A regenerative community’s journey framework for impact-first brands


Community journey

Moving beyond business as usual and reimagining marketing as a tool for positive change requires transformations ranging from a fundamental shift in mindset, where purpose replaces profit as a guiding principle, to a comprehensive revamp of established frameworks, and in many instances, a complete departure from conventional practices.

In this blog post, we will explore several ways in which we can revamp one of the most crucial and widely used tools in marketing – the community’s journey (typically focused on the customer) – so that it integrates the broader ecosystem, fosters authentic relationships, and creates a meaningful impact that lasts.

Embedded in the wider ecosystem

In a previous blog post, we looked at how we can develop a marketing strategy that serves a higher values-based goal at all times. A pivotal aspect of such a strategy involves mapping out our business ecosystem, identifying the communities directly and indirectly involved, engaging in active listening, and fostering collaborative efforts to drive change. 

Communities might include: customers, users, activists, partners, suppliers, distributors, funders, investors, volunteers, employees etc. Gaining insights into their interactions with our brand holds immense value as it enables us to address the broader picture that real impact requires and build the necessary partnerships for change. Check out the post for a series of questions you might find helpful during this phase. 

While as marketers we may not be directly involved in every conversation and stakeholder journey, our understanding of these dynamics and the ability to identify how we can bring value to the various communities in our ecosystem are essential aspects for aligning marketing with purpose. Therefore, when considering any journey for which we are responsible or can influence, whether it pertains to customers, users, partners, or any other stakeholders, the following question is key: How can we help our entire ecosystem thrive?

Community journey How can we help our ecosystem thrive

In other words, how can you create value throughout each stage of the community’s journey? While the terminologies or specific stakeholder journeys may differ from one company to another, such a journey typically consists of the stages of discovery, consideration, decision and retention:

• In the Discovery phase: the community has yet to discover your solution. Here it’s important to provide easily accessible educational and advocacy content, as well as establish a strong presence across relevant channels and events.
• In the Consideration phase: the community has become aware of your solution and shows interest in materials that address their problems and goals.
• In the Decision phase: the community may have inquiries, engage in comparisons, request demos, or seek verification through proof and case studies.
• In the Retention phase: you’ve started the collaboration, and it’s essential to ensure that your product or service effectively helps people in achieving their goals, while creating value for the wider ecosystem.

A circular data-driven journey

Thinking of your community’s journey in a circular way helps you remember that this isn’t just a short-term, close-ended endeavor. Instead, it’s a continuous process that revolves around building a thriving community and creating more change. Great retention efforts amplify action, ensure renewals and generate ongoing discovery through positive word-of-mouth. We all know that prioritising retention is more effective compared to constantly pursuing new acquisitions.

To effectively track progress throughout the journey, it’s crucial to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect the transition from one stage to the next. They’ll help you stay focused, agile and accountable and will tell you whether people are truly engaging with your brand. Here are some examples:

• Discovery KPI: x% website visitors show interest in your topic (eg. sign up to hear more from you).
• Consideration KPI: x% of contacts want to have a chat with your team.
• Decision KPI: x% of chats turn into a relevant partnership.
• Retention KPIs: x% of partnerships get renewed; x% of your community are referring your organisation to their networks.

Nurturing your organisation’s community journey in an ethical and cost-effective way 

Three seemingly simple yet essential elements – when executed with a focus on value creation and accountability  – will enhance the journey with your brand, boost your marketing in a cost-effective way and enrich the wider ecosystem.

• Community wellbeing
• Regenerative product
• Helpful content

When they’re at the centre of your marketing efforts and they feed insights into each other, these three elements become the engine that ‘spins’ your community’s journey.

Community, Product, Content

Why say it’s cost-effective? In an era of information overload, intrusive or deceptive messages, and declining trust, companies that are genuinely engaged with their communities and the wider ecosystem while creating socially and environmentally responsible products and providing content from a place of care, are bound to truly shine. This approach doesn’t require huge budgets. It’s not about fancy tools, intricate systems, or high advertising budgets. It’s all about a change of mindset. When done right, that’s your marketing. Everything else is just a bonus! 

Three important points before we dive into each of them:

• It’s imperative for marketing to be engaged in each of these three elements. Unfortunately, too often, the role of marketing is overlooked, particularly in relation to the product or service. But by proactively involving marketing from the outset, we can ensure a holistic and well-aligned approach.
• The three elements need to interact synergistically, mutually enriching each other with valuable insights.
• Due to their ongoing nature, they require constant attention and regular evaluation.

For instance, I had the opportunity to work with an education organisation where the harmonious integration of these three elements led to great community growth, heightened engagement, and a thought leadership position within the sector.

• By carefully listening to its community, the organisation continually enhanced its services and generated truly valuable content.
• The services, which the communities found really valuable, generated an abundance of content that was itself useful for the community.
• The content effectively and genuinely showcased the advantages of the service, fostering community loyalty and attracting a wider audience.

