Join us for VISIONS Summit NYC  - June 11
Season 2 Episode 7
October 26, 2022

Community Building & Belonging

We are social beings who need community and long to create meaning through the relationships in our life. How do we interact with brands, consumers, and the products surrounding us to really engage with each other? Listen as Kiri and Ingrid dive into the human need for community and belonging.

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This Episode Sponsored by:

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Infinite Shelf - Triple Whale


  • We use brands and social signals as a way to make decisions about what we’re going to do with/put in our bodies
  • Minecraft is a platform that has generated a community and has become not just a game, but actually an identity and an activity in which families are involved and together in it
  • Glossier was brilliant in creating a gated Slack channel for top 100 fans which helped them build community and also have access to valuable market research
  • “When you think about these if-you-know-you-know business models, luxury has created that, but the Internet has created that if-you-know-you-know for everyone. It's democratized these niche, little communities.” - Ingrid
  • You go to amazon for specific things, not for inspiration, and it serves a specific purpose
  • There's some weirdness where we are social beings and we want to be in a social community, we’ve shifted from one person in a clan to Kim K with millions of followers
  • “One of the challenges that we have in our digitally-connected community is that it is our community. This is where we go for belonging. But there are not always the best or clearest intentions among all the people in the community.” - Kiri
  • There is a way for brands to handle reviews in a really transparent way that still drives more review volume and a feeling of community without being shady
  • “There's always going to be a need and a place and a way to differentiate yourself as a brand by understanding the fundamental human need for community and belonging.” - Ingrid

Have any questions or comments about the show? Let us know on, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We love hearing from our listeners!

Ingrid: [00:00:10] Hello and welcome to Infinite Shelf, the human-centric retail podcast. I'm your host, Ingrid Milman Cordy, and I am here with our guest co-host for the rest of Season 2, Kiri. Hey, Kiri, how's it going?

Kiri: [00:01:23] Hey, Ingrid. I'm great. Great to be here again.

Ingrid: [00:01:27] All right. Well, I'm really stoked to really kick off a true episode with you.

Kiri: [00:01:32] The last one was pretty truthful, though.

Ingrid: [00:01:35] Oh, my God. I know. The most truthful. I'm like, I've been thinking about it, and actually, I'm so proud of that one.

Kiri: [00:01:42] Good.

Ingrid: [00:01:42] It took a lot to get there emotionally and mentally. And I really hope that the audience really likes it. If not, you know, hit me up, let me know. I'd love to continue the conversation. But so for this one, I think that our idea was let's go down some really, really human traits. And frankly, one of the two top human traits, I think for me and certainly for you, Kiri, I think as we were preparing, is the concept of belonging and community. And so there's this idea that just we're all social beings and the way that we create meaning out of this life is through our relationships with others. And there's just so much there in terms of just living a human life. But then also how do we interact with brands and products and our consumers and the way that we live within the world and the products surrounding us to really engage with each other? What are your thoughts on just in general, belonging and community and how that works with products?

Kiri: [00:02:54] Yeah, I think it's a relatively new phenomenon. It's probably only something that we've thought about for the last couple of hundred years is the concept of brands and of choice. And what does this product or brand say about my identity and what I align with from an ideological standpoint? This is a fairly new kind of thing. But as the world has gotten bigger and smaller in a lot of ways, we use brands and social signals as a way to make decisions about what we're going to put into our bodies or put on our bodies or ways to educate our children and things like that. So we use our community and social connections to make purchasing decisions as well as it being a fundamental human trait of needing that feeling of meaningful relationships with others and also community being having a longing for being part of something bigger than our individual selves.

Ingrid: [00:04:10] Yeah. What do you think are some brands that do that well or poorly or don't? Or what's maybe like some of the ones that stick out to you like, "Wow, that's definitely a brand that connects with belonging and community in the sense?"

Kiri: [00:04:25] One that might take us down a rabbit hole fairly quickly. I know this is a topic of interest, Ingrid, is Minecraft. And so I've got to come clean here.

