A masterclass in community: Inside Sneak's formula for cultivating an invested user base

Following our recent event, there was a lot of interest around how our portfolio company, Sneak, had built such an engaged community. Our Head of Marketing, Danielle Le Toullec, sat down with Lauren Carroll, Head of Comms at Sneak to delve deeper into their community development and growth off the back of one of the brand’s biggest ever campaigns. The Halloween-themed drop - Satanic Cult - drove enormous community engagement, leading to a UK sellout in just 18 hours & global sellout in 1 week.

A masterclass in community: Inside Sneak's formula for cultivating an invested user base

Danielle Le Toullec / Insight / 26 Oct 2023

We recently hosted an event focused on the topic of driving growth via your community. We discussed the vital aspects of initiating and nurturing a community that both feels valued and contributes value to your business. For those who missed it, here are our key takeaways, including helpful tips from our panel of experts including Ashley Read, CEO of Sneak Energy, Gav Thompson, Founder of giffgaff, and Rachael Beckett, VP of Marketing, Comms & Policy at Multiverse.

There was a lot of interest around how our portfolio company, Sneak, had built such an engaged community. Our Head of Marketing, Danielle Le Toullec, sat down with Lauren Carroll, Head of Comms at Sneak (ex-Community Manager), to delve deeper into their community development and growth off the back of one of the brand’s biggest ever campaigns. The Halloween-themed drop - Satanic Cult - drove enormous community engagement, leading to a UK sellout in just 18 hours & global sellout within a week.

Danielle: Lauren, thanks for joining us! Firstly, congrats on the epic results of the 'Satanic Cult' drop! Tell us a bit about your journey at Sneak to date.

Lauren: Thank you for having me! I started out as Content Manager back in 2018, then I moved into the Community Manager role. Looking back, it was enormously significant that we dedicated an entire role to community development at a time when you could count the members of our marketing team on one hand. It showed our commitment to nurturing the community from the earliest stages of our growth. After almost 3 years as Community Manager, I became Head of Comms - I now oversee all social output, ensure consistent TOV across the business and stay in close contact with our community. 

Danielle: We know how important channel strategy is in building a strong community. How has this played into Sneak’s overall plan?

Lauren: Building our channel strategy meant looking at why people are spending time on each channel outside of our communities, then leaning into that. Facebook usage is quite casual and intermittent, so our Facebook group is intended to encourage that lighthearted, everyday chat - what are you drinking? How is Sneak fuelling your day? Members can dip in and out as they wish. Discord is less casual. Users are more likely to have a consistent presence, so we designed the server to cater to those who spend large chunks of their time online; a kind of Sneak common room, with different activities, topics and ways to engage. 

Danielle: Ongoing product development plays a key part in Sneak’s brand and user engagement. Tell us how you tap into the community to be involved in the new products that are launched. 

Lauren: We love letting our community dictate our NPD decisions - they’re a fantastic litmus test of how well a product might perform with a wider audience, and knowing that they’ve helped shape our product offering really boosts brand loyalty among community members. The community chose Origins B to become a permanent flavour after a blind taste test, and we brought back Peach Iced Tea as a permanent flavour after a successful community-only drop. Most recently, we launched Sneak Shake - flavours designed to mix with milk. It was intended as a special, limited release, but within days, the community had put together presentations and petitions to lobby for it to become permanent, completely off their own backs - how can you ignore such positive sentiment from your most engaged audience?! 

Danielle: Discord has been a big topic of conversation recently, and you were recently featured in a whitepaper as an example of brands doing Discord right - alongside the likes of Netflix and Manchester United. How did you go about developing your channel strategy on Discord, and what tips would you have for other CPG looking to replicate Sneak’s success. 

Lauren: Sneak has many great talking points, but we knew that expecting people to converse solely about the product in our Discord server would really limit the scope of engagement. Rather than being a forum to discuss Sneak constantly, the Discord server is a space for people who share Sneak as a common interest, and who want to connect with other like-minded people who might share similar hobbies, values or niche passions connected with Sneak. So in terms of tips, I’d say don’t be afraid to let people stray a little off-topic! Discord is a great space to let your community’s own interests and personalities shine through - you will learn more about your audience, and they’ll begin to see your server as somewhere they can express themselves, rather than a brand exercise.

