A fifth key topic in the book Owning Game-Changing Subcategories is brand communities that are enabled or enhanced by websites and social media. A major and often overlooked contribution of digital to business strategy is brand communities—groups of people that bond because of shared interest or passion in something connected to a brand.
Consider, for example, the community experience of the buyers and sellers on Etsy. They bond with each other through crafting and homemade goods, and with Etsy and its supporting programs. The affinity is strong and lasting and provides an Etsy “must-have.”
What Brand Communities Offer
People hunger for connection and a brand community delivers. Brand communities have been around forever. The Harley Owners Group (HOG) was founded in 1983. However, digital technology has radically enhanced the power and relevance of communities, allowing the membership base to quickly expand geographically and demographically by leveraging digital tools not available to HOG members of the early ‘80s.
A brand community can be offering-focused, centered around the buying and using experience. That was the case for communities formed at Salesforce.com (where members seek to improve their use of the Salesforce.com software), at LEGO (where LEGO builders interact) and at the Marriott Vacation Club (with members who live for travel and to experience the Marriott vacation options).
If a brand lacks an offering-driven following, it may develop a shared interest that fits the brand to form the locus of a community. That was the case at the Sephora Beauty Insider (which centers on skincare and beauty), Nike Run Club (work-out programs) and the Dove “self-esteem” movement (a shared passion for inner beauty). Such communities also can lead to social benefits created by the involvement of like-minded customers.
How Brand Communities Help Exemplar Brands
Brand communities help exemplar brands and their subcategories by:
- Creating or enhancing a brand relationship. When an exemplar brand is involved as an active partner with an activity that is important to a customer, it provides a relationship that could not be obtained by communicating functional benefits of an offering. A person has a special affinity for others that share his or her passion, goals and activities. If the brand is associated with that interest, it too will be highly regarded. When a community helps to represent a person’s identity, its impact is magnified.
- Adding energy, visibility and involvement. These are critical elements of brand-building that are difficult to achieve using conventional media and methods. Every time a person interacts with the community, the brand is rewarded with some energy and visibility, accentuated because a person initiated the interaction, not the brand.
- Providing credibility to members and brand partners. For many, online communities may feel like a grouping of valued and trusted friends. As a result, the information sourced from the community is not seen as biased, phony or self-serving. Further, the brand gains credibility because it is no longer a seller but is, instead, “one of us.”
- Becoming a barrier to competitors. An exemplar brand that has created a brand community that can regularly involve the customer with a shared interest often will earn a core group of customers with a high affinity toward the brand. Those customers will be hard for competitors to attract.
- Sourcing new or enhanced product/service ideas and evaluating these ideas. Being involved in product/service development and refinement provides useful and timely information to the brand team and a feeling of being an active part of the community for the customers.
The e-book version of Owning Game-Changing Subcategories is now available. The book will be available April 7, 2020.