Building Brand Communities
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Building Brand Communities

How Organizations Succeed by Creating Belonging

Carrie Melissa Jones, Charles Vogl

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eBook - ePub

Building Brand Communities

How Organizations Succeed by Creating Belonging

Carrie Melissa Jones, Charles Vogl

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About This Book

An authentic brand community is more than just people buying your product or working alongside one another. This book articulates the critical roles of mutual concern, common values, and shared experiences in creating fiercely loyal customer and collaborator relationships. Smart organizations know that creating communities is the key to unlocking unprecedented outcomes. But too many mistakenly rely on superficial transactional relationships as a foundation for community, when really people want something deeper. Carrie Melissa Jones andCharles Vogl argue that in an authentic and enriching community, members have mutual concern for one another, share personal values, and join together in meaningful shared experiences, whether online or off. On the deepest level, brands must help members grow into who they want to be. Jones and Vogl present practices used by global brands like Yelp, Etsy, Twitch, Harley Davidson, Salesforce, Airbnb, Sephora, and others to connect in a meaningful way with the people critical for their success.They articulate how authentic communities can serve organizational goals in seven different areas: innovation, talent recruitment, customer retention, marketing, customer service, building transformational movements, and creating community forums. They also reveal principles to grow a new brand community to critical mass. This is the first comprehensive guide to a crucial differentiator that gives organizations access to untapped enthusiasm and engagement.

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Information

Year
2020
ISBN
9781523086634
Edition
1
Subtopic
Marketing

Part
1

BRAND COMMUNITY FOUNDATIONS
There’s a place where we don’t have to feel unknown
And every time that you call out
You’re a little less alone
If you only say the word
From across the silence
Your voice is heard.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