Ingrid: [00:04:38] Please do. {laughter}

Kiri: [00:04:39] I'm not someone who has thought much about the metaverse, but I think I have made my first metaverse purchase kind of by accident, which was to buy a SpongeBob SquarePants add on to my Minecraft character while playing Minecraft with my five year old who's obsessed.

Ingrid: [00:05:02] Amazing.

Kiri: [00:05:03] When you think about Minecraft, there is a metaverse component. There's a huge brand component. Obviously, there's just everything around merchandise and the game itself and add ons. But the community aspect is super strong. And my son, who's only five, he can't read. He's calling me by my gamertag, which is BigFizzler, by the way, connect with me on Minecraft and my brother Harambe9000. And when he meets other five year olds, he's asking if they're on Minecraft. And this is just one of many, many sort of games that people get really into. But when we talk about community, this is a really great example of a platform that has generated a community. It is product, it's marketing and it's a community.

Ingrid: [00:06:09] Yeah, it's really been wild to watch that just completely take over. There are people whose lives, like for me for example, our kid is far too young for games and things like that. And so it's not really like in our household, but for the families who have a Minecraft connection, it really does transcend away from just like, "Oh, it's a game that my son is playing before dinner" to "This is like a family affair. And we talk about it and it's this interwoven thing in your lives," which to me is such an incredible and meaningful thing for a video game to evolve into. And it's very different than me sitting and playing my Sega Genesis or whatever before dinner. My parents would never get involved with that. That was like a me alone thing just because it wasn't interconnected with anything else. And so the fact that it has all of these branches that go out, you can be a player, you meet other players, there's this whole other community is so, so cool.

Kiri: [00:07:24] Yeah, yeah. So it's a part of people's identities. It's a way to play and go on quests and have this experience together.

Ingrid: [00:07:37] Yeah.

Kiri: [00:07:38] What about you, Ingrid? Any real life brands come to mind here?

Ingrid: [00:07:44] Oh, yeah, Big time. I mean, this is just something that I am always keenly observant of. So one of the brands that I think has definitely didn't create any of this the way that Minecraft did, but the brand that I thought did such a fantastic job of continuing and building their community is Glossier. So they were basically one of the first brands, at least that I knew that created a Glossier branded Slack channel for their fans to talk amongst themselves. And it wasn't just like any fans. And casually you can dip in and out. They gated it and so they only allowed like the top 100 fans and I think they had some kind of like vetting process in order to get there and you had to sort of be accepted. And so it was really this closed off community that was free from the normal Internet noise of trolls and people who are just casually dipping in without any vested interest in the community, which I thought was also really interesting. And it basically allowed for these beauty fanatics to talk about products. It wasn't at all monitored or guided by the Glossier employees that created it for them, but they knew that it was in partnership with Glossier and it was all just this place where they can listen to these candid conversations of their fans and what they really thought about the products and what products they were truly just missing in their regimens and what products from other brands that they were really, really enjoying and liking. And man, I just think about the millions and millions of dollars that companies spend every year to get this type of engagement and feedback and consumer research that Glossier simply just like for free, opened up a Slack channel and created this space for people to speak freely. And not only did it give them their information that they needed to create better products, but it also reinforced this sense of belonging and community. And there's just levels of brilliance to this concept that is really, really simple but so cool and modern and brilliant that I can probably say about ten other things that Emily Weiss did in her time at Glossier. I hope she's enjoying being a new mom right now, but that's just one of the best examples I can think of. There's also the idea of a community and belonging to just social networks in general comes to mind. So what you were saying, I look at Minecraft as sure it's a video game, but it's also a social network. And the same thing with Discord or Etsy or Reddit or Twitter. There are these unwritten cultures and rules of engagement that happen and exists within these channels. And it's very, very interesting because it does really create this sense of belonging to a larger thing. And it really does feel at the same time endless and also these walled gardens. And I just think that that's so cool. And I think one of the examples that comes to mind for Discord in particular is you're kind of like, at least in in 2022, you're cool if you are part of one or two or a couple of Discord conversations or channels. And I was talking to a friend of mine on our Discord Channel, and I said, "Hey, I'd like to invite this person to Discord. Is that okay with you? Let's add them to what we're saying here." And I said, "Can you like send them a link? Or how do we get them into our Discord?" And they were like, "A link to like download Discord? Like, are they a boomer?" {laughter} He was just so confused because for those of you who aren't part of the Discord community, it does sort of on the subtext pride itself on being a pretty Internet-y thing and people who are just like big and smart and something on the Internet typically use Discord as part of their communications. And so whenever you kind of like hint at someone's less than Internet savvy, it's kind of eschewed, which I thought was so funny. And it was such a characteristic of this community that I don't think anybody else would look at me sideways if I was like, "Hey, send me an Etsy link or a Pinterest link."

