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The Rise of the Community-led Buyer

I have two teenagers in my house. Both enjoy the luxury of ad-free YouTube viewing. In their world, they don't want their content interrupted by ads. Ads are disruptive, not trustworthy, impersonal, and seemingly unaware of the audience they're reaching.

Before they had access to ad-free YouTube, I remember them commenting, "If I see one more ad for X candidate for U.S. Senate, I'm voting for the opponent. Don't these advertisers know I'm not even old enough to vote?"

The ads didn’t care about segmenting their demand to the proper audience. A typical spray-and-pray approach with low conversion metrics.

Conversations around our household can also go like this: 

"Hey, kids, interested in that new Marvel movie that came out last week?"

"No, thanks. The influencers I follow on YouTube and TikTok say it's terrible. My friend Amy's brother also saw it and said it was bad. Plus, I keep seeing annoying ads for it everywhere."

My kids trust their filter bubble communities first. They aren't the only ones who have shifted their buying behavior.


Yes, demand gen is changing

Your buyer behaviors are changing. It’s time we all paid closer attention. 

My perspectives on how demand gen was changing were further confirmed in an article I read last week by Grace Howard, Meet Your Future Buyer: Gen Z. She was writing about her buyer experience as a GenZ’er. 

Take buying a pair of sneakers, for example. My parents might just browse online or go to the mall. That's the extent of their journey. My journey is different," Howard wrote. "I check TikTok to see what's popular, consult influencers, ask for advice on Facebook, and even browse the Reddit community R/RunningShoeGeeks. Bottom line? The buyer’s journey has evolved with the digital age.”

If you think this doesn't reflect your company's buyer today, it might pay to invest more in conversations with your prospects and buyers. I continue to see evidence of such shifts from all directions.

For example, a former CMO that I collaborate with shared this insight earlier today: 

"Starting relationships with your buyer within a traditional demand gen cycle is too late for consistent wins."

Before you even identify your buyer through one of your demand gen campaigns, they likely already know a lot about your company and products. They are self-educating at a faster pace than ever--backed with support from their communities.





Their and your community back channel is buzzing

Consider a CMO on the hunt for an analytics tool to understand customer interactions across multiple channels. Before engaging with your company, they have:


  • Consulted trusted industry peers for top recommendations
  • Posted inquiries about vendor options in community networking workspaces in Slack
  • Sought advice from other CMOs who have transitioned from one solution to another
  • Visited endorsement sites like G2 and TrustRadius
  • Checked employee reviews on Glassdoor for insights into your company culture
  • Scoured Reddit to find shared experiences with your product, company, and employees




Gartner's 2023 report on trends impacting CMOs also emphasizes this change in buyer behavior. Their survey of 1,999 employees, consumers, and B2B buyers indicates that choosing a well-known brand is less critical today than it was three years ago

Furthermore, 75% of Gartner's respondents have searched for info about unfamiliar brands, and only 15% are committed to familiar brands, diminishing the value of brand strength at the point of decision.


The buyer journey is no longer linear

For CMOs, the writing is on the wall: the buyer's journey is no longer a linear path you can control with traditional advertising and demand generation strategies. The community now plays a pivotal role in shaping perceptions and influencing decisions. 

As leaders in marketing, it's imperative to recognize this shift and integrate community-led channels into our strategic planning. This means going beyond brand-centric campaigns to create genuine, community-oriented dialogues that resonate with today's discerning buyers. By doing so, we are more likely to build the trust and credibility needed for long-term success in a digitally evolving marketplace.


Looking for more content on community-led growth and demand generation strategies. You can find them here. I'd recommend starting with Product-led vs. Industry-led Communities: A Pragmatic Approach.