Successful brands build brand communities around their products and services.
A brand community goes beyond a group that simply buys from the brand.
It is a dedicated fanbase.
It provides brands with an opportunity to make connections, grow loyalty and foster advocacy.
And it provides consumers with an opportunity to join a tribe of like-minded people, make connections and share experiences.
But, what exactly is a brand community, how do you build one, and what brands are out there already doing it well?
What Is A Brand Community? (And 10 Reasons To Build One)
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What Is a Brand Community?
A brand community is a group of people who congregate, gather and connect around a shared interest or passion for a brand, it’s products and quite often, the lifestyle it supports.
Customers within such communities are more often than not, on a shared path with similar interests and goals.
Brand communities are quite often passionate groups with shared enthusiasm for the lifestyle the brand supports.
For example, GoPro has a passionate brand community who not only connect through the capturing of video, but through the extreme and exciting environments it’s often captured in.
Communities and their members don’t just support your brand by regularly making purchases of your brand’s products.
They also act as brand advocates, spreading the word about it to their friends, family, coworkers, and other people online.
They are the loyal customers who read all of your fresh content, follow your social media pages, and actively engage in campaigns and other initiatives for your company.
Brand community members enthusiastically praise your goods or services, provide reviews, and distribute your content marketing to others.
As dedicated fans of the brand, they enthusiastically track the brand experience to see what you will do next.
Like all fans, your brand supporters enjoy coming together to exchange opinions and generally enjoy the brand as a community.
To build a strong brand community, brands need to nurture loyal customers through community engagement and community management.
What Are The Benefits Of An Active Brand Community?
An active brand community is a powerful tool that you can leverage to help your business grow.
Any brand strategist should see the value in having a ready-made receptive audience to bounce ideas off, gather insights, and engage in dialogue.
Your brand community probably already exists on social media platforms, it’s your job to bring them together into a genuine online community.
You need a marketing strategy to build on these connections to gain some significant brand benefits.
Examples of the potential benefits of an engaged brand community platform:
Convert customers into brand ambassadors who spread your message for you.
Ensure your customers get the most of out of your products and services by sharing helpful information with them.
Spread brand awareness organically instead of relying on paid ads.
Get direct feedback on new ideas from your target audience.
Better customer retention levels.
A potential source of user-generated content.
An outlet to reward loyal customers.
Helps your customers find each other.
Observe more closely the challenges and pain points of your customers.
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The overarching benefit of a brand community relates to the idea that all marketing and branding relies on information-gathering and sharing.
Successful brands understand their audience.
Therefore, a brand community is an immensely valuable source of information that you should use to better understand your loyal customers.
Use your insights to influence your brand strategy.
A Platform For Connection And Sharing
The secondary underlying benefit is that an active brand community that trusts and supports your brand effectively acts as a marketing channel in itself.
Loyal fans of your brand will do their utmost to make others aware of your brand’s strengths and the products you offer.
Your loyal customers exist, so how can you lend a hand and proactively help to organize them into a community that can be an asset for your business?
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How To Build A Successful Brand Community
As already mentioned, customers who love your brand are already out there.
Maybe they’re not yet connecting through the interest of your brand, but they’re most certainly connecting through the journey your brand supports.
Community management is about providing a space to nurture the group.
This space may look different from business to business depending on your size and context.
The critical thing to remember is that the space is about investing in the relationship between brand and customer with an emphasis on exchange.
Focus on the individuals and aim to create a sense of belonging and exclusivity.
Let’s run through the process steps to building your brand community.
How To Build A Thriving Brand Community (Examples From Top Brands)
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#1. Get Clear On Your Audience & Their Passions
Brand communities aim to bring groups of consumers together through their shared interests.
The more acutely aware of those interests you are, including challenges and desires, the more engaged a community you can create.
For brands that help their customers in some way, to live a desired lifestyle, an opportunity exists to illuminate the picture of that desired life and align themselves to the positive emotions associated with it.
#2. Establish The Fundamentals Of Your Brand
So much of your branding strategy needs to stem from the fundamentals of your brand.
By fundamentals, I mean the what, how, and why of your brand.
Set out the mission and vision of your brand and establish your brand philosophy with a clear set of values.
This process should answer the following questions:
Why does your brand exist?
Who is your target audience?
Why should they choose you over competitors?
What are your unique features?
What is the future of your brand?
The more clearly you define your brand and what it stands for, the more effectively you can communicate this to your target audience.
Being clear on why you exist and how you can help, makes it easier to bring people together on that shared path through a brand community.
#3. Define Goals For Your Community
Before you invest time and effort into fostering a great brand community, consider the primary objectives of your community strategy.
What are you hoping to achieve from setting up a brand community?
Answering this question will help you make customer-oriented decisions about how you interact with the community to achieve your goals.
How do you plan to engage with the community?
How can you turn new customers into brand loyalists?
How are you going to measure the success of the community? Engagement levels? Conversions?
What metrics will you track on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?
How do you think the community can help you achieve broader company goals?
How can you strengthen your relationship with your community members?
Consider these questions before you proceed with any community building to ensure you get the most out of the process.
#4. Choose A Community Platform
Where will your online brand community meet to socialize and share information?
You have many options at your disposal.
Forums are a great way for a larger community to get together and discuss a variety of topics related to your brand or industry.
So much of modern discourse takes place on social media platforms, and you probably already have a presence on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
You can build a brand community on social networks by engaging with members through your account or creating a dedicated LinkedIn or Facebook group.
Rewards and affiliate programs are another option for a community base.
