Skip to content
All posts

Community-led growth: the brand orbit

We’ve all been in attendance at Hubspot’s Inbound, Salesforce’s Dreamforce, or our own company’s incredible user conference. The moments are magical. People are meeting face-to-face for the first time, new connections are forged between employees and customers, branded swag is everywhere, selfies are snapped, and bread is broken. Your marketing, customer success, product engineering, and sales teams work their tails off to create an incredible experience for everyone. FOMO for those left back at home is real.

The energy from your customer and partner community creates the escape velocity from product-led orbits to brand-led orbits. These communities do not spontaneously generate out of the ether. Your company purposely builds the community to better promote the business and its brand through the voice of others. The customer and partner participants are hand-picked to support your narrative. You invite them to share their perspectives, products, practices, and powerful relationships they’ve forged with you.

The brand-led orbit expands knowledge sharing within your installed base on product best practices and attracts new partners. Orbit 2 reassures potential customers that their value bets on your solution have a more substantial chance of paying off because others in the community accompany them on their journey. The herd effect is natural: individuals follow others and imitate group behavior rather than deciding independently based on their own private information.




Brand-led orbits reinforce all of the value statements, benefits, and product features described by your team in orbit 1. Here, the narrative is not 100% controlled by your team, but the acts are scripted and rehearsed. Customers invited to speak on stage at user conferences, during roadshows, on webinars or in case studies are there for a purpose. They’ve agreed to speak on your behalf, bringing more credibility to your story. Their voice is regarded as more independent and trustworthy than your own and, most importantly, it’s viewed as an authentic representation of brand and product value. 

Everyone in this orbit knows the customer has had to go through multiple approval hurdles to share their story. The boss, the corporate communications team, the lawyers, and the compliance officers all needed to sign off on the participation beforehand. But anyone going through that effort to tell the story must truly be convinced of the value your product or service delivers. 

At the same time, your brand-led marketing team needs to coach others in the organization about the boundaries and guardrails established in the agreement. The content can only be used in certain places, customer logo uses are restricted, and recordings of presentations - if permitted - have parameters set on who they are shared with. Case studies that take months to produce due to all of the edits and approval paths strain timing of your go-to-market plans. 

Endorsements are powerful, and they are hard to get. The customer has to be in a good mood, and the product needs to be in solid working order for their business. Complex renewals, product outages, re-orgs, and approval chains can all wreak havoc on securing the commitment needed, and the timing of such requests is almost always a sensitive subject. We’ve all been there and have run the gauntlet to capture the prize.

The content produced in this orbit is gold. A great customer endorsement is repeated thousands of times in different accounts by sales reps pursuing their next deal. The best pieces secure prime real estate on your home page, in your blogs, and in corporate videos.

You might be reading this with the conviction that brand-led orbits are equivalent to what many refer to as community-led growth (CLG) or community-led marketing. There are distinct differences worth discussing between the two concepts. defines community-led growth as “the process of turning a product's users into its best advocates, who share their experiences using said product with their peers. This helps brands in several ways: Promoting a product and recommending it to their peers.”

Other mentions by and venture capital firm Greylock tie the product-led growth (PLG) movement to the similarly named community-led growth (CLG) movement. They explain, “The phrase is a play on ‘product-led growth,’ a go-to-market strategy in which companies make their self-serve products the main vehicle for acquiring, activating, and retaining users. Community-led growth ‘acts as a multiplier over product-led growth,’ wrote Corinne Marie Riley of Greylock. It creates a ‘flywheel of active members strengthening the community.’”

We should not rush to use brand-led and community-led marketing interchangeably. While your brand and community audiences would ideally be similar, this book describes them as different strategies. Here, your brand’s audience is built upon your ideal customer profile (ICP), and the connection to the audience is manufactured by your business. If your business went away tomorrow, the brand community would go with it. Communication and collaboration in this realm are business-to-customer. 




As we’ll explore more in the next chapter, community-led marketing comprises member-to-member interactions. Your company may help facilitate some of those interactions, but your employees and investment are not required to sustain the community. Where your company built its brand-led orbit and invited others to participate, community-led orbits were created by their members. Your employees can join these communities - and even help facilitate interactions - but the orbits operate best when they reflect the needs of their members. 

For example, if your company builds solutions to support some form of marketing automation, you can bolt on a community forum for customers, partners, and prospects to gather and exchange information. But those marketing professionals in your target audience rely on more than just your solution. The community of marketing professionals has its own needs, members invest in leveling up their practitioner status, and they look for opportunities to gather and connect with like-minded people. 

When operating in Orbit 2, it is essential to remember: your brand-led community is not in their community.

This is where community-led marketing comes into play. When you harness it correctly, marketing can unlock massive value, accelerate sales cycles, and distance your business from the competition.





This blog is an excerpt from Derek Weeks' upcoming book: Unfair Mindshare, a CMO's guide to community-led marketing in a product-led world.