When you consider the path that brands take on the journey to success, the most successful businesses all have a multitude of customers who don’t just like them, they really love them.
It’s not that a brand’s success inspires these customers to rally around them though. In fact, I would argue that it’s the collection of passionate customers coming together with the brand itself that has made the best businesses as successful as they are.
Together, brands and their dedicated customers, form a brand community.
What is a brand community?
When someone asks me to define a brand community, I say:
"A brand community is a group of customers who are invested in a brand beyond what is being sold. These customers want to become a part of the brand itself."
If brand community comes from customers being invested in a brand, what does that even mean? In this case, investing comes in the form of the emotional connections made when customers put their money, time, and interest in more than just a simple purchase.
No matter how they’re are made, the purpose of these connections is to build the relationships that will form your brand community.
What can you benefit from forming these relationships and having a brand community though? Not only can they break your dependence on advertising, but more importantly they enable long-term, sustainable growth based on repeat purchases from high-value customers.
How to identify a strong brand community
There are lots of great brands in the world. The trouble is determining the difference between companies that just have a recognizable brand, and a strong brand community.
Brand awareness ≠ brand community
Most marketers will say a brand is strong when it’s the first one that comes to mind in its industry. However, just because I think about Kleenex first when I want tissues doesn’t mean they have a thriving brand community.
If a strong brand community is not the same as a recognizable brand, what should you be looking for to identify an effective brand community?
There are three things that strong brand communities are really good at motivating their customers to do:
Join -> Engage -> Share
These concepts are simple, but can be difficult to spot out in the wild, so let’s take a look at how each of these ideas plays out in examples from some of my favorite brand communities.
Customers are excited to join
In order for a community to be effective, it has to have members, so logically the most effective brand communities are ones that excel at showing customers the value of belonging to them.
One way to establish this value is with a welcome reward such as points for account creation, but this is not the only way. The important thing is to establish and communicate clear value, like this example from MudLOVE.
They’ve built their community around the vision of inspiring others and providing clean water to those in need. Before they’ve even purchased any products yet, shoppers are excited about joining the MudLOVE community and being part of that story they are telling.
Any brand can do this, and they don’t have to be a social enterprise like MudLOVE to create a desire to belong either. All it takes is knowing what your customers care about most and inviting them to join you in celebrating it.
Members are motivated to engage
Once members have joined a community they need to actually do something to be considered active members of it. That’s why the strongest communities encourage their members to get engaged in ways that have benefits in the long and short term.
Long term engagement could be as simple as motivating members to earn the prestige of achieving a top-level VIP tier. Smaller scale micro-actions, on the other hand, benefit you and your members in the short term to prompt regular and consistent interaction with your community.
Combining these two types of engagement is what separates ok brand communities from the great ones. Take oVertone for instance, who motivates customers to earn the best rewards like early access to sales for only their most dedicated members.
They know that long term goals aren’t enough to motivate frequent engagement by themselves. That’s why oVertone and other strong communities keep the desire to engage high with small but frequent motivation bursts, rewarding not just for purchases but for actions like reviews and social media interaction too.
By motivating with long-term goals and rewarding for micro-actions along the way, great brand communities like oVertone make engagement with their brand just another part of members’ everyday lives.
Advocates can’t help but share
After joining and engaging, the strongest brand communities close the community-building loop with the simple power of sharing.
If something is great, you’re going to want to tell people about it. For instance, if I never talked to my friends about my work, they’d probably wonder whether it was a great place to work. And in case you’re wondering, I talk about Smile, a lot!
The best brand communities make it valuable for members to start sharing and make them take the leap from being just customers to become passionate brand advocates. To accomplish this, brands like inkbox give members something in return for telling others about them, like how they feature tagged social posts and use a referral program to give advocating a financial incentive.
The important thing is showing members the value in sharing the community so they can’t help but advocate for the community and spread the word any chance they get.
Great communities have to start somewhere
With the new understanding of what a brand community is and how to recognize a strong one when you see it, do you see these concepts reflected in your own business?
Putting all three community attributes to work can seem like a daunting task. If you recognize the importance in building a tribe of passionate customers though, all it takes is dedication and the right set of tools to be well on your way to a thriving brand community.