Retailers view brand communities as part of their marketing strategy that supports goals across the company. A brand community exists to serve the people in it and helps to meet the needs of the community. Brand communities, whether online or offline, help build your brand, build loyalty, and help to generate ideas to grow your business.
Brand communities forms around brands, products, or services, and are driven by a number of factors:
- Status. Members use social media to share photos of things they’ve bought or check in at places they visit in order to elevate their status.
- Belonging/Connection. Particularly in times of noise and disruption, people are looking for ways to connect with others. Today, these connections often take place on social networking sites, but physical spaces still play a critical role in developing connections and a sense of belonging. A brand community is built through shared experiences and traditions.
- Feedback. Brands can encourage the formation of communities by providing a platform for users to give feedback which can inform the brand’s product development and marketing.
- Advocacy. The loyalty created by brand communities leads to members of the community becoming powerful advocates for your brand.
- Support. One of the most effective ways brands can encourage a brand community is through responsive customer support.
Some brands have been very successful at encouraging the formation of brand communities. Social media represents an opportunity to support your brand community with communications, branding, retail, and product development. Brands can enhance communities with reviews, demonstrations, new product launches, storytelling, and brand-related events.
- Jeep launched a year-long campaign to encourage owners to join in the celebration of its 75th anniversary by providing a global platform for consumers and influencers to share their stories. The campaign was supported on social media, and each month featured a themed “story session” such as “summer fun” and military appreciation.
- Mini-Cooper supports its brand community with a social media presence providing rich visual content that includes videos of their cars in action, on different types of terrain and in different environments.
- The Harley-Davidson brand community is unique, with members sharing more than brand loyalty. For the Harley Owners Group (HOG), the brand represents a culture and a lifestyle. The passion of the community extends far beyond its online connections and brings together enthusiasts from around the world.
- The Lego brand community is supported by an unofficial website known as Lugnet. The community shares projects, ideas, and news, and the Lego Company recognizes the group as a valuable source of information.
While brand communities exist around brands/products people love, people tend to share the things they buy as a way of defining themselves to others, for self-fulfillment, or to promote brands they like through advocacy. Sharing the products or services they’ve purchased provides people with a sense of belonging, a certain status, a chance to gain approval, and demonstrates brand loyalty and promotion of their favorite products. On social media, people share content such as how-to’s, listicles, and infographics on topics that they find interesting or believe others will enjoy, as well, as another way of defining themselves. Users tag products and brands or use hashtags specific to a product, service, or community to identify the important brands or products they want their information to be associated with.
- The most active content sharing groups are teens and young adults. Teens are interested in advice and discussion about topics important to them, as well as activities such as writing stories and sharing things they’ve created.
- 70% of all internet users share content on Facebook, and it is by far the most popular social media platform. Facebook users join a brand community because they are loyal to the brand or to get discounts, enter contests, or for entertainment.
- YouTube is the second-most popular social media channel. Consumers share user-generated content in brand communities ranging from GoPro to Heineken.
- Instagram, popular among consumers between the ages of 18 and 34, is becoming an important platform for brand communities for fitness and food brands, fashion and toys, and even less visually-heavy brands such as employment services.
How brands are making it cool and fun to share their products
Many brands are recognizing the importance of brand advocates and influencers, and they are taking steps to make it cool to promote their products.
- Valpak partners with Savings.com, along with a network of over 600 bloggers, to help consumers trim their budgets and put more money into their savings accounts. Using social media, they share deals on dining, summer travel, and groceries.
- PlayStation has developed an online space where gamers can connect with other users, find games or support, and view both brand and user-generated content.
- Random House has developed a community called Figment, targeting teenagers who enjoy reading and writing fiction. Its users create and share content, and create brand awareness by recommending products. The community’s focus on a particular niche of its market helps ensure that users are highly engaged and provides them with an enjoyable experience.
- Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign generated nearly 4 million shares in its first month online by addressing a variety of body-image issues, from retouched photos to how women describe themselves. It struck a chord with viewers that not only impacted their YouTube channel but extended across channels to print, broadcast, and online discussions.
Running a contest on social media that asks people to share photos of your product or how they are using your services can be a great way to generate both interest and content. Users become advocates for your brand and help promote it through exposure to their friends and followers.
- Ikea ran a photo-tagging campaign in which it posted photos of various parts of their store and invited people to tag themselves on an item in the photo. The first person to tag a particular item won that item.
- Mint, a personal budgeting app, asked Instagram users to share photos of moments where their life and finances aligned to make their dreams come true, using the hashtag #MyMintMoment and offered a prize of $1,000.
Remember that your brand community is part of your business strategy. By serving the people in the community, you can build brand loyalty and generate ideas for growing your business. By understanding the connections among those in the community and focusing on content and activities that engage them, they become brand advocates and, in turn, generate and share more content.