There are n number of brands out there. With a heavy dose of marketing communication and advertisements crowding online space, it becomes difficult to grab customers’ short attention span. If there is one thing for sure – customers are looking for deeper and more authentic interactions online.
A brand community comprises of customers invested in a brand beyond what is being sold and advocated. A brand community shares the loyalty towards the brand and some shared rituals with a strong sense of moral responsibility. If this seems like a new idea for you, it would surprise you to know that many of the world’s top brands have been nourishing their community for years.
By creating an online brand community, brands make a platform for their customers to foster a meaningful relationship with their business. With this community, brands can test new product mockups, ask about feature releases, share blog content, and collect general feedback for improvement. It is essential to make the most of such a community. Members can regularly use products or services and can help brands make customer-driven decisions and spread the word. It also becomes imperative for brands to build and reward such a strong community and its members.
When managed properly, a brand community exists to serve the people in it. It also allows companies to generate compelling ideas, collaborate on all phases of value creation, create an effective platform to engage customers, and extend loyalty towards the brand.
As a business, brands can leverage user-generated content from the community. They can even feature communities’ content on their social media pages, website, and advertisements. This makes the content look genuine and shows that brands are listening to their audience.
While a community’s success depends on how proactively the company continuously engages customers, it sure is dynamic and needs nurturing and grooming. It would not be wrong to say that the thriving brand communities deliver promises and an opportunity to increase brand equity.
Customers arrive with many various needs, interests, and expectations. Research has pointed out that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits by 25% – 95%, and it is these new community members that decide whether they will support your brand or not. However, a foolproof way for a community-based brand to build loyalty is by helping its patrons and not influencing via sales and transactions. It is to extend a feeling of togetherness bound by the purpose of the brands.
Building a strong brand community is also about finding the right platform and engaging with them to discuss product/service and present your ideas. It can wither be social media channels, online communities, Facebook groups, forums, on LinkedIn, or even in-person or a blog, but this will also serve to be the platform where the community should be encouraged to provide honest feedback at regular intervals.
Once members have a platform to vocalize about the brand, they will talk about your product or service, resulting in word-of-mMouth marketing and spread the word to their friends and acquaintances. They may even engage in answering questions that other customers or potential customers may have.
About 92 percent of consumers trust reviews on a company from their peers more than they trust the advertisements from the same company? It is understood as Peer-to-peer (P2P) support is a great way to easily find answers to their questions quickly and build a brand community that can make customers feel more connected to the brand and, in turn, boost sales.
One way brands do it is by creating identifiable brand elements.
These can be terminologies, icons, symbols, and spokespersons. It helps the community distinguish itself from others, but only if the community elements align with the brand’s underlying identity. Another way is by creating a unique culture around the brand. An example of this would be inviting members to co-create value, which has now come to be termed as “User Generated Content.”
Any thriving brand community knows that it is essential for its members to interact with each other, the brand simultaneously. Such an environment would allow members to experience the brand memorably as they will be part of the value creation process.
People participate in communities for a lot of reasons. Either to find emotional support and encouragement, explore ways to contribute to the greater good, and cultivate interests and skills.
Here are some ways how brands are leveraging band communities to up their brand equity
GoPro is one of the most well-known global brands because of its unique user-generated social media promotional strategy and personal endorsement marketing strategy, leading to GoPro attaining a ‘built-in’ reputation. Every user-generated and unconventional content helps GoPro push a growing community forward and increase its reputation. Within a short period, GoPro was used as a synonym for all action-cameras.
By identifying the consumers with the product, GoPro lets them become the most crucial part of their corporate strategy. This marketing strategy is straightforward. The company learns how to use this user-generated content for promotion. There is no better showpiece than focus on the individual action of their consumers. Therefore, both parties have their benefit.
Today, GoPro has a massive online presence that actively integrates its target market or, more precisely, because of user-generated content. By featuring the records on GoPro’s website, the consumers become enthusiastic. With the utilization of real organic content captured by the GoPro customers into their marketing strategy, this new-age company has significantly cut down on its advertising costs while gaining a solid reputation amongst its competitors and stakeholders.
With its regular shares and re-tweets of its users’ content on multi-platforms, GoPro serves as a testament to its well thought out yet creative social media strategy. Thus, it would not be wrong to say that GoPro’s success to date is mainly because they have established a “built-in” reputation.
