Relationships are now an important resource that the company owns along with the material, financial, human, and other resources. And since an individual relationship with each customer is not always possible, some companies solve this problem by creating customer communities or a brand community. Communities allow maintaining an open dialogue with customers, giving them the opportunity to participate in the creation and improvement of the product. Such community engagement forms a qualitatively new type of interaction between the company and the customer. An online community is a relationship marketing tool that allows customers to interact both with each other and with the company to create value together.
What Is Community for a Brand
There are several definitions of the brand community. This term was first introduced over 20 years ago by Albert Muniz and Thomas O’Guinn at the annual conference “Association for Consumer Research”. In their opinion, a brand community is a specialized, geographically unrelated community, based on a structured set of social relations among brand fans. It is a form of association built into the context of the consumption of a particular product.
Based on this definition, there are two main characteristics of a brand community:
- First, it enables the customers to interact with each other in order to achieve their goals.
- Secondly, the members are united by a common interest in a particular product (brand). The concept of “interest” in this context is quite broad. It can be the advice on the use of a product (service), its scope, discussions on functionality improvements, competitor research, resolving any possible issues, logistics, etc.
A company that creates a customer or brand community solves the following issues:
- distribution and exchange of brand information;
- promotion of brand values, culture, and history;
- implementation of customer support;
- interaction along the entire consumer journey from information to after-sales service and further to brand loyalty;
- innovation driven by consumer insights and feedback;
- staff workload reduction;
- identifying the interests of each specific member.
Why Is Brand Community Important
The main reason why consumers become members of customer communities is their desire to identify themselves with certain brands, communicate with other brand users, and help the company become better. In such a way they form the best product for themselves, as well as define themselves and their range of needs.
A customer community allows the company to interact with customers continuously and closely, thus creating community engagement. It is important for the consumers to know that their opinion is being listened to and that the product is created for them, not for making money. No one knows better than customers what they expect from a product. A single user cannot see the entire picture and give objective feedback, so you need to create a customer community instead of receiving isolated reviews.
The key benefits of having a brand community are:
- Investment in reputation and trust. The more people speak positively about the company and recommend it, the more new customers want to use the products or services of this particular company.
- Increased loyalty. Obviously, loyal customers are willing to buy more and pay more.
- Detachment from competitors. It is impossible to copy or repeat your philosophy if it lives in the heads of hundreds of thousands of your supporters. The example of BMW and Mercedes is clearly at work here – they actively use the portrait of their fans to highlight the differences between brands.
- Brand advocates. Thanks to the community, you get people who not only recommend you but also guard your reputation. They promote your ideas, spread your values, and protect against unfair competitors or consumer extremism. Even if you make a mistake and admit it, these people will help you cope with the situation as well as support and protect you from attacks. With the right tactics, the community helps the business save on technical support because active members will answer questions and defend the brand’s reputation.
- Promotion. Any promotion based on people’s stories and their values works better than ads, no matter how expensive they are. In addition, you can always ask your brand advocates to support a specific initiative, and they will gladly respond and help spread information. This will also help you monetize your community.
- Authentic user content. If people come to your community out of an inner desire, they themselves will want to show the world their involvement and loyalty to you.
- Additional resources for business development. New employees, opinion leaders, business partners, contractors – there are probably many professionals among your community members who will want to be useful for your business.
Apple is one of the most striking examples of how the work with the community is built. It gives an impulse, launches information or a product into the world, and then the multimillion-dollar audience of the brand picks it up. From year to year, this audience broadcasts to the entire world the values of Apple, its advantages, and the benefits of joining their community.
Of course, to be like Apple, you have to reinvent the iPhone. But in any area, you can become “the creator of your own iPhone” if you act outside the box.
How to Build a Successful Community for Your Brand in 10 Steps
Not every company can bring people together. The community requires commitment from the entire organization and a willingness to work. Therefore, before creating a community, you need to answer the following questions:
- Does the brand have a significant reason to bring people together?
- Are we willing to spend time interacting with the audience?
- Can we create an easy and relaxed environment within the community?
For which business does it make sense to invest in building a community?
- If you are an innovator in your niche, you are changing the rules of the game in your market and setting new standards.
- If you have the potential to gather like-minded people around your ideas and form a new environment based on common values and interests.
- If you think your company has a “human face” and focus on trusting and honest relationships with people. In this case, the votes of loyal community members will confirm that you are exactly such a company.
- If the community around you is already forming spontaneously – even if you are not involved in the process. It is still better to lead the movement and be able to influence it, to be an active participant than just an observer.
- If your product or project involves periodic interaction between the participants.
The community as a tool will be useful for a brand if the product is associated with:
- Games in different ways (mobile, computer, e-sports). Working with the community will provide an opportunity to get new ideas and collect feedback on a new product.
- Information technology. Such communities unite geeks, software developers, testers, product managers, etc., and motivate them to communicate with each other. For a brand, it is a platform for testing a product as well as a resource that allows it to attract expertise and new employees. Examples of such communities are the communities of Microsoft and Facebook. It is important for a brand to keep its most interested audience “to itself” so that people do not lose motivation and leave.
- The work of a large brand as a whole. In this case, this is an opportunity to grow customer loyalty, increase coverage, and get additional resources. For example, the LEGO Ideas community allows the brand to find ideas for new construction sets. A community member from any country can put forward their concept, which will then go to the vote. If an idea gets 10,000 or more votes, the experts will consider it and implement the best constructor idea. When launching a new constructor, the brand introduces its creator, often an ordinary member of the community.
