From Consumer, to Creator, to Community

Community: it’s a tired LinkedIn buzzword. Marketers are prone to throwing it around without an accurate pulse on what the word actually means to a generation whose social life is a top source of anxiety, according to 48% of Gen Z respondents (The Receipt, JUV Consulting). Silicon Valley might want to convince us that the solution is AI girlfriends, but brands have a huge opportunity to be part of the solution: connecting with conscious consumers through building community. As Gen Zers in marketing, we are digging up why community is more than a buzzword, and why community-first business is, and should be here to stay.

What does this new iteration of marketing mean for companies? Ten years ago, businesses pivoted to an audience-first mindset. For the first time ever, we saw companies leveraging the power of “big data” to best predict their customers’ next move. Customer needs were identified, but still centered on talking “to” folks (rather than “with”). Enter the creator-first business pivot, around five years ago. Executives raced to partner with trending talent, putting human faces on brands that only existed as abstract logos since conception. But the creator economy did not create an economy for all – many marginalized voices in the space were still barred from meaningful engagement and opportunity.  As culture embraced the digital sphere, folks felt more disconnected from brands than ever before – paving the way for a critical shift in marketing. Today, we are witnessing a necessary pivot in business to a community-first mindset.

Community-led brands are resonating with Gen Zers today because American corporate individualism has largely erased a community-centric way of life. Add a pandemic to the mix, and we are more isolated and online than ever. 95% of respondents are on social media daily and 63% of Gen Z’ers have taken a break from social media for their mental health (The Receipt, JUV Consulting). We live in a phygital world where online communities impact society and culture daily, at a growing rate. Community today encompasses the nuance of both in-real-life and online relationships (phygital relationships), and can be defined as: authentic and meaningful interaction, building real affinity, with the best interests of the collective at the core. 

The community-first business model identifies community as the true critical stakeholder, oriented around common interests, values, and motivations. This perspective is built on centering the stories, lived experiences, and opinions of individuals within a community to ultimately build something larger than any one person – instead building something that builds in partnership with and serves the communities, for the goal of empowering those same communities.

A community-first approach means fundamentally redefining our relationship with creatives, creators, and consumers. Audience and creator-first approaches depended on follower counts and engagement ratio, which hindered creativity and never guaranteed results. Today, trends come from the comment section, gaining traction and popularity on their own. A community-driven model actually translates to more sustained growth – really difficult to sustain in isolation in an environment where trends change everyday and attention spans are ever shortening. It’s hard to stay relevant as a brand, even if consumers are obsessed with your product for a month or maybe even a year. The only way to grow and evolve with your consumer is by actively building community with them in an always-on manner – where folks actually identify with the ethos, culture, and people that define your organization. 

The sheer volume of content being consumed daily has caused brands’ connection and resonance to be lost in marketing translation. From JUV’s Director of Community & Partnerships, Olivia Frary: “JUV’s ethos itself serves as a connection point between the communities that JUV brings together under the shared mission of empowering young people.”  

JUV is a reflection of a community-first mindset: we don’t exist as a company where clients extract a stat about Gen Z (although we do plenty of research too) – instead, we exist as a solution where brands can actively co-create products, campaigns, and ideas that actually resonate with our generation, built alongside dynamic young people themselves. We believe in the capacity of Gen Z to be decision-making partners in the present, not simply data points to guide the future.

In 2023, speculation is out, and meaningful understanding is in. Why pay someone to guess what your consumer will want when you could ask the consumer directly, or create a community model where consumers actively discuss? Community based tools and services are the new “it girl.” We are seeing brands create communities with consumers and creators alike, categorized by interests, and collaborating with their target community all in one place to have real conversations with them and provide genuine feedback – not because they have to, not even because they’re paid, but because they want to. This allows folks to feel heard, bought in, and understood – in a world that has often made young people feel so small.

Startups (especially in the age of web3 and DAOs) were the first to adopt a community-first approach to incubate brands with their target communities from day one – and they are already seeing huge success as a result. Corteiz, The Snaxshot, August, Geneva, and more are examples of successful community-first brands and innovation. 

Today, JUV is replicating this model of success for our clients. JUV has worked with a celebrity-led non-profit to engage creator communities to mobilize around social issues, with a VC firm to build a consumer ambassador community of entrepreneurial young people to source resonant products/companies to invest in, and with massive brands to build evangelized networks of fandom to co-create launches that actually land with our cohort.

This is just the beginning of where community-first business can take brands – and we are really excited to be a part of leading the way towards better, as it’s long overdue. If you’re down to be a part of the journey with us and in community with each other, let’s chat!

Edited by: Shaina Zafar, Ziad Ahmed & Kennedy Daniel

Olivia Frary

Olivia leads Community & Partnerships at JUV, connecting brands with our network of Gen Z activists, icons, creators, influencers, and entrepreneurs. She has led West Coast development and now collaboratively spearheads JUV’s LA House!

Jane Greene
Jane is the Executive Assistant at JUV Consulting. When not at JUV, she is romanticizing life on the west coast, enjoying iced coffee out of a wine glass, and daily mourning that she has never been shushed by Lorde. You can follow Jane on Instagram @deycallmejane.