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Creating meaningful conversations

Michael Abata
Senior Strategist, Brand Marketing


When brands connect with people or community platforms, new behaviour and real change begins. Michael Abata shares Target’s experience in the ‘guest-to-guest’ space

With significant advances in wireless technology, today’s consumers are more connected than ever before. They’re sharing their in-the-moment thoughts, asking for advice, and finding desired information through online and offline communities. And if a community doesn’t exist for what an individual seek, they’re creating their own – rallying other individuals around a spectrum of needs, from writing reviews about the newest restaurants to gathering support for a local law change.

Thousands of online and offline community platforms have been created in the last few years to meet consumers’ desires for stronger, more meaningful relationships between their friends, family and community. Consider the following:

Kickstarter and Indiegogo communities are connecting product and service entrepreneurs with like-minded ‘investors’ who financially support and collectively bring ideas to market.

Betterific and icanmakeitbetter communities are connecting individuals with clever product and service ideas with companies who can bring them to life.

Bump Club and Beyond and MamaBake are connecting mums and dads in sharing parenting expertise and resources, and creating friendships for life.

At Target we wanted to understand what was behind this surge in community growth. What was driving people to bring new products to market collectively? Why were entrepreneurs spending hours a week offering free advice to brands? Why were parents connecting with other parents for advice when so many expert opinions could easily be found?

Through research we uncovered that these community platforms were fulfilling basic human needs in important areas of safety/wellbeing, love/belonging, and self-esteem/self-actualisation. They were helping people keep track of wellness goals, find friends who shared similar interests, and build self-confidence that their opinion mattered. They were supporting individuals in becoming better parents, or in funding products/services that make living life more enjoyable.

Target smart phones

More importantly we uncovered community platforms that were becoming more than just a place to share ideas, they were creating new friendships and connections with other human beings from around the world. These communities were blurring the line between online anonymity and in-person connections through shared values and passions.

Community platforms are fulfilling basic human needs

Target is a brand which believes in the power of community and is focused on being an ‘active citizen and valued neighbour in the communities we’re a part of’. As we did our research, we started to see unlimited possibilities in how these community platforms might allow Target to engage with our guests more authentically.

More than two years ago, three peers and I set out to test and learn about how Target might participate in these communities. We called ourselves the ‘guest-to-guest team’. We were a scrappy group with three goals:

  1. Better understand the types of communities that exist today and will exist in the future.
  2. Learn how communities are adding value to our guests’ lives.
  3. Discover ways Target can participate authentically in community conversations.

A partnership with Bump Club and Beyond (BCB) was our first endeavour in the guest-to-guest community space. BCB connects parents and parents-to-be with each other online and in-person to share parenting advice, expertise, and local resources.

Bump club suggestion box

In partnership with Target, BCB invited their community members to meet up right in our stores. We brought local parents, baby experts and product vendors together to discuss everything from baby wearing to learning about the must-have products for baby registry. We had mums and dads from the BCB community lining up hours before our event waiting to get in, excited to be meeting other community members for the first time!

During our events, community members connected with other parents and chatted with local experts and vendors. And after the event, we had guests telling us that they, “Loved talking to other parents who are going through the same things I am” and were, “Planning to meet up with other parents later this week for a playdate”.

Since hosting our first events in Minneapolis, our relationship with the BCB community has expanded to monthly events called BCBasics for Target which now takes place in four markets – Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Austin. Target has become part of the BCB community and is helping community members stay connected.

I felt like I was making a difference and contributing ideas to make things better

Our second test was with the online community Betterific, a digital suggestion box crowdsourcing platform. Community members are passionate about giving feedback, sharing suggestions or coming up with ideas for their favourite brands. Brands engage via campaigns to solicit ideas from community members on specific topics.

Target invited the Betterific community to help our teams create solutions to make living in dorm rooms or a first apartment even better. Our goal was to help inspire our product design & development team to design more relevant product solutions.

To our astonishment, the Betterific community came up with 187 incredible ideas! Some of the ideas directly morphed into product solutions for our 2015 BTC assortment. And the community helped our teams discover new guest needs around living in ultra-small spaces or sharing space with other roommates.

Similar to BCB, Betterific community members were highly engaged with each other, as well as with Target. After interacting with the community over three months we started to hear comments from community members like, “This experience humanises Target; big brands can seem so distant” and, “I felt like I was making a difference and contributing ideas to make things better”.

Target is continuing to work with Betterific to think about new ways we can be a part of this powerful and passionate idea community that allows brands to participate in the idea-generation conversation.

These community platforms are truly helping our guests live a more enjoyable, fulfilled life. Our guest-to-guest team is excited to continue testing and learning; and we look forward to finding new ways Target can be a valued community neighbour in both the digital and physical worlds.

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