Kiri: [00:12:36] That's interesting. Well, this is insiders. So if you know you know, and so I'd probably classify myself as a person who would ask for a Discord link as well. So you're not alone that and there's lots of examples of that, particularly with luxury brands, for example. And there are kind of ostentatious luxury brands like Louis Vuitton Monogram handbag. But then there's also these if you know you know flexes with Lora Piana or Van Cleef & Arpels. And it's very subtle. It's very sort of it's an insider's club and you'd only know it if you're part of it, and that is part of the allure there.

Ingrid: [00:13:31] Totally. And I think luxury is such a great example because that before the Internet, before any of the modern things that we look at to determine whether there's a good corporate connection of belonging and community from a brand, luxury brands have known how to do this for a very long time, and obviously that was always their hallmark is like if you know you know. I don't need these big labels. You know that that is a Celine dress from when this person was the creative director of Celine. Loro Piana. It's like that cashmere you can tell from a long ways away. I always think of the cast, the way that they dress the cast on Succession.

Kiri: [00:14:22] Yes.

Ingrid: [00:14:22] It is so incredibly...

Kiri: [00:14:25] Succession Fashion on Instagram. Do you follow it?

Ingrid: [00:14:29] It is incredible. And it's so funny because you will not, you will not see a single logo on anything. But everything looks and is wildly high quality couture. But these are these old money brands that, again, if you know you know. But what's interesting to me at least is so, yes, that concept has been around forever. And I think it's actually, when you think about these if you know you know business models, luxury has sort of created that. But the Internet has created that if you know you know for everyone. It's like democratized these niche little communities. And it sort of spanned out from luxury. And it turned into people's interests and people's hobbies. And the part of the Internet where you hang out creates these individual expressions. And I actually think that that is moving more and more niche and more and more if you know you know, which is funny because the Internet in general was meant to be this everything is all here and everything is accessible and everything is finally opened up into the world. And I think obviously it did do that. But the world suddenly got really big and really complicated, and it was harder and harder to find the things that you wanted to do on the Internet or the places that you wanted to be. And so I think these smaller, more niche networks are becoming more and more popular. And I do think it's part of people stepping away from the Facebooks and the Instagrams of the world and moving into these more niche communities where they can just talk to their friends or talk to really, really, really like minded people and not get a bunch of ads or information from people that they don't follow along the way.

Kiri: [00:17:18] I think what you're describing, Ingrid, is what I think about 8 hours a day or more because it's my job, which is Amazon, and I apologize. You brought me on as the guest co-host for the rest of the season, and I have to apologize in advance. I will find a way to bring up Amazon in every single episode that we do.

Ingrid: [00:17:46] {laughter} It's ok. It's what you're here for. Hard to ignore.

Kiri: [00:17:47] It's a condition that I have. Yeah. But what you are describing is there is... This is a continual cycle of business. Fragmentation and consolidation. And some really famous clever person said that. But and I'm paraphrasing terribly, but Amazon is the everything store. You visit Amazon because you kind of know what you want because hundreds of millions of products are just thrown at you. And it's where everything is. That's why you go to Amazon, because everything is there. And then actually sort of being inspired or having some sort of like unique experience, that is not the use case that Amazon serves. And there's lots of different parallels that you could make between shopping at big box retailer or a pop up shop. So there are different needs that those two environments serve. But I wanted to pull on a thread that you brought up, which is social media and influencers in particular. And there's a little bit of weirdness now where we were social beings, we want to belong to a community. Back in the caveman days, it might have been like the leader of the clan that we would look up to. And now it's...

