In putting together the agenda for our Jacobs Media CES 2021 Virtual Tour earlier this week, we ran into an amazing auto company with fascinating characteristics:
- They haven't manufactured a single car.
- Their founder has never worked in the automotive industry.
And yet, Sono Motors proved to be a popular segment of our tour – largely because of the unique approach and vision of its charismatic, young CEO, Jona Christians.
Yes, we had presentations with the big boys – Ford and Mercedes-Benz, both of which are creating the next generation of in-dash entertainment systems.
There's a lot to like about Sono and its Sion concept car. First, the vehicle is essentially electric – with a unique solar energy component. As a result, it is eco-friendly, designed to be sustainable in an industry long dependent on fossil fuel.
But the thing that jumped out at me is that Sono is about its sense of community. The fledgling company has relied on crowd-funding. And it's growing legion of fans and the more than 15,000 who have reserved a Sion – even though there isn't a single one on the road – has had a voice in the development of the vehicle.
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As Jona told me, “We integrate future drivers in a lot of decisions behind the car.” And to prove it, the community has a say in the vehicle's design, right down to the number of seats, the colors, the rims – you name it.
Here's the 2-minute snapshot of Sono the company, Sion the car, and a community of ardent fans invested in creating something very special on four wheels.
Happily, it comes equipped with an AM/FM radio – standard.
During my Q&A, I asked Jona whether Sono is a community or a car company. It struck many who watched the interview that it may be a wonderful combination of the two.
And that's a trend we are increasingly seeing at CES – companies going well beyond profit/loss measurement, and acting as the catalyst to build communities.
There are more and more examples of this, including Peloton. Yes, they make high-end spin bikes, supported by a robust subscription model featuring video classes. But as AdWeek's James DeJulio reported last week, community marketing is becoming a trend.
In a story aptly titled, “How to Build Community Through Content – and Vice Versa,” storytelling is key to how Peloton, Michelin, and Roblox are building legions of customer networks by adhering to the following actions:
- Think about what customers love – What do passionate fans care about, and how can brands provide even more of it?
- Find the nexus – More than a century ago, Michelin married road trips with food destinations – thus, the world famous “Michelin Guide.” It has nothing to do with tires, but provides a sterling example of merging fans and brands.
- Build a storytelling platform – This is about building a mechanism for fans to tell their stories that also serve to develop content. DeJulio's example is Roblox, a gaming platform for kids “where the company and the community are indistinguishable.”
- Elevate your community members – This is where Peloton is scoring points, allowing customers to choose their own subgroups (with names like bowling or fantasy teams, like “Pelopreneurs” that reflect their interests or identities. And Peloton shares the content of their “customer celebs” on its channels, welcoming their creativity and including them in marketing efforts.
All these companies provide a great ROI for their investors, of course. Michelin has been around forever, Peloton enjoyed 100% growth in revenue in 2020, and Roblox may be going public with an IPO rumored to be valued at more than $8 billion.
But all are wise enough to realize that it's about more than a balance sheet. They exist for a loftier purpose, and that only enhances their value.
Not every radio station, of course, has that level of community. But even in 2021, it is not hard to think of select radio brands in every imaginable format across all geographies that have created these same types of emotional bonds with their fans.
My alma mater – WRIF – is in the process of firing up its massive community of rocker zealots as it celebrates its 50th anniversary next month. PD Scott Jameson may be new to Detroit, but he intuitively understands the nuances of how heritage radio can leverage fan communities – and the love affair audiences can have with their favorite radio stations.
And just as many of these aforementioned companies are utilizing fans to generate content, WRIF has put out the word among its Detroit-based audience – as well as those who have moved away from the Motor City – to contribute to the celebration with stories, photos, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia that celebrate the station's love affair with this city – and vice versa.
Rather than the station bloviating about its birthday and its history, its fans are invested as trusted storytellers.
At a time when radio's primacy as an audio entertainment medium is being profoundly challenged by competitors of all sorts and stripes, savvy local broadcasters have an edge of their own.
Brand communities that generate content, stories, and connections are invaluable tools that go well beyond marketing budgets or giving away cash.
And it's another lesson that CES is more than just about gadgets and shiny objects. Integrating and amplifying fan communities is worthy of your strategic thinking.
Are you a company or are you a community?
You can be a wonderful combination of both.
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