Moats have been used for centuries as a way to defend a building from potential attack.
A flooded ditch around a castle is a great way to make it harder to be taken. You can't push battering rams against walls, and neither can you dig under the castle. Quite frankly, a moat is a pretty decent deterrent when there are plenty of other castles to pillage.
What does this mean for your business?
A community can be an economic moat, or in more simple terms, your competitive advantage.
When your product or service is surrounded by an engaged community that feels invested in your brand, you'll be able to resist challenges from competitors looking to tempt your customers away.
Humans are social creatures, and we love seeking out and joining a tribe that aligns with our values. The intangible value of belonging creates a sense of momentum for your brand and helps champion it to others.
The statistics back this strategy; 88% of community professionals said in a recent survey that community is critical to their company's mission and 85% said that their community has had a positive impact to their business.
Your competitive advantage
One of the cheapest ways to create momentum for your product is to build a community around your startup. A community is much more than a one-time marketing campaign and can help you throughout your company's life cycle if you take the time to grow it right. 
Creating a buzz around a product can take a lot of time, effort and money.
Traditionally, this buzz would be created with a mixture of videos, websites, influencer reviews, and heavy advertisement spends across multiple channels, including social media.
Your community can create a shortcut and reach an audience without those costs and increase the chance of your product being shared virally.
Your community creates a bond over a shared interest that continually re-enforces loyalty to your brand. This creates a personal investment which makes it less likely your customers will try a competitor.
Put simply, if a company can move from just shipping a product to building a community, it can benefit from several competitive advantages such as:
- Engaged members help acquire new members, lowering the cost for customer acquisition.
- Increased customer retention through community loyalty. Members won't want to abandon the community they enjoy.
- Reduced support costs as members support each other.
This benefit forms a loop that generates more value as the community grows.
Another area of opportunity for social marketing is "brand building" - connecting enthusiastic online brand advocates with the company's product development cycle. Here, research becomes marketing; product developers are now using social forums to spot reactions after they modify an offer, a price, or a feature in a product or service. Such brand-managed communities can have real success. One well-documented example is IdeaStorm, Dell's community discussion and "brainstorming" website, which saw a measurable increase in sales following its launch, by providing a forum for meaningful dialogue and "to gauge which ideas are most important and most relevant to" the public. 
By creating a community around your product or service, not only do you create brand advocates, but you also gain powerful insights into what your customers want through research which drives marketing.
Consumers today crave a stronger bond with brands. It's no longer enough to give them a customer support email address and a monthly newsletter. They want a much more in-depth interaction with the company and other users of the product or service.
One tactic for success is for brands to move away from the hard-sell to instead embrace the notion of "co-creation". This means moving beyond "old-school" approaches to website advertising to embrace the principles of relationship marketing - building virtual environments in which customers can connect with each other to share insights and relevant information.
To capitalise on currently available opportunities, marketers need to find or establish real brand communities, listen to them, and then create special programs and tools that will empower potential and existing community members, rewarding existing consumers and eliciting behavioural change from potential consumers. 
Evernote, the note-taking app, is a great example. Their lively community encourages customers to interact directly with staff, post their wish-lists for future versions and learn more about what happens behind the scenes.
The community creates evangelists for Evernote and makes it harder for competitors to gain a foothold with a potent mix of dialogue, access to other customers, transparency from the brand and many opportunities for co-creation of content.
Co-creation fundamentally challenges the traditional roles of the firm and the consumer. The tension manifests itself at points of interaction between the consumer and the company where the co-creation experience occurs, where individuals exercise choice, and where value is co-created. Points of interaction provide opportunities for collaboration and negotiation, explicit or implicit, between the consumer and the company.
In the emergent economy, competition will center on personalized co-creation experiences, resulting in value that is truly unique to each individual. 
In simple terms, a community allows your customers to feel closer to your brand and the products you sell.
What are you waiting for?
Nearly 80% of founders reported building a community of users as important to their business, with 28% describing their moat as critical to their success.
Our team at Invision Community has over two decades of community building experience and are trusted by brands of all sizes.
Whether you have an existing community, or you're taking your first steps to create your own, our experience and expertise will guide your success.