This is a great example of Community, Product and Content working seamlessly together and propelling marketing and organisational efforts to new heights. Let’s delve into each of them and look at some powerful examples. 

Community wellbeing

Having understood the various communities within your ecosystem, this element focuses on nurturing connections, fostering dialogue and enhancing wellbeing. The objective is to create an environment where continuous learning takes place, enabling collaborative efforts to drive change that matters to the entire ecosystem. To structure this process, be sure to map your community’s journey and identify the value you can contribute at each stage: discovery, consideration, decision and retention. And in order to
cultivate community wellbeing, make it a habit to consistently ask the following questions:

Do we understand and respect all the communities in our ecosystem? It’s crucial to stay curious, mindful and critical of our own biases as well as build a diverse team that reflects our communities and beyond. This approach will help create a truly inclusive and open-minded environment.
• Do we provide value in our interactions – do we help our communities thrive?
• Are our promises grounded in reality and being kept along the way?
• Do we talk too much about ourselves, falling into ‘the hero trap’? As Thomas Kolster, the author of The Hero Trap book says: ‘Who can you help me become?’ is a key question we need to ask in order to unlock sustainable growth that benefits everyone.
• Are mistakes openly shared, owned up to and used to learn from them?
• Are we handling our communities’ data in a transparent, responsible, secure and permission-based way? Unfortunately, the marketing industry often falls short in this area. Besides complying with data privacy laws, why even want a database of contacts with no interest in hearing from you?

Examples of powerful community approaches

FRIDA, the Young Feminist Fund
When it comes to community practices, an outstanding exemplar is FRIDA, the Young Feminist Fund. FRIDA provides young feminist organisers with the resources they need to catalyse change. Importantly, the organisation is led by young feminist activists themselves, who have a strong presence in the regions where the work is being carried out.

One noteworthy feature on their website is the Garden of Change, an interactive space that invites visitors to explore the diverse outcomes FRIDA seeks to achieve across various domains and the different groups that the organisation engages with, both directly and indirectly.

FRIDA Garden of ChangeScreenhots of FRIDA’s Garden of Change

Moreover, FRIDA uses a participatory grantmaking approach, which is quite unique in the sector. This approach places the decision-making in the hands of young feminists themselves, serving as a transformative model that challenges prevailing power structures and narratives often found within the philanthropy sector.

Another great example is Patagonia, the renowned outdoor clothing brand. As we know, the company’s commitment extends far beyond selling clothing. In recent news, the founder announced that the company will dedicate all its profits to combating climate change.

Patagonia actively engages with various stakeholders, from working to improve supply chains and factory conditions to advocating for change, taking concrete measures to reduce their ecological footprint, and providing specific impact metrics about their work. 

Patagonia impactScreenshots of Patagonia’s Action Works programme and impact metrics

They also actively support grassroots activist groups, who are also recipients of their grants, through an initiative known as Patagonia Action Works. The programme connects these groups with dedicated volunteers, fostering a powerful collective effort towards positive transformation.

Regenerative product

When a product is of top-notch quality and designed to help its ecosystem thrive, it retains existing communities and attracts new ones through positive word of mouth. This approach embodies ethical principles while proving to be a cost-effective strategy.

Moreover, it’s important to acknowledge the key role marketing plays in capturing insights from community conversations, thereby driving product development. Here are some questions to regularly ask:

Are our products developed with our users’ and the entire ecosystem’s needs and goals in mind – does it deliver on the promise?
• Do we promote sustainable, responsible and conscious choices? If we consistently push for higher standards (eg. better packaging, better systems), show digestible impact data and encourage consumers to make more responsible and conscious choices (use less, reuse, recycle etc), the product will impact the wider ecosystem.
• Do we communicate honestly and clearly on everything that goes into our products?
• Is there something about the product/service that is not ideal and is hard to change at the moment – are we transparent about that?
• If an external person were to join us behind the scenes of product development, would we be comfortable with that?
• Do we foster transparent feedback loops with our communities? Do we consistently implement the feedback we receive?
• Is there any part of our product that we could improve but are lenient about because our good mission compensates for it?

Examples of powerful product approaches

Fairphone builds sustainable smartphones with responsibly sourced, conflict-free materials. Their devices are designed to be longer-lasting and easy to repair—allowing users to conveniently access and replace individual components.

FairphoneScreenshots of Fairphone’s sustainability features and supply chain map

When it comes to communicating on what goes into the product, they provide an interactive map of their supply chain, showing the journey of phone components, from known mines and factories up to the moment they reach the hands of consumers. Additionally, they offer the possibility to purchase refurbished phones and recycle old ones. 

