In his meditations on community, the Dalai Lama believes that it is good when a community is based on voluntary work. He goes on to say that being in a community is like being part of a big family that serves all our needs.
How this relates to the real world and to business is that many of the great brands take great pains to make their customers feel that they belong to a community. Some do this formally, with user groups and clubs, both on and offline. Car makers are a good example of this, with their drivers clubs. And others – Apple would be an example – connect their users with an over-arching identity, the sort of person who uses their product.
The best communities, those with the highest engagement, have an ethos of mutual support, both amongst the membership and between the members and the brand (or management). It’s never a purely commercial arrangement – that goes back to His Holiness’ idea of voluntary contribution. And they stretch far beyond the initial product, becoming an integral part of their members’ world – just like a family.
It might seem odd to talk about voluntary work in the context of applying woo to business, but actually some of the most successful business promotions are based around giving something for free. And some of the best customer loyalty programmes use unexpected free upgrades and gifts – airlines and hotels do this very well, but so do online retailers like Zapos, who regularly upgrade users to priority delivery, and grocers like Tesco giving extra loyalty points or money off vouchers (as a bonus, not a point-of-sale incentive).
As an aside, there have been some interesting discussions on the Ecademy social network lately about how communities thrive and develop – you might want to pop over and contribute.
I bought a neat little book recently - "365 Dalai Lama" - as the title suggests, it's a daily thought from the Dalai Lama. My plan is to use each thought as the inspiration for a blog - and linking the fluffy woo-woo elements to real-world solutions in business and life.