BUILDING BRAND COMMUNITY
Building brand communities can be both challenging, and rewarding.
This is what we learned while developing a two-year program.
Nothing is more powerful or sustainable than a group of individuals coming together to share interests and work toward a common goal. Brand based community programming has become a key strategic tool as brands seek relevance and recognition in an otherwise noisy brand landscape.
Community based initiatives are an intriguing direction for brands to take because communities share the values that a brand seeks to embody – purpose, meaning, authenticity and loyalty.
When a community is properly cultivated – the brand can expect a substantial lift / equity rub from their support or membership. The ability to share communication and results via social media can provide a truly impactful combination.
Over the course of three years, NRG was tasked with architecting and building fitness communities in five major metropolitan U.S. cities. This provided us the opportunity to to put theories into practice and to gather key learnings around what works…and what doesn’t.
Through many conversations, surveys and interactions with the community, we were able to determine the keys to successfully building and sustaining a brand community. Enjoy :)
1. CONNECT THE RIGHT PEOPLE
The first step in building a community is to identify and connect with a core group of like-minded, passionate people. Next, engage them around a shared purpose or goal. Recognizing and supporting what is important to this core group, will help lay the foundation on which you can build a larger, sustainable community.
2. PROVIDE VALUE
The key to building a sustainable and passionate community is authenticity. You want to take your brand out of retail and into the lives of your consumers; which means you have to provide more than just products. Your brand must BECOME part of the community and commit to the community.
Recognize that retail and product needs can be independent of a community’s purpose. When the members are looking for a retail experience, they’ll go to retail. People primarily identify with the lifestyle, core values, culture and community beliefs, rather than the product. Don’t rush to sell, let the integration happen organically. You’re providing a program or service and in turn the members will want to support your brand.
3. GIVE IT SOME TIME TO GROW
Set realistic benchmarks. Oftentimes, brands ascribe specific results that they want to achieve within period of time from a community. Set realistic benchmarks, don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Community building, like growing a garden requires time, effort, attention and commitment. A garden doesn’t grow overnight, neither will your community. Employ the tactics to help it develop, grow and sustain.
4. CREATE BONDING OPPORTUNITIES
A community will grow stronger if members are given opportunities to connect and bond on a consistent basis. Regular interactions forge friendships and build trust.. and trusted friends remain committed to each-other, the community and ultimately, the brand. Encouraging and facilitating social interaction outside of the communities main purpose, strengthens loyalty and bonds within the group.
5. IDENTIFY AND DEVELOP LEADERS
Community Managers must continually encourage and empower local leaders to take responsibility for their community. The enthusiasm and excitement of the leaders will be infectious and will draw greater loyalty from the members of the community. In turn the community will increase in strength and numbers. Leaders will earn the respect of community members which will also increase their commitment.
6. REWARDS AND RECOGNITION
Within any community, members naturally take on different roles – leaders, administrators, promoters, etc. One of the steps to building a strong, yet diverse, community is recognizing, incentivizing and rewarding the different positions. Rewarding members with product is great, yet not always necessary. Recognition, peer respect and added ownership/authority keep members committed to one another.
7. PEER SUPPORT
Members will only remain part of a community while there is value in doing so. We found members gained the most value from the community when they felt their limits were (safely) being pushed – whether running further, faster or training harder or longer.
When they were pushed just outside of their comfort zone, they developed a genuine pride in what they were able to accomplish with the physical and emotional support from the community. Managers should recognize and encourage internal peer support as helps build a strong community foundation.
8. IDENTIFY NEEDS & ASPIRATIONS
Each community has different needs and aspirations. When you are able identify what those needs are, you are better armed to understand what a community requires to fulfill its collective aspirations. By supporting the community in meeting their aspirations, your brand is providing the maximum possible value.
Building a community is an ongoing process. Know that you must always be providing value to the community. You can do this directly through events and activities or indirectly by creating communication channels for the community to connect. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show your community you value them, and you will have some of the most devoted consumers in your industry.
9. ADAPT, PROTECT & SERVE
Once you know the needs of your community, be willing to adapt your program to meet those needs and continue to serve the members. You also need to respond to what is not working and make the necessary changes. The program should evolve accordingly; building a branded community is a long-term strategy which requires persistence. Having rigid rules and predictable activities can begin to feel less authentic over time. In order to keep your community engaged with your brand, be flexible and protect their purpose. To foster a loyal and vocal core, you will need to build meaningful relationships with consumers.
Keep your community engaged with the program and your brand by responding in a timely and proactive manner. This means community and brand managers must be ready and willing to engage in communication via social channels. Be willing to accept and answer community questions and take as ownership of issues. This will help the brand be an accountable member of the community.
WHY BUILD A BRAND COMMUNITY?
Your brand will have a motivated group of consumers communicating your brand experience to their friends, family and colleagues. You’ll have a dedicated pool of brand ambassadors sharing on an ongoing basis. Experiential-driven communication generates 50-80% of word-of-mouth buying behavior.
Invest in building a loyal community, and they’ll invest in you.