Spearheading the brand community would be Starbucks with its successful ‘My Starbucks Idea’ that works on the same principle as offering a suggestion box. With the global coffee chain’s 150,000+ members, the brand provided a platform for coffee enthusiasts to share their ideas via My Starbucks Idea, which led to the implementation of nearly 300 innovations. Right from digital tipping, peach green-tea lemonade to the hugely popular ability to enjoy free Wi-Fi. VP of global digital marketing for Starbucks, Alex Wheeler, remarked that “passionate customers and partners have been sharing their ideas with us on My Starbucks Idea, and we have listened and acted upon many amazing innovations that we have received from this online community.”
Just like Starbuck’s idea is Lego Ideas, where the brand community members can look through other people’s thoughts, add their own two cents through a vote, and share their feedback, the LEGO toy company involved its loyal global fans in its innovation and design processes. It seeks valuable input from the fans and users who value and identify strongly with the LEGO brand. What could be more fun than a brand enthusiast getting to have their design idea on the shelves, all the while being awarded a percentage of the product sales?
The terms were that anyone from age 5 to 95 who loves Lego can check out ideas, vote on their favorites, submit their own ideas, and leave their feedback. The most popular ones go to market. These fans and loyal users meet on virtual platforms and through multiple physical events – often with the LEGO company’s official presence.
This type of initiative makes the customer feel valued – because they are. The brand does an excellent job of cultivating this feeling by highlighting which customer ideas are being put into action.
Brands in today’s world are not just objects anymore. They are thriving entities with identities and personalities that allow customers to express themselves through their consumption. Another way of creating a strong sense of community is by binding the members using a potent brand story/myth. Such a story/myth would provide authenticity to the brands and allow customers to express themselves through the said brand’s consumption.
Singapore Airlines, known for its excellent service levels and attention to detail, has managed to create a potent myth centered around the iconic Singapore Girl. To attract customers and actively participate in varied branding activities, brands should have a strong story or tale that customers can quickly identify and relate to.
Why does Brand Communities work?
Brand communities are thriving because people are often more interested in the social links from brand affiliations than in the brands themselves. They join communities to build new relationships, and the dynamics are the same as members of country clubs and churches.
The brand community members would help others realize the brand’s full potential, share product knowledge, screen prospective members through their understanding of the brand, passion towards the brand, and the extent to which they identify with the community. People also associate with the social affiliations related to the brand than just the brand in itself.
“Third place” brands such as Gold’s Gym and Starbucks has managed to tap into this by providing bricks-and-mortar venues that foster interaction and brand loyalty is a reward for meeting customer needs. Such communities’ execution is highly dependant on the actual implementation and follow-through of popular ideas, which show that the brand listens to consumers. This inspires ever greater levels of innovation and ideas, proving to be a real asset for the brand’s continued progression.
As customers, here are 3 main reasons why the concept of brand community works:
1. You’re a part of the tribe
Members of a community feel an intrinsic sense of connection towards one another and the collective sense of difference from others who are not in the community. It also refers to a feeling of belongingness to a group of people who share similar interests, referring to each other of the same ‘type. In a brand community, the consciousness of kind is due to the common thread that ties the community – the brand. Through following a brand, community members feel that they know each other.
2. You have a shared sense of rituals and beliefs
One of the core components of any community is the existence of practices and ideas shared by all the community members and unique to the community. These ideas are passed on through the members and define the culture, character, and conduct within the community. In a brand community, such practices and traditions are predominantly related to the brand – the brand’s usage, the occasion of the brand’s use, the associations with the brand, knowledge about the brand, willingness to participate in brand-related activities, and such.
3. You possess a sense of moral responsibility
Here, community members feel a sense of moral responsibility towards the brand and other members. Some ways of executing it include participating in content co-creating, sharing the community with potential members, and assisting fellow members in consuming the brand by participating in online communities. In a brand community, this sense of moral responsibility is created by the usage of the brand.
Robust communities are built not on brand reputation but on an understanding of members’ lives. It means that brand communities are not a marketing gimmick but a business strategy that demands authenticity and engagement. A brand can grow and evolve with its most valuable customers’ expectations and needs in establishing one.
In the simplest terms, members of a brand community are loyal and emotionally invested in a brand. They will buy, engage, digest the content, tell their friends and family about the brand, and more. For any brand, it is only when you cultivate a community around your brand then you will have your customer’s support for the long-haul instead of just a one-time transactional exchange.
Like the LEGO brand, which has an unusual but straightforward visual brand element in the colorful toy building bricks, the Coca-Cola bottle with its shape is probably among the world’s most recognizable and longest-serving brand elements. Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, and Rolex rely heavily on shared rituals and beliefs and serve as a testament to the fact that brand communities’ importance will never be diminished.
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