Servant Marketing: A Love Story

"Can we build a community that will help build the product & company with us?"

There it was. Joanna Lord, former Porch executive and all-around brilliant marketer, had articulated something I'd been longing for ever since my social marketing career first began ten years ago. 

Empathic or servant marketing isn't a new notion, nor was Joanna using it with regard to my industry. She was talking "unicorns," those high-growth tech start-ups that come around only once in a lifetime, eg. Facebook. 

Nevertheless, it was a validating moment for me, as an ever-student of the social space.

Despite smart leaders like Joanna, an array of statistics to the contrary, and actual feedback from real, human consumers, we continue to define and operate our online communities from a place of transaction rather than empathy.

Evolution of Community

It's true, our understanding of community building has evolved dramatically since I first pitched "this thing called Facebook" to an adventurous consumer client in the Winter of 2007.

It was the wild west of MySpace-looking company Facebook pages, interactive apps and way too many e-cards.

Rise of the Mommy Blogger

Before another year had passed, crafty midwest matriarchs were emailing me their "media kits" with inflated estimated reach numbers and demands for free product. I understood, inherently, the value of influence (I worshipped Oprah, like everyone else), but we were scrambling to quantify the return on investment for intrigued, albeit skeptical clients.

Fan rush of 2011

Brands started scrambling. We didn't know why we needed fans, but our competitors had more, so we started hiring web developers to create "Like gates." We would offer coupons, samples and other shlocky deals in exchange for new fans. There was this strange sense of urgency around social growth. Vanity metrics reigned supreme, and Facebook icons were popping up everywhere, from the bottom of e-blasts to product packaging.

Let us serve

The last few years give me hope. We see more social good campaigns. We see more brands listening, if not only because customers are calling them on the carpet, it (tweet an aggressive complaint to Alaska Air and see what happens). There is less room left for brands, who make demands of their communities vs. asks, ones who disrespect the social-emotional needs of their end users.

And although there are many moments, wherein fans are inflamed, incorrect, or simply incorrigible trolls, this greater industry shift is the right one.

Personal ethics aside, servant marketing is your company's most sustainable strategy. It requires patience and some higher up-front costs, but it also encourages deeper brand loyalty, advocacy and employee engagement. I will be forever grateful for the increasingly empowered consumer; they make me a better marketer. 

So, here's to 2016 and the continued evolution of community. Let us serve. Let us build this place together. 


Jess Columbo

Principal, Med|Ed Digital