1

RECOGNIZING COMMUNITY, BRAND COMMUNITY, AND BELONGING
This chapter will clarify the relevant terms we all need in order to recognize and support community building. As we distill the terms, we provide a list of elements that must be incorporated for success. Just knowing the terms provides all with a stronger vision to recognize and discern effective brand communities.
As we stated in the introduction, we define a community as a group of people who share mutual concern for one another. (Hereafter in this book, we will refer to “mutual concern for one another” as “mutual concern.”) Communities convene around at least one shared value, usually more.
In his book The Art of Community, Charles shares fundamental wisdom about how communities come together and create belonging using principles tested over the course of more than a thousand years. It’s available if you need to understand community fundamentals. In that book, Charles distills seven principles used to bring people together:
  1. Boundary: the line between members and outsiders
  2. Initiation: the activities that mark a new member
  3. Rituals: the things we do that have meaning
  4. Temple: a place set aside to find our community
  5. Stories: what we share that allows others and ourselves to know our values
  6. Symbols: the things that represent ideas that are important to us
  7. Inner rings: subgroups in a community that together present a path to growth as we participate
We will dig deeper into specific kinds of communities, so let’s recap: Communities almost always share some values, identity, and moral prescriptions (how people should act).
This definition may seem unfinished to you. You may argue that you know of a collection of people who share values, identity, and moral prescriptions, but don’t feel like a community. You’re right! For example, Charles still identifies as a returned Peace Corps volunteer. Charles also still values international travel, cultural sharing, and serendipitous adventure. And he thinks that there are moral and respectful ways to explore foreign cultures, as do most Peace Corps volunteers. However, given that his Peace Corps service ended years ago, he is not active in a Peace Corps group that shares mutual concern between himself and other returned volunteers. There is such a community in the world, but he is just not a part of it now.
He considers his relationship to other Peace Corps volunteers as tribal. This means that they share some values and identity, yet he is not organized, active, or even in communication with other volunteers. If someone collects names of returned Peace Corps volunteers living in California, he will become part of a list. That list doesn’t make the people on it a community. Without mutual concern, whatever Charles is included in is not a community but a group. (And this is OK.)
By contrast, Carrie is a part of a Seattle yoga community in which members gather for yoga classes and workshops. She recognizes that friendships have formed among members so that they care for one another even outside class time. This makes her experience as a community member far richer and more fun than just showing up for poses in a group.
There’s nothing wrong with groups. Most of us are involved with lots of groups. An advocacy campaign (say, advocating for clean Oakland streets) may never develop into a community, but as a group, it can serve a rich and powerful role for Oakland. The danger comes when we can’t distinguish between groups and communities and we expect more from a group than it can ever deliver. Or we fail to invest in a group to grow a community (say, an Oakland streets cleanup community) and then despair at the failure.
In 2014, an activity known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge inspired people to create and post more than two million videos online.1 The challenge was an effort to raise both awareness and research funding for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). In each video, participants were doused with a bucket of ice water, and they then challenged others they knew to do the same. This mobilization campaign served a deep need to activate people into a conversation about a disease and to raise money. It did not knit participants into a community where members cared about one another. Now, growing an important conversation and fundraising for a cause can be a very satisfying outcome. It’s just not a community-building effort. It’s mobilizing a group.
This book speaks to a broad spectrum of organization types because fundamental principles apply broadly. So, for this book, organization refers to people participating in an agreed order, including at least one element of membership, hierarchy, rules, monitoring, and sanctions.2 The following organization types, although very different from one from another, all count:
  • Business: working for financial profit
  • Nonprofit: humanitarian motivated and acting to relieve suffering, advocate for the poor, protect the environment, provide social services, and more3
  • Religious or spiritual organization: offering spiritual growth and education
  • Community-based organization: serving needs within a particular geographical area
  • Association: connecting people to benefit from one another professionally
  • Ephemeral organization: formed in extreme and disaster environments for rescue and relief4
  • Political organization: working toward political change
  • Movement: working for cultural change
In this book, a brand refers to any identifiable organization (whether for-profit, nonprofit, political, or otherwise cause-driven) that offers value to others. The brand uses a distinguishing name.
Brand communities are often inspired, created, or influenced by an already established brand, but not necessarily. For example, enthusiasts (such as camping, music, or video game fans) can start an identifiable community (e.g., the Oakland Adventure Club, California Dragon Boat Association), and the organization itself operates as a brand community.
For ease of communication, we’ll use the terms organization, company, and brand interchangeably.

