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The Importance Of Community Marketing On Shopify Throughout COVID-19

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The Importance Of Community Marketing On Shopify Throughout COVID-19

October 25, 2021

Closing the Social Distance: How These Businesses Are Creating a Sense of Community:

An illustration of a instructor and yogi practicing yoga together, the instructor reaches out to the participant through a mobile device.

The world began using the term ‘social distancing’ as the COVID-19 outbreak began spreading globally. It was a term used to encourage people to do their part in stopping the virus from spreading by staying home and avoiding group gatherings.

However, many people have come to realise the importance and value of community and connection, especially during these times. Hence, it has been made clear that the ‘distance’ we should maintain should only be physical. The World Health Organisation has even transitioned to using the term ‘physical distancing’ in its official communications to emphasise this point.

As people slowly begin to find their new normal, small businesses who have felt the effects of physical distancing are discovering new ways to adapt by doubling down on social connections and community. 

We will be showing how independent businesses who have all been trying to make sense of the current global situation have started new initiatives that offer a sense of belonging and normality to others during this vulnerable time.

Velasca: Thinking outside the shoebox

Velasca was founded by Enrico Casati and Jacopo Sebastio in 2013. It was one of Italy's first direct-to-consumer brands at the time. They saw a gap in the market between fast fashion and designer handmade shoes.

Since then, they’ve been able to build a business model that eliminates the layers of distributors, resellers, and retailers, to bring handcrafted footwear directly to the everyday consumer.

They’ve scaled their business to service over 30 countries, selling more than 100,000 pairs of shoes, and have launched 10 retail stores throughout Europe.

A drone shot of region of Marche, Italy, where Velasca's shoemakers are based.
Montegranaro: where Velasca's shoemakers call home. It is in the region of Marche, Italy, an area closely associated with traditional shoemaking.

In late 2019, Enrico shared his journey on the Shopify Masters Podcast, discussing Velasca’s launch which occurred and succeeded during an economic recession. They also discussed its successful expansion from online to retail, and its dedication to compelling storytelling.

In 2021, due to global changes, Velasca is operating in a very different reality. Headquartered in one of the epicentres of the COVID-19 outbreak, the company was faced with a series of drastic changes and sudden challenges. Its retail stores had to close, and employees had to switch to working remotely.

A selection of shoeboxes painted by customers of Velasca for their competition.
Inspired by a young customer, the Velasca team challenged its community to get creative with their shoeboxes. Customers voted on the top four designs, which will be printed on limited edition boxes.

What is truly remarkable is that despite these unexpected disruptions and setbacks, Velasca managed to stay true to one of its core values: telling stories that connect with its community.

In early March, the Velasca team was inspired by a customer who sent them a shoebox their son had created a unique design on. “It was a real masterpiece,” Enrico says.

The team decided to start the #ValascaBoxChallenge and asked their community to draw, paint, and create on Velasca shoeboxes. They then encouraged the community to cast votes for their favourite design. The four boxes with the most votes will be recreated on limited edition Velasca boxes.

A shoemaker at his workbench.
One of the many shoemakers who handcraft shoes for Valasca in Marche.

Velasca has proven that their dedication to compelling storytelling is something they do not take lightly. The team uses the company’s Instagram account to share their remote work setups and newfound hobbies, along with useful tips like how to polish leather shoes.

What is truly inspiring is that their marketing efforts don’t push the sale of shoes or have any call to action.

On the contrary, they put the shoemakers at the forefront. They showcase their stories, family backgrounds, and even their favourite pasta dishes. The team provides a sense of community through beautiful visuals, approachable storytelling, and editorialised content. They manage to do this all while navigating their own unknowns and uncertainties as a business.

Subject Matter: Sharing knowledge while raising awareness

Subject Matter, cofounded by Liezel Strauss in 2011, is an early online art platform that challenges the exclusive nature of the art world and inspires new art buyers.

As an avid supporter and curator of the arts, Liezel was stunned by a campaign run by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) that tested individuals to name five female artists.

NMWA’s goal was to highlight the fact that only a fraction of female artists are represented in the art world. To put it into perspective, over the past decade, top galleries in the United States commissioned only 11% of their purchased works from female artists. “I couldn’t get my head around it, because I’m in the art world, and how have I not noticed it?” said Liezel.

Liezel was inspired to create her own shirts with the names of female artists on them, under the brand ArtGirlUprising.

This inspiration came from an episode of the Netlfix show 'Queer Eye', featuring the famous Antoni Porowski in a t-shirt printed with character's names from A Little Life.

Having a list of five female artists’ names on these shirts is a way of starting a conversation and gets people to inquire more about the art behind the names. Partial proceeds from the shirts go to organisations like Women for Women and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye wears an ArtGirlRising shirts.
For Liezel Strauss, one of the highlights of starting ArtGirlRising was seeing Queer Eye star Antoni Porowski wear one of the shirts he inspired.

