Product is Nothing: Community is Everything

Product is Nothing Community is EverythingOnce upon a time there was this thing called “brand loyalty.” It was the type of thing that kept people religiously adhered to one specific brand, no matter the true quality of what the competition could offer. It’s the phenomenon that makes people think that Coke tastes better than other cola drinks, even when the blind test results say that people can’t tell the difference.

An (Evolving) Era of Brand Loyalty

Before the internet came around, people were much more likely to settle in to brands, get to know them, trust them and their spokespeople.

I personally remember conversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table where our family friends would point out, “You know what, I switched from Dove soap bars to Dial back in May, or was it June, no, Mike, Mike! Do you remember when I went to the grocery store and bought the other soap, you know the green one? Anyway, even if it makes my skin dryer I feel cleaner because it has antibacterial…”

It was such a monumental action to change brands that they spent more time talking about when the change happened than the change itself!

Flash-Forward to 2013

Brand loyalty still exists, of course—as many of our marketing buddies will invariably point out in the comments—but it has been changed so drastically when dealing with technology that we might as well call it something else. For example, community loyalty.

Why? Because technology platforms and digital products are subject to something that traditional products are more exempt from: churn.

With offline products, a purchase is made, and a product is used. It is only after its life that a change in brand is considered. If the customer is happy, they will probably buy again. If the customer is not, they may look to change.

But in the online space, where competition for eyeballs is fierce and attention spans are shorter than any analogy I could make (you wouldn’t make it to the end anyway…) digital products are forever evaluated in terms of other services. As soon as something newer or flashier comes up, people are tempted to try it.

Churn Baby Churn

The immediacy of access is the primary threat.

Face it, there will always be a cooler, newer, better version of whatever technology platform you are building. People will always be telling their friends about a different thing to try. Since a person doesn’t need to switch an account or cancel a product or in most cases buy anything to try a new service, what’s the harm in testing it out?

The harm is, of course, your dwindling community numbers that are flocking to your competitors. But they don’t see it as a problem, they see you as merely a stepping stone in their digital lives, existing only to hop along to the next rock until the sun comes out long enough to stay there for a while. This is online churn, and it’s as easy as Ctrl + T and a Google search and your beloved user has forgotten about you forever.

So what can do you do avoid this churn?

Look at things that people don’t churn very often—their family, their friends, their animals. In short: living things. Why don’t they churn these things? Because they don’t want to, because they are not things that we just leave, they don’t finish or run out, they are things that we commit to.

Community Is Everything

In today’s online world, the only thing that people are committed to are the communities and groups that they build.

People are not committed to the technology of Facebook; they are there because their friends are all there. People are not committed to Twitter as a program (with impossible to size images, limited functionality and automated streams); they are committed to the group of followers they have managed to amass and communicate with. The list goes on, but respecting our attention spans, we’ll chop it there.

The role of the community manager is only going to become more important, as technology companies realize that their only chance of long term success is to keep people from churning, and the only way to do that is to create a living, breathing, sweating, laughing, crying, and hugging community, no matter how sweet the tech is.

Photo cred: Kris Krug


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About the author

Tony Hymes

Community Manager and Chief BBQ Officer at Paris-based music start up Whyd: helping music lovers to access the wealth of free music available on the web today and tomorrow. Bakes lasagna, writes plays, paints buffalo.


Amazing article, thank you for pointing out clearly what we're all suspecting. :-)


Great post, Tony! I've actually seen this in a client's community where a core group of community members who used to be huge fans of the product have become increasingly unimpressed with the latest versions.

Even though they don't have as much love for the products as they once did when they first got involved a few years ago, they still stick around and are very active in the community, not because they love the product, but because they love the community.


@ZacharyChastain Exactly, not everyone is going to be jumping for joy at your latest version X.0, in fact some people might resent it, as they've grown comfortable with the way things were. But if they are engaged, and invested in seeing you succeed, they'll grow with you. 


Yeah, but a really bad product could kill the community slowly.


@holasoyarthur absolutely, it's crucial to remember that people joined your community for a reason. There are also countless examples of extremely successful products that have no real community. But in the online space the nature of competition has changed so much that community is becoming just as important as the product itself in many cases. 

DavidSpinks moderator

Love this.  Community creates loyalty that no product, gamification or reminder emails could ever achieve.  You can replace products, you can't replace relationships.

DavidSpinks moderator

@Matt F @DavidSpinks haha true. Can't have a community without a platform for people to talk as well.  So they come hand in hand.  They need each other.