Brand Community

A brand community is a special kind of community. All brand communities we’re discussing aspire to serve both (1) members and (2) at least one organizational (brand) goal.
In this discussion, an authentic brand community includes all these elements:
  • Members who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare
  • Members who share a connected identity founded in shared core value(s) and purpose5
  • Members who participate in shared experiences reflecting the shared value(s) and purpose
This working definition is purposefully broad. Many principles for building different kinds of brand communities apply across the board.
As we have explained, successful brand communities serve both members’ and the organization’s goals. If a community fails to serve one or the other, you’ll have trouble inspiring one or the other to participate as soon as it figures that out. Building brand communities takes work, and there’s no reason to do the work unless there’s a benefit to all involved.
When a community is connected to an established organization, it’s important that the community’s and organization’s goals overlap, align, or complement one another. For example, Yelp is a crowdsourced review forum for local businesses. Today it attracts more than seventy million people a month through its mobile app and website.6 Yelp’s purpose is to guide readers to helpful resources including reviews. Yelp Elite members (a brand community) want to connect with other review writers to share friendship, experiences, and grow better at writing reviews. All intentions are aligned.
The same is true for the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company and the Harley Owners Group (HOG). Riders want to ride, and Harley wants to sell motorcycles, merchandise, and accessories. In both cases, no one wins by holding back the other side.
If the organization’s goals are not in alignment with those of members, then there is a real question whether the organization can offer genuine value to members.
When a brand community stands alone as an organization (e.g., the Oakland Adventure Club), then typically there’s no conflict between the purposes of the organization and those of the members.
For the sake of clarity, we offer a few examples of brand communities to at least scratch the surface of what’s out there:
  • Activist community. The United Religions Initiative (URI) connects individuals promoting interfaith cooperation and ending religiously motivated violence.
  • Celebrity fan community. World-famous performer Lady Gaga created the Little Monsters fan community to connect and support her global fans.
  • Collaborator community. Google gathers invited thought leaders together in “Labs” to collaborate on an envisioned future and influence Google investments and spending.
  • Customer community. Online streaming platform Twitch created the Community Meetups program to connect their users in cities around the world.
  • Employee community. Home builder True Homes invests in many events and activities to connect all its employees in satisfying ways.
  • Enthusiasts community. HOG chapters connect brand enthusiasts who own Harleys or are invited guests of Harley owners.
  • Professional community. The New York State Association of Independent Schools connects education professionals to support one another across their region.
  • Sports community. The California Dragon Boat Association connects boat paddlers.
  • Volunteer community. Global software company Salesforce created the Trailblazer Community made up of users who volunteer to support other users.
How do brand communities succeed in serving both members and the organization? Consider this example.
SEPHORA DISCOVERS OPPORTUNITY
Sephora is one of the largest beauty retailers in the world, with twenty-five hundred stores in thirty-two countries.7 For years, the company hosted an online forum that drew approximately twenty thousand customers who were “the most hard core beauty lovers” (personal communication with Shira Levine, April 2019). It was little more than an online forum, with a single full-time community leader, one part-time moderator, and an engineer ensuring that it didn’t collapse.
Then Sephora leaders noticed a competitor successfully stealing market share. They decided to invest in building a makeup enthusiast community that was both accessible on mobile devices and integrated into the shopping experience.
Inside the community, customers could and did discuss a variety of beauty products and methods, regardless of whether they were related to Sephora products or not. In the community, members could gain access to beauty techniques and product information, engage with beauty company founders, and experience an affirming space with others who love the fun, play, and transformation of makeup.
The community grew to over 1.6 million members. By participating in the members’ discussions, brand managers, buyers, and product scouts could and did learn what customers wanted and what beauty trends were growing.
Involving this huge community with business decisions taught Sephora’s team that strong measures in five areas guarantee success for new products:
  • Social proofing (seeing others happy with the product)
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • Adorable photos of customers testing products
  • Honest reviews
  • Involving “hard-core” category loyalists
For instance, some years ago Sephora leaders noticed significant discussions about “strobing” and “highlighting.” These were new ways to make faces sparkle and glow. Industry research also indicated that many customers were dissatisfied with makeup largely made for Caucasian skin. Sephora’s team noticed that only hard-to-find brands that served hard-core enthusiasts were catering to the trend.
Beauty enthusiasts may have noticed that soon after the community investment, Sephora launched several products that delivered to the unmet demand.

Participation

Here, a participant is anyone who freely takes action to participate in a community in some way. This is intentionally a very broad definition. All brand communities include participants who share mutual concern. Discovering participants is one way to recognize a community.
In time it will be important for you to understand the differences between types of participants, such as novices, members, elders, principal elders, and allies. For simplicity in this discussion, participants refers to anyone participating, including both visitors and members in general.
A visitor is someone who seeks to learn more about your community. Typically, this individual discovers your community (reads about it, visits the website, sees a video, or visits an event for the first time) and then can grow more interested.
A member is someone who returns to connect with members, considers themselves a regular participant, and ideally has experienced some kind of opt-in initiation. The initiation gives them reason to see themselves as a member. Without a recognized initiation, members are difficult to distinguish from visitors. Even if the initiation experience isn’t dramatic, there should always be some discernible difference between members and visitors.
Very often, we want to create community events that draw the right visitors—those who will return and grow into members.
Consider an Oakland Miata drivers’ community. Members go on drives together, visit races, and share meals where they discuss fixing and improving Miatas. Anyone who discovers the community via website, video, or flier can participate in virtually all the planned events. But just showing up, even registering online for a drive, doesn’t make someone a member. When someone shows up to lear...

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