So here are the steps to follow when creating a brand community:
Step #1: Analyze the audience
Check which one you already have and which one you need. The basis of the community are the caring, active users of the product. Consider the distinctive features of your audience when choosing a communication channel for the community. It can be a closed group on social media, a forum on the project’s website, or an activity feed inside your app.
Step #2: Develop a plan for work with the community
Write down actions, events, content plan, and set a time frame. An individual plan is a template for interaction with each potential member of the community. For example, this is how an individual plan of interaction between a company (represented by a community manager) and a community member might look as follows:
- private message,
- an invitation to the community,
- introducing other community members to the story/experience of the newbie,
- an invitation to a private meeting,
- an invitation to test a new version of the product,
- an invitation to the competition or event.
Step #3: Personalize your work with the community
Create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere inside. Make the community atmosphere as relaxed, trusting, and constructive as possible. To ensure this, it is important to address all community members by name, know who specializes in what and where they work, mark those who can share relevant experience in the comments below posts and certain topics.
To unite the community, try to have insider jokes that only members can understand. It is also important to keep an eye on the “trolls” so that they do not cross the line, track the negative, work with objections and criticism – both of the brand and the participants. Manage discussion to maintain a constructive community atmosphere.
Moderation is almost the most important thing that happens in your brand community, so you should pay due attention to finding a moderator. Who is an ideal moderator? They not only answer quickly and wittily but also know how to empathize and help. If all these qualities are combined in one person, the brand will speak quite a lively language.
Step #4: Attract influencers (opinion leaders) to the community
Create a list of famous personalities (bloggers, celebrities, politicians, business owners, etc.) detailing their experiences. Try to get in touch with them: add as friends, make acquaintances, and then mark in comments/posts. Such people can answer questions, tell their audience about you, add weight to the community and motivate other participants to be active.
Let’s consider Red Bull as an example. The core of the Red Bull community is athletes, musicians, and dancers. For them, the brand holds competitions in various sports: from basketball to golf. Athletes participating in the community become brand ambassadors: their profiles with a list of achievements are on the brand’s website in a special section. The company also has projects for music lovers and cyber games – for example, in London there is the Red Bull Gaming Sphere where cyber games are held, and the site can also be rented.
Step #5: Involve community members in processes that are important to the company
Ask them to help – for example, with the search for experts for the project, fact-checking, translation into another language, etc. In some cases, experienced community members can support the newbies. For example, Sephora launched their Beauty Insider Community, where customers could ask and answer makeup questions. They could also upload photos of themselves wearing products that linked to the corresponding product pages for their favorite cosmetics.
Step #6: Distribute branded products to community members
Donate stickers, pens, notebooks at offline events with the community. Hold contests to win items such as T-shirts, backpacks, umbrellas, etc. It will motivate people, make them feel like they are involved, and also tell their friends about your brand.
Step #7: Organize events
Organize regular online and offline events, such as lectures, meetups, workshops, board games, thematic meetings, and discussions. Become a part of the leisure time for your most loyal clients, a part of their life. Such offline gatherings will only strengthen your bond with your audience. Here are some examples of cool brand events:
- In 2015, Glossier, a makeup and skincare brand, set up a lobby in its Manhattan offices as a temporary showroom. The premises were open every Friday throughout the summer. The design of the space has been carefully thought out and executed as flawlessly as in the pictures in the Instagram feed.
- In 2018, Refinery29 launched 29Rooms, a portable interactive museum. The project showcased 29 thematic rooms where visitors could explore, take photos, and share experiences with their friends and family. Each room was curated by different organizations and artists. Among the partners of the project are Casper and Dyson, as well as famous actors, including Jake Gyllenhaal.
- Tesla set up a test drive center in Hong Kong. Visitors could examine all the parts and materials used for Tesla models before the vehicles were released to the market.
Step #8: Collect analytics on the community’s activities and make improvements
KPIs are necessary for a community to function. As a result, it’s critical to keep track of how the community develops, whether the post is being followed up on, and whether it is achieving its objective. Keep an eye on elements you didn’t think about previously when establishing the community. Conversion rates, interaction levels, reach, shares, likes, attendance at important gatherings – both for the community and for the entire brand’s audience – should all be tracked.
Step #9: Create special projects and collaborations
Go beyond your own product and ask what else interests your audience (or perhaps you personally). Any collaboration is an opportunity to exchange audiences. For example, in 2014, Nissan teamed up with Air Aroma, a leader in perfumery and scent marketing, to develop the signature Nissan fragrance. The scent was used at trade shows, in offices, and distributed at Nissan dealerships around the world. The aim of the promotion was to ensure that customers smell the Nissan fragrance before they even see it.
Step #10: Let users create content
If your subscribers not only like each post and leave comments, but also generate content on their own, you have hit the jackpot. Why is it effective? When you respond to such initiatives by reposting to Stories or publishing content on a brand’s page, the audience feels that their experience and opinion are important. Such user-generated content is driving community engagement. Additionally, user generated content gets 28% more attention than publications by the brand itself. Here is an example: Visme, the graphic design software brand, created a Facebook Group called Visme VIP Lounge, where their most loyal users share their designs and ideas.
The Bottom Line
With a community, your brand can have an active and engaged customer base that shares in the success of your company. In this blog post, we’ve discussed what a brand community is, why it’s important for brands to maintain one, and how you can build a successful community for yourself with 10 simple steps. We hope that by now you’ve learned enough about building brand communities to feel confident starting one on your own! If you want to find out more, head over to our free ebook or book a demo call with us.