Ingrid: [00:19:32] Kim Kardashian. {laughter}

Kiri: [00:19:33] Kim Kardashian. Exactly. So we've shifted from this world is 100 people in our clan to now we're following...

Ingrid: [00:19:43] 65 million followers.

Kiri: [00:19:44] Yeah. Yes, but. But those influencers have vested interests in sharing what they do and they're sponsored. And I think there's a little bit more visibility into when someone is being paid to recommend something to you. So that is one of the challenges that we have in our digitally connected communities, is it is our community, this is where we go to for belonging, but there are not always the best intentions or the clearest intentions among all the people in the community.

Ingrid: [00:20:29] Big time. Big time. Yeah. And I think that that is something where we start talking about regulation. So for the beginning, like whatever, ten years of the rise of influencers and it was very fast, there really wasn't a whole lot of attention being paid to the FCC or whoever or even like the FDA, all of these governing bodies, to make sure that these influencers are stating that they are in fact sponsored. And I think that's always still a struggle. It's gotten considerably better. I actually remember, coming from fashion and beauty, where influencers were just like part of our marketing mix for truly a decade now when they started to come down on communication around it, that sent a chill down the spine of every single beauty and fashion marketer because we were just super worried that consumers were going to start to really push back and not follow and not be influenced by these influencers. And that happened, I would say, maybe five years ago or four years ago, and man, was I wrong, or all of us, we were really were wrong. If you go back to articles like WWD and all of these different like fashion business publications were talking about how the day of the influencer is dead and it's just like now you look back on it and it just so was not true because in reality I think that it follows a pattern that I've seen be followed over and over again, which is transparency is important and it doesn't actually matter so much if that influencer says that they're being paid, if they're still... The good ones. And you've actually been able to start seeing a big, big shift away from the really, really macro influencers who were slinging products every single day with a pretty thinly veiled disguise that they actually tried or cared about those products or their followers to like the mid-size influencers who really are, let's say, moms, and "This is something that I really do feed my child," or a skincare influencer who's a dermatologist and "Really I'm a dermatologist. And I looked at the results and I looked at the research." Those are the influencers that ended up winning in this. And I think everyone won. I think the consumer won. I think that the honest influencers won. And sure, you're still going to have like your big influencers who are pushing flat tummy tea or whatever it is this week. But that just becomes so much more transparent and obvious. And I think the good products with the good influencers have prevailed.

Kiri: [00:23:37] Yeah. Speaking of transparent and honest, here's one thing that I think is a real driver of loyalty and community, and that is legitimate reviews from real customers. Like product reviews. And so my spidey sense goes up when I'm shopping a DTC site and reading all these four and five stars reviews because I know you can gain that system.

Ingrid: [00:24:06] That one star review is somewhere. Where is it?

Kiri: [00:24:09] Right. The tummy flattening tea, they're curating all of the reviews on this site. By comparison, shopping a retailer or marketplace, they don't care which brand of tummy flattening tea gets the sale. They'd rather have like legitimate reviews in there and have it be a source of information.

Ingrid: [00:24:33] Right.

Kiri: [00:24:36] Because they don't have skin in the game there. The cream kind of rises to the top. But these DTC sites have skin in the game, but Ulta, Sephora, or Amazon doesn't really care. So that's something I've been thinking about a lot lately as well around trust and community. I love, I love reading reviews on retailer sites. And I feel like those people are my people, because we've got a similar buying preference or concern. And I really trust all of these nameless, faceless strangers on the Internet writing positive or negative comments about what products they're using. It's very interesting.

Ingrid: [00:25:29] I have always wanted to create myself, in all of my spare time, lol, or invest in a reviews platform that is vetted and that just rises the bar even on top of the already high bar that a Sephora or Amazon or would have. I think there's a lot of benefit to that because I think people really care and I was just talking about this with my husband, so when we're choosing the movie, you know, we're on hour four and one half of choosing the movie that we're going to watch that night, we're always fans of the Rotten Tomatoes toggle.