These are specifically more focused on giving back and rewarding customer loyalty, but they can still be used as a place for discussion and an exchange of ideas.
Affiliate programs directly contribute to business growth as customers get rewards for referrals, incentivizing the spread of your brand experience.
Sometimes brands opt for a third-party moderator as a platform for their community building.
Slack and Mobilize are both great tools for community engagement that allow the brand to create various channels and topics for discussion
There’s also room for offline in-person meetups.
Many brands organize groups where customers can meet up to enjoy a brand’s products together and socialize. Gyms and sports clubs often do this to help generate that community spirit.
#5. Plan To Engage Regularly
Whichever platform you choose, you need to give customers a reason to interact with the community.
There are a few facets to this.
First, ensure you are active in responding to customer comments and queries.
Consumers expect you to answer questions promptly and you should see this as part of the customer experience you offer.
That means engaging in group discussions but also at the individual level.
This approach shows you care about your loyal customers.
Second, you need to create a content plan for things to share with your brand community and stick to it.
What are you going to share with your loyal customers that provides value and keeps them checking in to your community and actively taking part?
This could be fun competitions, educational videos or blogs, surveys, news updates about the brand and its new products, awareness pieces for your CSR drives, or anything else you feel would resonate with your audience.
Your content will vary depending on your brand personality, but what’s important is that you’re maintaining a presence within the community that encourages further engagement.
#6. Consolidate The Emotional Relationship
It’s not enough to create a space for discussion.
You need to encourage emotional bonding within the community.
Most loyal customers don’t love brands out of logic; they become fans based on an emotional connection with the brand.
That emotion comes from a consistent brand experience that aligns to their values and outlook on life.
Therefore, within your brand community, you need to inspire that connection through brand storytelling that leans into your brand personality to resonate with your fanbase.
You cement the audience’s perception of your brand by consistently showing up as they expect you to.
Create content that evokes that emotional response to reinforce your authenticity.
That’s how to make the most of your brand community’s potential to act as an army of brand ambassadors.
Let’s have a look at some examples of brand communities that showcase the power of a loyal customer base.
Powerful Brand Community Examples to Inspire Your Own Brand
Apple uses its brand community to shape a lifestyle that goes beyond the product themselves.
Therefore, Apple brand enthusiasts gather not to discuss the pros and cons of the latest update but to talk about the opportunities the technology opens up.
By focusing on the connections that could be formed through the company’s products, the brand community takes on an atmosphere of positivity as you contemplate the possibilities of where the latest iPhone could take you.
However, Apple knows that things still go wrong.
So, they created the Apple Support Community.
This encourages community members to engage with each other to troubleshoot problems while offering other suggestions to improve the product experience.
Even when addressing potential issues,
Apple has turned troubleshooting into an opportunity for increased engagement and to solidify that community spirit.
Starbucks does a great job engaging with its brand community.
Often, the detail is in the small things.
Starbucks calls its baristas “Starbucks partners.” This label already sets out the ethos that Starbucks is an inclusive brand as it embraces its employees as partners.
The brand is a master of user-generated content as it reposts some of the best-tagged customer photos on their corporate social profiles to foster engagement.
This provides a foundation on which Starbucks then raises awareness for its social initiatives like their volunteer matching service.
The service helps partners and community members engage with each other and help those that need assistance.
All of this reinforces the customers’ perception that the brand is a force for positive social change.
Starbucks rewards program offers personalized rewards to regular customers.
Customers earn Stars for getting a coffee, playing games, and attending bonus point events.
They’ll even get a free birthday treat.
This approach incentivizes further engagement, creating that positive reinforcement loop as the customer feels more connected to the brand.
Harley-Davidson faced an uphill struggle in the 80s.
They were a brand with no clear direction.
Then, they made the conscious decision to pivot as a lifestyle brand around a brand community of Harley Davidson riders.
The HOG (Harley Owners Group) is a highly engaged brand community based around the lifestyle associated with the brand.
They celebrate real-life road trips, adventurous spirits, and a general fun-loving attitude that captures the dreams of Harley-Davidson owners.
Community members motivate each other to get out on the open road and enjoy the lifestyle that goes alongside owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The HOG brand community is a perfect example of making that emotional connection between a brand and a way of life.
The motorcycle is the literal vehicle through which community members express themselves.
Lego has inspired builders young and old for decades.
Lego is a great example of a brand tapping into communities of fans who already existed.
They just needed to steer their fanbase in a direction that optimized the desired results for Lego.
Lego recently acquired BrickLink, an independent fan discussion site and marketplace with over one million members.
The site has an active discussion forum where community members share ideas and thoughts on various Lego products.
By acquiring the group, Lego gained access to another source of valuable insights.
Lego also do a great job at engaging with their brand community.
They come up with regular original competitions and challenges for Lego enthusiasts.
These generate an insane level of engagement from their audience, all the while reinforcing the brand’s status as a fun entertainment provider.
Over To You
Whether or not to build a community around your brand can come down to a few simple questions.
Do our customers have shared interests?
Are they passionate about those interests?
Are we involved directly or indirectly in those interests?
Do they or would they gather to discuss those interests?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then there’s an argument in favour of creating a community.
Having a loyal community of brand lovers can bring countless benefits for your brand.
From customer insights from the horses mouth to a breeding ground for brand ambassadors, an effective, well-managed brand community can be an invaluable asset to your brand.
But remember that it’s the feeling of community, emotional connection, and regular engagement that distinguishes engaged and valuable communities from the rest.
Bring your audience together on shared passionate interests, create an environment to share and connect and you might just build an asset that breeds loyalty and advocacy.
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