Forget social, it’s all about community now. Even new economics is going that way.

“From religion to politics, economics to marketing, ‘community’ is the key word that needs to be painted 6 foot tall on all walls of thought leaders.”


Anyone reading this week’s Metro newspaper (p39 in Tuesday’s edition) may have seen that has an initiative called the Great British Switch, designed to encourage us to switch over to new home insurers and save money via A smart little campaign, but the more interesting element is how they are looking at communities and especially neighbourhoods.

Their survey into how we behave within our neighbourhoods (real life communities) is fascinating and has created a drive to tap into the very essence of what makes us community minded. From this has come initiatives to encourage people to nominate those groups, charities and not for profit organisations that support communities, with a prize of £50,000. I know my local community have been banging out Tweets all day about it.

What CTM are doing is potentially bigger than their meerkat campaign. (A factual note here: meerkats live in strong communities looking out for each other.)

The power of connecting with communities

It’s easy to jump on the ‘social’ bandwagon and miss the importance of community which is not always the same. Social can be very self centred, especially as we have seen the growth of the “Selfie Generation” (those that exhibit self centred thinking with little actual consideration towards others), whereas community is about the masses thinking and working together.

I have for a long time preached the power of communities and that this is the area brands need to tap into and can be more successful at connecting with consumers in a real way if  (big ‘if’ here) they get it right. Unlike social media, it is harder to measure and doesn’t provide fantasy numbers to delude your boss, so not surprisingly requires a little more faith.

But well thought through, with a genuine belief in values, brands can effectively engage people and communities emotionally and win more loyalty than by almost any other marketing methodology, especially important as consumers are become less emotionally attached to brands and less loyal. If you have any doubt about the power of community, you may want to consider how successful religions have been in history across the globe – 70% of people still believe in a god, even if most Brits prefer to go to Tesco on a Sunday than to a church.

Communities and the Third Industrial Revolution.

Jeremy Rifkin, economist, idealist and advisor to governments, has been for a while preaching about a new economic future, one of greater sustainability and a move towards ‘communal collaboration’. Where zero marginal costs creates a new post capitalism economic model based on society not corporations. Where consumers become prosumers. You could see it as a new form of economic communism as everyone is equal and has an equal ability to capitalise on their skills, resources and even waste – one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure, as Freecycle, GumTree and eBay have demonstrated.

Rifkin believes that internet technology (especially the Internet of Things) and renewable energy are merging to create a powerful “Third Industrial Revolution” where, for example, millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories will be sharing or trading it with each other across an “energy internet,” in the same way we create and share information online.

Where people will be using technologies like 3D printers to micromanufacture goods (known as ‘additive manufacturing’).

The intelligent TIR infrastructure, the Internet of Things facilitates a new dimension in connectivity, allowing people, communities, governments, organisations and businesses to connect not just everyone but everything connected to it in a way yet to be imagined.

Sadly it also provides crooks, terrorists, spies, marketers and less moral people access too, taking porn and cyber crime to new levels.

The dream is that soon real time big data can be used by everyone to do things better, share more and get closer to zero marginal costs. It’s an attractive thought.

IT companies are already investing in global “neural network.” Cisco has the “Internet of Things,” IBM has “Smarter Planet,” Siemen’ has “Sustainable Cities” and GE has “Industrial Internet.”

In fact it’s now even being called the “Super Internet of Things”, there’s marketing hype for you!

Of course, connecting up all the points isn’t as simple or as desirable as some utopian dreamers believe (most of us have enough problems connecting up our phones to our computers). There are far more cautious players out there that would like to be less connected, banks especially. And as we develop more data paranoia, many consumers are disconnecting, especially from social media sites and opting out of databanks. The new social is privacy.

Rifkin’s main focus is on energy and sustainability, but what is central to his beliefs is it’s fueled by communities. No one would doubt Rifkin’s brilliance and wisdom, he’s an Einstein of economics, and even if some of his ideals are more idealistic than realistic only time will reveal who is right – the dreamers or the pragmatists.

There’s a lot we can learn about consumerism, marketing and good business from economics, if we dare to delve into their world. Having studied economics at school I still find it a fascinating area full of creativity and fresh thinking (I still read the Economist) and one that is shaping the real world we work in.



If you want to nominate a local organisation, NGO or charity that benefits community, go to:

The Third Industrial Revolution

Consumers to Prosumers

The Economist

  • Andy Redfern

    Hi Chris, Long time no talk – lot of water has gone under the bridge since we discussed how to make the ideas behind more mainstream. I agree with the sentiment of this piece. People want to feel connected to causes they support and how they engage with people. In the 80s the mainstream development charities railed against child sponsorship because it didn’t fit with their model – but it exposed a key desire for the individual – I want to know who benefits and that they do actually benefit. The emergence of local community initiatives like local water power generation and local solarwind is because people want to feel connected to the projects and to each other. By chance I have been working on a side project for sometime now which is about trying to bring people into contact with their local community through deep access to local data. The first stab at something went live a couple of weeks ago.

  • Rubin

    Hi Chris, Thank you for sharing your ideas.
    Almost everyone in the modern world today is influenced to
    some degree by advertising and other forms of marketing and promotion.
    Customers and companies have formed an inseparable relationship in the chain of trade. As marketing is defined as a process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service; customers’ will usually plays the determining part during the promotion process. I agree with author’s opinion here that brands can effectively engage people and communities emotionally and win more loyalty than by almost any other marketing methodology and all these efforts will need to be built on the basis of communication and connection. Brands and advertising methodologies should be flexible by following the social change and group behaviors as setting proper target would be the first step in the IMC steps before promoting the marketing strategy. At the same time, any societal, religious and cultural change could shift customers’ behaviors and mentalities regardless of their previous loyalty or preference on any single product. For instance, the social wave of “go green” will effectively change certain people’s shopping list and influence them to alter their original life style into a greener way. Getting into “ The Third Industrial Revolution” era, people nowadays can get accessed to information everywhere. The accessibility of information empowers the customers today and also makes them become less emotional attached to their habits or loyalty to brands. At the same time, any single change in the community can be spread out in a macro scale and form enormous change in the market. Marketing’s direction should always be on the hands of society, community and people. As long as we extract ideas and beliefs from the daily community, the marketing process will always be delivered in the right message through the right distribution channel.