Kiri: [00:27:48] Yeah.

Ingrid: [00:27:48] So you can toggle between what the audiences say and what the critics say. And I just think that that would be such a cool feature to add to an Amazon review platform or any other review platform of just like, "Here's what just ordinary people say. And they're just as important because they may or may not be more similar to you. And then here is what the experts say, like someone who actually does understand this type of bicycle wheel and how it's made and the components to it and the fabric that it was made out of, because that's their profession." And I think that that's something that is kind of missing. I think it would be really cool.

Kiri: [00:28:33] Yeah.

Ingrid: [00:28:35] Yeah. So I agree. I love the reviews and I think there's even like sort of this bonding of people who write reviews too. So it's like, yeah, I'm someone who writes reviews and I just want to make sure everyone knows what they're buying and getting into. And it's just kind of public service. You can kind of tell a little bit of who those people are in their real lives when they're writing reviews for other people to either benefit or hopefully benefit. Some of them are really funny, there are all sorts of review aggregators. But one of the things... Oh, go ahead.

Kiri: [00:29:09] Oh, I was just going to say it's just so challenging to get a volume of it. And I was just going to say one company that does a great job of this is italic.

Ingrid: [00:29:18] Hmm. Yeah.

Kiri: [00:29:19] And so what they do is you get a credit as an italic member, if you submit a review and it's like a dollar credit if it's a text review and like a $3 credit if you add a photo as well. And the whole UI... I went to go write a review just in a text review and submitted it and there's a little prompt, "Are you don't want to add a photo because you get an extra $2 credit if you just add a photo?"

Ingrid: [00:29:46] Brilliant.

Kiri: [00:29:46] And it was such a good experience. And you know what? There was no incentive for me to rate it five stars or anything. It was just that they wanted to get more user generated content, the good, the bad, the ugly. And I thought that was really smart. And that's definitely a a site where it would be beneficial for them to have lots of five star reviews. But really they're taking a product-first approach where it's like, "Okay, if this candle set gets terrible reviews but not going to make it anymore. We're going to make more cashmere sweaters instead that everyone seems to like." So I think there is a way for brands to do it in a really transparent way that still drives more review volume and a feeling of community without being shady or deleting negative reviews. It's so disgusting. Makes me need to feel like I need a shower.

Ingrid: [00:30:46] I agree. And it's also it's so obvious.

Kiri: [00:30:50] Yes.

Ingrid: [00:30:51] Like that's the thing where I'm just like, "Do you really think that everyone is just stupid?"

Kiri: [00:30:57] I think it's obvious to us because we're in the industry. I think sadly, if more people were aware of it, I think it wouldn't be as commonplace. But it's not really commonly held information, unfortunately.

Ingrid: [00:31:10] See, that bums me out. I always and I think about this really regularly of just don't assume that your consumer is stupid. And I think that's a practice that does... And listen, I'm not arguing that there aren't people who don't realize that there's shady business going on. I don't. But I do think that whatever population there is who sees through that or goes just instinctually to filter by worst, just because they want to know, "Okay, well, maybe your worst is not my worst. Let's see what the one stars mean. And maybe those are attributes that I just don't care that much about. And so that wouldn't be a one star for me."

Kiri: [00:31:55] Exactly. Yes. Exactly.

Ingrid: [00:31:57] Right. So we just want to know, like, "Okay, what's the worst thing that you can tell me about this? And maybe that's actually not so bad for me." And that's kind of the psychology I apply when I'm filtering for one star.

Kiri: [00:32:09] Yeah, exactly. I discount reviews that are irrelevant or someone complains about not getting their package on time or whatever, and they rated it one star. Obviously, you kind of mentally ruled those out. But yes, the context is important.

