Even though it may seem a simple marketing concept, building brand communities that resonate with loyal customers is indeed a Herculean task. There are four defining characteristics that allow companies to actively involve customers in creating communities around their brands. Each are essential in building brand communities.
1. Create a strong brand story/myth: Brands in today’s world are not mere inanimate ‘things’ but thriving entities with identities and personalities that allow customers to express themselves through its consumption. As such, to attract customers to it and encourage them to actively participate in varied branding activities, brands must have a strong story or myth that customers can easily identify and relate to. A story/myth not only provides authenticity to the brand but also allows customers to express their sense of self through the consumption of the brand.
2. Create a need for collaboration among consumers: For a community to be actively adopted, customers must feel a need to connect with each other in the context of the brand’s consumption. A need to connect with other brand users can arise for a number of reasons such as:
a. Sharing information – Members of many video game communities, technical products communities become members in the first instance because such communities allow members to share information with others and learn many technical details easily.
b. Validation – Members of the Nike or Louis Vuitton brand community seek validation from fellow members about their choice of the brand, its usage situations and its superiority over other brands in the market.
c. To express one’s personality – Members of the Apple computer brand community feel a strong sense of expressing their unique personality by embracing Apple and rejecting the market leader Microsoft.
d. Identify with a specific segment – Members of the Samsung brand community are part of the community because of their need to be identified as part of the global ‘cool’ segment that is in tune with the latest in technology and fashion. Therefore companies should decide the main reason for which they want to build communities around their brands is in line with the segments that it wants to target.
3. Create identifiable brand elements: As with any community, brand communities must be able to offer its members unique identifiable community elements in terms of terminologies, icons, symbols and spokespersons. Such community elements will not only help the community distinguish itself from others but also offers the members tangible tools to identify themselves with the community. These community elements should be in line with the brand’s underlying identity.
4. Create a unique culture: One of the fundamental reasons for the growing popularity of brand communities is that they offer companies real time feedback about the brand. Further, brand communities allow companies to co-create value with customers on a continuous basis. As such, companies must create a culture that allows customers to interact with the brand, other users and the company simultaneously. Such an environment allows customers to experience the brand in a memorable manner as they are a part of the value creation process.
These four steps will assist a company in framing a robust structure to build a brand community. As with any business venture, the success of a brand community depends on how proactively the company engages customers on a continuous basis.
When managed properly, brand communities are proving to be an effective tool in tackling the ever-growing competition. Brand communities not only allow companies to collaborate with customers in all phases of value creation – product design, pricing, places of availability, and phases of promotion – but also provide companies an effective platform on which to engage customers and create loyalty towards the brand. The most successful will be those communities that are built on strong fundamentals centered around the brand identity and support the brand strategy.
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education