Editor’s Note: On this episode of The Big Brand Theory, our host, Kyle Johnson spoke with Tom Ross, CEO of Design Cuts, about building a great community in an unscalable digital environment. 

Man in large crowd of people outside


Do you know your audience? Whatever your answer is, chances are you don’t know them well enough. In this episode with Tom, he discusses the importance of creating a community over looking for quantifiable data from your digital marketing engagement. That might take you for a loop, but it’s true. In the episode, Tom mentions that you wouldn’t ask your customer service people to produce numbers the same way your sales people would. You would train them to give a great customer experience.

In the same way, your focus should be on creating connections with your customers. It can be so easy to forget that your customers are real people. Behind an email, screen, or message is a real person with a real life, interests, and passions. Be sure you’re not forgetting that in your day-to-day operations. 

“They’re not, you know, metrics and data points on a Google analytics dashboard. I’m talking to Sally in Nebraska. And I love the fact that she gets so much benefit from our resources. And I now understand how we can serve her better.”


To properly build a community, we have to start with the basics. Tom defines community as “relationships at scale”. The key word in his definition, relationships, informs exactly how you and your team should be building a community; like a relationship. Lucky for you, Tom gives his tips to create a great community through these relationships.

Person responding to comments on iPhone

1. Validate what people actually want

At this part in the process, you want to be sure that your audience feels heard. Tom recommends that you send out surveys and scale what your audience actually wants. Asking questions like: Why are you here? What do you find valuable about our content? What do you want to see? What do you want to learn? What engages you?

If you don’t have a formal way to administer surveys, you don’t need it. This usually starts with a DM. During the beginning of his brand, Tom allocated at least an hour a day to reach out to his clients to get to know them better. Don’t only focus on what they want to see from your brand, but get to know them on a personal level. 


2. Try and build a pre-interest list

 When looking to build a smaller, closed community, try and build a pre-interest list to be sure that you’re identifying the right topics and have in mind the right groups of people. Tom mentions in the episode that communities actually have a critical mass at which point they become self-sustaining. 


Person on phone looking at Instagram


Tom gives an example of a case study he did. A person who loves karate starts posting movie clips from awesome karate films. People start engaging with his content and after a while, he is becoming consistently successful on his platform. From this success, he decides to open a karate studio. He is confident in his decision to do so because he has such wonderful engagement on his platform. After he opens shop and announces it online, business doesn’t pick up and no one signs up. Why is that? Well, he built a community of people who liked short movie clips, not the act of karate. So, he simply didn’t know his audience well.

This falls in line with the most important aspect of a great community; quality over quantity. A million people could follow you, but if they’re a group of people who are there for the movie clips and not for the act of karate, you’ve created a low quality audience for your brand. A great community is a group of people who are there specifically for what your brand is offering.

“You can’t keep it to 400k people, but you can build friendships with the 50 people that consistently show up in your comments. And that’s where the magic happens because they’re the true fans.”


“What is going to be a pleasant, low-friction experience for our users?”

Follow the behavior of your users. After initial audience evaluation, you should have some idea of gender, age range and occupation of your audience. From there, you should focus on finding a platform that those people are on. At the same time, you want to put an emphasis on platforms that are low-friction platforms. An example of a currently high-friction platform would be Facebook. With recent changes in their algorithms, their general rule of “pay to play”, and their low organic reach, this might now be a platform that is currently worth your time, money, and energy.

Man sitting typing on laptop
Trendy barista making drink


Imagine being loyal to a coffee shop everyday for 2 years and then going into another coffee shop at random. Like Tom says,


“It’s gonna feel weird.”

Not because the new coffee shop isn’t great or their coffee is worse that your usual shop, but simply because you’ve been loyal to another place for so long. This brand loyalty is exactly what you’re looking for. By creating a close community of like-minded people, you will intrinsically build an audience who will be more loyal and engaged with your content. Not only that, but you will also be able to retain a lot of the same good people. There are so many benefits to focusing your time, money, and energy into a community surrounding your brand.


“The magic’s in the unscalable because most people aren’t willing to do it. And therefore it is inherently going to differentiate you”

For Christmas, Tom took the time to record hundreds of personalized video messages to send out to clients. He mentions that by the end, he has spent hours and had lost his voice. But people loved it and appreciated it. They had never gotten a personalized message from a CEO before and it was a great experience. Like he says in the episode, there’s “gold” in the unscalable. So, take the time the reach out and talk to your audience. It will be worth the energy and effort 10 times out of 10. 

Lots of people in a crowd

The morale of the story: invest in your community. Invest your time, money, and energy into your audience. It will better your business in every way. From building out marketing campaigns to designing new products, knowing your audience and being able to talk to them will improve all of your decisions. Plus, giving people a place to go to talk about things they love is so valuable. To learn more, listen to ep. 28 with Tom Ross anywhere you listen to podcasts.


If your current marketing strategy just isn’t cutting it anymore, you’ve come to the right place. Our team of experts here at Blackwood Creative would be more than happy to work with you and help you meet and exceed your business goals. We’re in the business of building remarkable brands – yours could be next. Reach out to us today!

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