For decades brands have been evolving and reshaping themselves to stay relevant in a competitive market. With their audience’s ever-changing needs, they need to be adaptable in how they position and market themselves.
Brands who have done this successfully, one can argue, have remained consumer favourites. Take Red Bull for example. Instead of following a traditional approach to mass marketing, they have generated successful brand awareness by also positioning themselves around hobbies and extreme sports. Events like the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Red Bull Air Race and Red Bull Crashed Ice have all added to Red Bull’s marketing arsenal – and could be part of the reason why Red Bull has the highest market share of any energy drink in the world. But still today even all of this might not be enough for brands to change audience’s buying behaviours. Audiences are continuously ‘looking for more’ to feel a connection with brands, and brands are giving it to them to cultivate customer loyalty. Enter brand communities.
Brand communities function as an extra dimension to a brand’s marketing success, resulting in loyal, enthusiastic brand advocates. How do brands build a successful community? The following three features are essential to succeed.
Screen shot Red Bull Cliff Diving dedicated Instagram page.
1. From offline, to online, back to offline
Communities are as ancient as humankind; the sense of belonging is part of what defines us. Whether it is religion, nationality or dress sense, people generally feel the need to be part of a community that exists of like-minded people. Soccer hooligans, Hell’s Angels and pathfinders are examples of traditional, physical communities. With new, emerging technologies a shift has taken place in how people inject themselves in a community; the world has become smaller. People can now connect with like-minded individuals in a community by taking a simple action like commenting on a tweet in a thread. This shift has been particularly interesting for brands, because like people can easily connect to like-minded individuals in a community, brands can now too. In addition, the anonymity of the internet has made sharing thoughts, opinions and preferences easier for customers. For that reason it is no surprise that brands started to use online (social) platforms to expand their customer base, which is how virtual communities for brands were born.
Although virtual platforms offer a great base for a community, in an all-round digital age it is key that people also feel connected to the brand in the offline world. For brands that sell physical products this is achieved relatively easy. For example, if someone buys a Louis Vuitton bag, it shows that they are connected to the brand and part of the Louis Vuitton customer community. For brands revolving around people or hobbies however, this tends to be a little trickier. A brand that successfully managed to take the community further than a digital platform is Top Gear. What started out as a television show in 1977, is now a global community of (race)car fanatics. Besides the tv show, Top Gear now publishes its own magazine in no less than twenty countries, developed a Nintendo video game and organizes live events. Top Gear community members can physically connect with other fanatics, their hobby and the brand this way.
2. High quality content
We all know that content is of vital importance to build a strong brand. Successful brand community platforms therefore ought to function as go-to knowledge banks where both community members and the brand itself exchange relevant information that will garner deeper brand experiences and engagement. This could be information on the product, hobby or person the brand is positioning itself with. Members do not only want get a large quantity of information in return, this information should also have a high quality. Having access to high quality information is one of the key drivers to join a brand community. The most successful content marketing brands are the ones producing content that rivals that of traditional publishing houses in terms of both quantity and quality. And with an increasing amount of tools available that allow brands to structure, organize and produce content in-house, more brands tend to be successful in competing with traditional publishers.
On top of that, the tools that facilitate content re-sharing, document merging and infographic creation enable brands to turn their content into any format that suits their target audience. A good example is the way National Geographic has embraced such tools to position itself as a brand. The organization doesn’t only sell magazines, it also creates a buzz around a certain topic by airing specific landing pages and adjusting its social media strategy. To make that happen, all the content needs to be well organized and orchestrated. If all content is produced, reformatted and distributed from one central hub, it makes it easier to keep the brand consistent, enabling the brand to keep community members updated and enthused through multiple channels.
Screen shot National Geographic Your Shot.
3. Identification is key
It has become increasingly important for customers to be able to identify themselves with a brand, rather than just buying a product. Identification starts with a shared vision, or desired image, the consumer believes the brand can help them achieve. For this reason brands position themselves to be associated with a certain lifestyle, image or even societal group. This positioning is important as customers are aware of how these associations reflect on them, and as a result greatly influences their purchase behaviors and interactions with brands. If brands want to control the audience’s associations, a traditional marketing campaign will unlikely suffice. Building a brand community offers the possibility to communicate the brand vision and preferred image much more effectively. Communicating the visions and opinions that the brand stands for allows customers to strongly identify with it. Making them feel that they can belong to something much bigger than simply a product, but a community that shares the same views opinions and image. When this identification (or association) with brands happens, customers feel comfortable showing that. On most channels, joining a community is made explicit through a “follow” or subscription, which is in turn beneficial for the brand recognition as well as the growth of the community.
The vision and image of the brand form the fundamental base to the brand community. If this vision and image are communicated in a consistent manner across different digital channels it will allow existing community members to connect with the brand on various platforms, and in doing so include the brand community in more parts of their lives. For example, reading a magazine on the plane, scrolling through Instagram on their smartphone on a break or visiting an event over a weekend. It is, however, important to consider the right channels that suit the brand and target group. Designer shoe brand Steve Madden, for example, has optimized their consistent brand communication across multiple channels, resulting in a Facebook community existing of 1.1 million members and 1.9 million followers on Instagram. On top of that, Steve Madden’s website has a button that leads to SM (Steve Madden) World, including access to their own published magazine, music and event page.
So, there it is!
Successful communities are accessible both on- and offline, so that members can include the brand in multiple aspects of their lives. Successful communities communicate quality information on the right platforms, using the right tools to remain consistent, and last but not least, the community revolves around identification, allowing members to identify with the vision, image and other community members of the brand. Does your brand have the essential features of successful brand communities?