Furthermore, during quarantine, Liezel wanted to do even more for the art world. She launched the #ArtGirlsWFH series of online classes. These are available as live streams or prerecorded. They are created to help artists learn about the business side of art, community building, and managing homeschooling. The classes also employ artists as teachers.

Currently, the classes are being run at a loss. However,“it’s all about community building and allowing people to see each other,” Liezel said.

With virtual coffee sessions and check-ins on social media, ArtGirlUprising is growing its own inclusive online space and allowing artists to hone their craft while physically distancing.

The sign that inspired ArtGirlRising to launch virtual classes.
Online classes for artists to hone their craft is one of the ways ArtGirlRising is supporting artists during COVID-19. She is continuing to run the classes even though they are making a loss, as she sees the value of community building.

Purpose Jewellery: Sparking hope and purpose

Purpose Jewellery is all about sparking hope through handcrafted pieces made by artisans. As the social enterprise of International Sanctuary, Purpose Jewellery employs survivors of human trafficking from International Sanctuary by offering income, health care, education, and a sense of community through jewellery making.

With sanctuaries for survivors in Mumbai, Kampala, Tijuana, and Orange County, California, Purpose Jewellery and International Sanctuary are driven by the mission to empower survivors who escape human trafficking.

At the beginning of the outbreak, their #SparkOfHope campaign asked individuals to share on social media what brought them hope.

Beyond social media, the team is also incorporating this campaign into its operations by letting customers send inspiring messages along with the jewellery they are gifting to loved ones.

The team is currently now focused on checking in on the well-being of their network of volunteers. Alexandra Badie, head of communications and community relations, and Deanne Weissman, who looks after partnerships, say their 500 volunteers have shaped and built Purpose Jewellery and International Sanctuary into what they are today, and conversations with this network bring them hope during this time.

Brodflour: An inflection point for growth and connecting through food

How could a bakery possibly experience exponential growth all while its doors are closed and everyone is baking at home during lockdown?

Meet one of the newest merchants on Shopify, Brodflour. They are a unique eatery based in Toronto.

Brodflour, which opened in early 2019, bakes everything fresh in-house. It also sources local heritage grains to mill its own flour, which “contains minerals, nutrients, oil, and vitamins that are inherent to the grain but are lost when it’s mass produced and put on store shelves,” says Mattew Faust, Brodflour’s general manager.

The cafe space of Brodflour, a bakery in Toronto, Canada.
Brodflour, a bakery and café in Toronto. They have restructured their services to delivery only and have started an online store which sells its freshly milled heritage grain flours.

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to impact the hospitality industry, Brodflour has been forced to make many quick decisions and changes. These range from adjusting its in-house service to fully closing down the café to offering only packaged items through delivery services.

Now, it’s opening an online store to sell its flours and jams.

While all of Brodflour’s sales previously came from in-house purchases of meals, baked goods, and coffee, its current main source of income is flour. “What we would sell in a month for flour, we are selling in two days,” says Matthew, “and that’s not including our wholesale customers.”

A bag of organic and freshly milled flour from Brodflour.
In addition to selling freshly milled flour online, Brodflour is staying connected to its community by offering baking tips and recipes through its blog and social media accounts.

Baking bread became a trending quarantine hobby for those who had ran out of ideas of what to keep them occupied while at home much more than usual. Regular grocery stores began experiencing a shortage of flour. Many have turned to Brodflour to offer an alternative premium product. Brodflour has even teamed up with Greenhouse Juice Co. to deliver its flour to the Greater Toronto Area.

Much like its grains, Brodflour’s growth was organic. “We haven’t done any additional advertising outside of what we typically do on our social media,” says Matthew. “We’re just trying to use our social media channels to interact with our clients.”

The team is using all communication platforms to share updates on its service changes, educating customers on the differences between types of flours, and providing recipes for their community's favourite baked items. The consistent and intimate connection with their customers has allowed Broadflour to be discovered by new wholesale partners while growing relationships within its community.

Physical distancing while remaining socially close

Even though COVID-19 has created a new set of highly unpredictable and disruptive unknowns, businesses and individuals have taken these in their stride and found new, unique ways to expand, restructure and grow. They have made changes as simple as responding with compassion to migrating from offline to online to adjust logistics to meet new sets of limitations. We’re inspired by all these businesses to keep finding new ways to work together while working at a distance.

Author: 

Shuang Esther Shan:  Shuang is a storyteller at Shopify, fascinated by how change is created through commerce. When she’s not obsessively researching or glued to hearing the stories of merchants, she's discovering new places—with a camera in hand. Illustrations by Luca D'Urbino.

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