Brand communities are vibrant collections of brand fans that form on its own or are engineered by marketers. All brand communities have rituals and traditions and its members share consciousness and have a sense of moral responsibility to one another. Brand communities provide rich benefits for both consumers and brands.
Consumers are becoming more and more involved in the production and marketing of their favorite brands. Major brands including Lego, Playstation, Harley Davidson and Tim Hortons have seen vibrant communities spring up around their brands; with or without direct involvement of marketers.
Brand communities take on many forms. Most, however, have it in common to create a win/win situation where consumers gain added value from joining up or, in some cases, simply observing from a distance. This translates into a valuable business tool for the organization.
But what are brand communities exactly? I will answer that in this short article.
What are brand communities?
In the most simple terms, a brand community is a collective of customers, partners or fans of a brand that formed either on its own or through a marketing intervention. In brand communities, people discuss their experiences with the brand, share innovative use cases. and chat and connect with like-minded individuals.
People invest time and effort into the communities they are a part of but this also means that people won’t join up unless they believe they will benefit from it in one way or another.
See also: 7 Powerful Benefits Of Brand Communities That Increase Profit
Consider why people join forums for their favorite sports teams.
Fans share their opinions and predictions and engage in debates with other fans to their own enjoyment and learning. Seasoned members put in their input and moderators make the discussion stays civilized and that the quality is up to standards. Through this interactions, people create value for themselves, the broader community and the brand1Pongsakornrungsilp, S., & Schroeder, J. (2011). Understanding value co-creation in a co-consuming brand community. Marketing Theory, 11(3), 303-324. doi: 10.1177/1470593111408178 as engagement usually leads to improved attitudes and emotional commitment towards the main brand.
You can learn a lot by looking at communities that relate to something people are passionate about. These can be sports, video games, books or any lifestyle and hobbies people attract and group around. The more passionate people are, the easier it is to observe something meaningful. Because brands often serve as proxies for a certain lifestyle, we see the same patterns in communities surrounding ordinary consumer products.
Though brand communities can take many forms and be of different types, they all share three fundamental similarities:2Muniz, A. M., & O’Guinn, T. C. (2001). Brand Community. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(4), 412–432. https://doi.org/10.1086/319618
- Shared consciousness: members share a valuable connection to the brand that allows them to form relationships with one another.
- Rituals and traditions: social processes that shape and spread the meaning of the community and involve the recognition of other brand users and sharing brand stories.
- Sense of moral responsibility: a sense of duty to the community as whole such as providing assistance to or simply welcoming newer members to the group.
Example: The 3 qualities in action at Kickstarter
Reward-based crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter are great at forming and nurturing brand communities. You can find hundreds of active communities, both around each campaigns, prominent brands and Kickstarter itself.
Kickstarter communities foster shared consciousness in the sense that backers see themselves as an exclusive inner circle. For example, the early access and privileged information they receive. Backers also consider themselves as co-creators of the brand since their pledge directly influences the success of the campaign. Members of the community are clearly aware of what it means to belong to it and what does not.
Backing a project and the long anticipation during the wait for delivery serve as rituals and traditions. The ritual of waiting for delivery, which often is over a year long, forges a deeper connection between members and the brand because of the positive emotional effects of the anticipation.3Dunn, E., Gilbert, D., & Wilson, T. (2011). If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right. Journal Of Consumer Psychology, 21(2), 115-125. doi: 10.1016/j.jcps.2011.02.002
We can observe moral responsibility on the campaign forums where senior members who perhaps have backed a previous campaign from the same brand help newcomers find answers to their questions even before the brand itself manages to do so. Browsing the forums, one can also see backers defending the brand from negative comments and trolling.
It’s important to keep in mind that a community around your brand is likely to exist even if you have not made any efforts to build it. It is super easy for consumers to connect with one another over a brand on social media or even just in their own personal networks.
That being said, you can definitely be proactive and start putting the community to work for your brand. If you find that nothing out there exists for your brand, you can engineer one using groups on Facebook, Twitter hashtags or tools such as Tribe. The key is to be genuine, authentic and avoiding the temptation to take control and exploit the community for your own gain. A brand community works best when everyone benefits.
At the end of the day, brand communities exist to benefit the people in it. It’s just a bonus that it happens to be so valuable for your brand in the process. Keep putting the customer first, let everyone play a role and you will start to see benefits quickly.
- 1Pongsakornrungsilp, S., & Schroeder, J. (2011). Understanding value co-creation in a co-consuming brand community. Marketing Theory, 11(3), 303-324. doi: 10.1177/1470593111408178
- 2Muniz, A. M., & O’Guinn, T. C. (2001). Brand Community. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(4), 412–432. https://doi.org/10.1086/319618
- 3Dunn, E., Gilbert, D., & Wilson, T. (2011). If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right. Journal Of Consumer Psychology, 21(2), 115-125. doi: 10.1016/j.jcps.2011.02.002