They all wanted bronzing drops. We turned that around in eight months and we created a movement around that product. All of these products were really generated by the community telling what we want.”

Moving on to the learning part of customer feedback, O’Keefe highlighted the role of comments on social media. Comments bring out the candid expectations that people have for a brand, what brands should do is first listen to the comments, learn from them, and then act towards them (leaning in). 

Etching the importance of learning from social media comments, O’keefe said, “Then we learn, so we read every comment and those comments are really important to us and they really help to shape kind of what we do directionally around purpose. And then we lean in and that's acting fast and it's at the speed of culture. And the creativity comes after we've listened to the community.”

Creativity stems up after brands have listened to the community. For brands to market creatively and effectively, marketers need to treat the listicle of consumer demands as their Bible. As Ferrara perceives it, “Socials have become a fundamental part of every brand. And so it's no longer a tactic. It's really a strategy.” Effectively employing this strategy inculcates “Leaning into your audiences. Understanding their interests. Understanding the communities that they are a part of and integrating that into your strategies,” said Ferrara.

Before listening to the community, brands first, need to build a community that effectively engages with the brand. Communities, cults, and groups serve as gateways to customers, sales, and business growth. O’Keefe underscored how communities form the backbone of product development and the role of creators in building a community.

Not only do creators enjoy massive influence but also shape community opinions by engaging with them on a level that brands can not even ponder upon. Sharing insights on the same, O’Keefe said, “The creator economy is a powerful tool. Creators, they show up, they show up loud, they tell us what they like and they tell us what they don't like which is vastly engaging with the brand. They inspire us to be more creative every day,” building a community in the process.

To add, O’Keefe stressed the impossibility of creating a social media community without influencers and creators. "They're integral to our community, providing tools to amplify our stories," he added.

Finding out the right marketing strategy can be a taxing process for marketers yet they need to keep experimenting, keep optimising, keep learning what works, and ultimately scale those efforts. Only if brands can knit together all the different pieces of the marketing mix, they can come up with a strategy that is effective in the real world.

Both Ferrara and O’Keefe emphasised the need for experimentation and the need for brands to be more extroverted in their approach while simultaneously maintaining authenticity to create a unique social persona, essential for each brand to onboard diverse consumer cohorts.

The discussion highlighted that many marketers react rather than proactively engaging with culture. Brands have the power to shape significant cultural moments.

Ferrara emphasised, "Proactively engaging with culture empowers brands to enter conversations, integrate into pop culture, and cultivate loyal communities."

Ferrara also advised brands to partner only with authentic creators whose values align with theirs.

Concluding, the duo identified agility, scalability, and personalization as crucial factors driving successful future campaigns.

Cannes Lions 2024