As a Discord admin, you’ll also need to get comfortable with the idea of handing over some control. One of the reasons our server has been so successful is that we treat it as though it belongs to the members, rather than belonging to us as a brand. Obviously we’re stewards of the forum and it’s our responsibility to maintain a safe, welcoming space for members - but ultimately, this community belongs to them. When we prioritise their experience (creating a place for them to connect and express themselves), we end up serving our own business goals (engagement, brand love and ultimately sales!) too - it’s a win/win. 

Danielle: Limited edition drops and special edition items have been another factor in engaging your community, my personal favourite was the sword as part of the Year of the Bunny launch. What’s the process for coming up with these ideas!?

Lauren: We established a few traits about our community members pretty early on. The first is that they are collectors at heart, and the items they choose to collect become a kind of showcase of their identity. They also love items that feel special, whether that’s because they’re very exclusive, or because they’re unusual - like the sword! We try to strike a balance between all these factors. Does this item have that ‘collectible’ feel to it? Is it something rare or quirky that a customer would want to display with pride? Does it say something about their identity? It’s this line of thinking that’s led us to launch a snowboard, a genuine breakfast cereal, a hockey puck, a sword, a series of vinyl toys, an ice cube tray, a skateboard, a set of trading cards and… a ouija board. The trading cards were my favourite - watching the community mobilise to trade their duplicates and complete their sets was amazing.

Danielle: The ouija board (pictured below) was part of your recent Satanic Cult campaign, which sold out in just 18 hours for the UK - tell us more about how the community drove that result.

Lauren: A campaign named Satanic Cult was always going to divide opinion, but we felt we knew enough about our community’s wider interests to bank on it falling just the right side of disruptive. It was seasonal and timely, it hit on other interests such as the occult and 90s horror films, and it looked absolutely phenomenal - all credit to our design team. We ran a community-only early access window before the main launch - 50% of UK revenue from launch day came in during that hour, and the ouija boards completely sold out in all territories during that window, which goes to show just how significant our community was in driving the launch.

Sneak ouija board

Danielle: A lot of marketers and brands are constantly asked “what’s the ROI”, especially in the current climate, how have you gone about proving the value of the Sneak community?

Lauren: The age-old question! ROI is so tough when you can’t outright link your community members with the revenue they’re bringing in. We try to ask ourselves what we’d miss if we didn’t have these communities. We’d still have a hyper-engaged audience, but there wouldn’t be an outlet for their enthusiasm. We wouldn’t have a space to access almost instant feedback on everything we do. We wouldn’t have a hub of hype that kicks into gear around our launches, creating word-of-mouth excitement that can’t be bought or faked. They’re not numbers on a sheet, nor money in the bank, but they’re all vital to the ongoing success of the brand.

Danielle: I couldn't agree more! In the recent panel at True on ‘How community can unlock business growth’ we discussed the importance of superfans. Specifically, a brand only needs a small percentage of superfans to make a community work - the 1% makes the 99% buy into your brand. How has this been true (or false) at Sneak?

Lauren: It’s definitely been true for us! We’ve had countless testimonials from community members who joined as new customers, perhaps looking for simple recommendations on the best flavours to start with or how best to mix up their formulas. Then they’re drawn into the Sneak universe, where they see the enormous collections, the amazing displays, the flavour combos people are enjoying, the buy/sell threads where people swap merch and discontinued flavours, the swords and skateboards people are hanging on their walls… the superfans of Sneak are incredible advocates and their love for the brand is contagious. It’s much easier to encourage someone to buy into a product like Sneak when the 1% are providing so much authentic social proof.

Danielle: As we wrap up, any final thoughts on how the Sneak community has influenced and will continue to shaped where Sneak will go next?

Lauren: It’s definitely helped us to understand our audience more deeply. Gaming was the natural jumping-off point for Sneak, and lots of our campaigns initially revolved around that - Generations and Bit Friday, for example. But Year Of The Bunny, from earlier this year, was an anime-inspired campaign, and that largely came about through learning more about what our community spends their valuable time on outside of gaming. There are so many interests and subcultures that overlap with the gaming world, and we’ll definitely be delving further into those worlds throughout 2024 and beyond.

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