Mud Jeans
Another good example is Mud Jeans, a circular denim brand dedicated to minimising the environmental footprint of the jeans industry. Their focus lies in embracing circular economy principles, promoting fair production practices, and advocating for transformative change within the industry.

MudJeansScreenshot of a Mud Jeans’ product page

One notable feature of Mud Jeans is that many of their product pages provide information about the savings you make in terms of water and CO2 emissions when you choose to purchase their jeans instead of the conventional industry standard. Moreover, Mud Jeans offers a leasing programme, allowing customers to lease a pair of jeans. Once you are done using them, you have the option to return the jeans for recycling, further contributing to the circularity of their production process.

Tony Chocolonely
Regarding the question of whether there are aspects of the product or service that are difficult to change at the moment, here’s an example from Tony Chocolonely, a chocolate brand striving to eliminate slavery, child labor, and exploitation from cocoa supply chains.

In early 2022, they openly addressed the issue of sugar in their chocolate and acknowledged the negative health impacts of excessive sugar consumption, essentially admitting that they’re part of the problem. They expressed their support for a tax on foods high in sugar and low in nutritional value in the Netherlands — including their chocolate. And as an additional action, they added the number of grams of sugar per piece of chocolate. 

Tony’s ChocolonelyScreenshot of Tony Chocolonely’s communication piece

One might wonder (at least I did), why not simply reduce the sugar content in their chocolate? In their post, Tony Chocolonely explains that their primary focus is on addressing the challenges within the cocoa industry. Sugar, although inconvenient, plays a role in making their work possible. I guess, to effect significant change in the sector, it’s important to offer options that resonate with a wide audience, rather than solely catering to niche markets, like eg. the dark chocolate enthusiasts. While the subject remains debatable, I believe it takes some courage to publish such a communication piece.

Helpful content

High quality, relevant, transparent and empathic content is key for impactful and ethical marketing. Whenever we make a shift from ‘us’ to ‘you’ and provide content that really addresses people’s needs and goals – while keeping the purpose as a constant throughout it all – we see a transformation in engagement, a surge in participation, and more impact as a result. 
Here are a few questions to ask about your content:

Does our content address our communities’ needs and goals?
• Are the higher goal and collective promise clear throughout our content, without us falling into ‘the hero trap’?
• Are we explicit and transparent about our sustainability and impact statements? No exaggerated benefits and inflated results. No overly doctored testimonials or data and stories taken out of context.
• Are our ‘freebies’ really free? We’ve all seen so-called freebies that come with mandatory sign-up instead of a separate opt-in for other communications. Considering that data is one of the biggest currencies of our society, these resources are not really free.
• Do we use unnecessarily pressing calls to action (CTAs)? ‘3 seats left’, ‘1 item left in stock’, ‘50% only for today’. Sounds familiar, right?! Too often, these campaigns take advantage of consumers’ loss aversion and fear of missing out. So if we do make any urgency or scarcity statements, we need to make sure they’re based on real data, placed in context and unchanging. If the next day, the event registration that was supposed to be closed by midnight is still open without explanation, trust will definitely break.
• Do we talk openly about the realities of our sector? This promotes transparency, helps identify and resolve problems,  facilitates knowledge sharing, sets realistic expectations, and contributes to industry development.
• Do our promotional messages accurately reflect the content of our offering? We’ve all encountered instances where product capabilities are exaggerated or learning webinars turn out to be sales pitches.

Examples of powerful content approaches

Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees. The revenue generated from search ads is used for planting trees that are suited to their specific environments. Ecosia ensures user privacy by not storing searches permanently or selling data to advertisers.

EcosiaScreenshot of Ecosia’s May 2023 financial report

As they say, trust has to be earned, which is why they also publish monthly financial reports that show their earnings from searches and the percentage allocated to tree planting. The screenshot above highlights the breakdown of their May 2023 financial report.

Another example is Ecologi, a platform for climate action that enables  individuals, families and businesses to become climate positive. By funding climate solutions and tree planting initiatives, they actively reduce carbon footprints.

EcologiScreenshots of Ecologi’s public impact ledger and webinar sign-up form

Their website offers a transparent paper trail of their impact, with detailed spreadsheets for carbon avoidance, reforestation, and financial reports. Additionally, their user-friendly forms provide clear communication options, allowing users to opt in for what interests them the most.

These companies are living proof that business, and by extension, marketing, can be a force for good and even a form of activism. They show us that it’s possible to be accountable to more than just customers and investors, and that financial viability and sustainable change can harmoniously coexist. We just need to break free from the confines of traditional business practices and embrace a new way of thinking. 


Disclaimer: We are not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned above. The information is based on online sources and media content, with the purpose of exemplifying the principles discussed.

Published on 27 June 2023 by Laura Tufis. Laura also presented this content at Acumen Academy’s End of Year Summit (Beyond Business as Usual) in December 2022.