Ingrid: [00:32:25] Totally. And so just just going back to this whole concept of community and bonding and I really do think that ratings and reviews is a really great way to interact and learn from your community, that you're kind of creating and hopefully learning from. The other one is, we were looking at the preparation here and you were talking about the Amazon sellers and how they've created their own community. And I really want you to go into that because I find it really interesting because as someone who also sells on Amazon, mostly just one piece, so like my brand has a relationship with Amazon and it's a bit different than being a 3p seller. All of us who are in some way selling things on Amazon, which is 99% of people in commerce these days, we're all kind of like trauma bonded in some way. Whenever you find out that someone else sells something on Amazon, you're like, "Oh, man, let's pour ourselves a beer and just talk about it, man."

Kiri: [00:33:31] Exactly.

Ingrid: [00:33:32] Right. What does that look like on the Internet for you?

Kiri: [00:33:34] Yeah. You've been through war with these people. So I was thinking about when we think about belonging, I was thinking of this spectrum and we've talked about a few of these things already. There are brands that are so powerful at uniting their shopper base that real life communities spring up around them, and it's not driven by the brand. So like Harley Davidson, for example, is one. You mentioned Glossier, which is sort of like that was a community sort of prompted by them, but it sounded very organic once it got going.

Ingrid: [00:34:09] Totally.

Kiri: [00:34:10] And then there are brands that don't try and create a formal community, but it's that if you know you know kind of signaling that happens from it. And then and then this other end of the spectrum, which is a community that has sprung up because of trauma bonding, like you said, is such a great and apt description, but it's like, "Okay, we're united together without intending to be because of a common sort of issue. So in my world, Amazon sellers and vendors and I hosted this happy hour when I was out in LA and 12 people who were so excited to be there talking and sitting down commiserating with each other about separating parent child ASINs on Amazon.

Ingrid: [00:35:10] I call those the bitch and eat sessions. You need to have those.

Kiri: [00:35:12] So anyone else, anyone else walking past that group of people, they'd be like "What is going on there?" But we're so into it and that is a community and we have a a common bond there, and I guess it is an if you know you know kind of situation as well.

Ingrid: [00:35:34] Oh, yeah, yeah. It's kind of like remember, I don't even know this might still happen, but a good ten years ago, as I guess all my references are now from. I talked about Discord, so I got my modern point in.

Kiri: [00:35:50] Yeah. Yeah.

Ingrid: [00:35:52] Now I can be back to kicking people off my lawn. So about ten years ago, maybe more than that. 15 years ago. Do you remember Meetups?

Kiri: [00:36:00] Yes.

Ingrid: [00:36:01] Where it would be like that was such an internet thing where it would be, you know, you find the people on the Internet that have a similar hobby or interest, and then you have like an in-person meetup. And that just seems now so quaint to look back on and think that that existed.

Kiri: [00:36:16] I posted, when I lived in Sydney, me and my husband started a book club and we posted on I can't even remember what it's called, like the Australian version of Craigslist. And we put like a Craigslist ad up, basically, like "We want to start a book club. We're going to meet at this cafe across the street from the theater at this time," and you see who shows up. Like what wackos show up to your book club.

Ingrid: [00:36:44] Yeah. So what happened?

Kiri: [00:36:44] It was actually really cool. Yeah, it was nice.

Ingrid: [00:36:49] Anytime you need to restore your faith and humanity, create a Craigslist. I'm just kidding. Don't. Please don't do that, everyone. {laughter} But no, I really think that that's really cool. And that is the Internet. It's meant to connect people and whether you decide to meet up in person or not. And I do think it's really cool and clear when brands understand the power of that. And I just think that there's always going to be a need and a place and a way to differentiate yourself as a brand by understanding the fundamental human need for community and belonging.

Kiri: [00:37:35] Nailed it.

Ingrid: [00:37:38] Well, I think that's all I've got to say about that, Kiri. Anything to close up our belonging conversation?

Kiri: [00:37:44] That was great. Yeah. This is the purpose of the remainder of the series is what makes us human. What are the intersections between commerce and these human traits? And like you just said, this is a very important and powerful factor for brands and retailers to consider when building out that experience.

Ingrid: [00:38:04] Rock and roll. Well, yeah. Hit us up. Let us know what you think. What are some brands that we did not name? There are a billion that do this well or aren't taking on the opportunity to encourage this. Catch you next time.

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