Today’s brands do more than just deliver products and services.They also foster connections among like-minded enthusiasts. That could turn out to be their most vital purpose, considering a 2018 Cigna study found that nearly half of Americans report feelings of loneliness.
When it comes to creating connections, brands are in a unique position to step up. “Consumers want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves,” explains Kim Lawton, founder and CEO of Enthuse Marketing Group, to Luxury Daily. “While it’s essential to create an experience that connects them to the brand, connecting them to a bigger community of like-minded people makes a larger impact and builds long-term brand love.”
With competition on the rise and imitators everywhere, brand love counts for a lot in today’s economy. Moving forward, prosperous companies will be defined as much by their brand and the community around it as the products themselves. We can already see this happening with companies like Apple or Patagonia, which are both backed by passionate communities.
Customer enthusiasm has always been important, of course. The concept of word-of-mouth marketing is as old as business itself, but it matters so much more now that consumers actively discuss brands online. In a Temkin Group survey, 77 percent of respondents said they would recommend a brand they like. At the same time, consumers are less loyal than ever. Companies have huge opportunities to attract and engage consumers, yet they face just as many challenges. Building a community around a brand serves both objectives: drawing people in and giving them a reason to stay.
Not that it’s easy. Organically connecting consumers takes more than a token effort, and it has to be a long-term commitment. Here are some strategies other brands have used successfully.
1. Create a mission that helps the larger community
People are drawn to communities that reflect their values and principles. That means brands can’t just focus on what they sell; they also need to establish what they stand for. Popular brands TOMS and Bombas donate a pair of shoes or socks, respectively, for every pair sold. They’re about more than just footwear, a stance that appeals to many consumers and unites them around shared values.
Use a clear and concise mission statement to define what your brand believes in and how it strives to better the world. Then, build those values into the core of what you do. For example, The Giving Keys, a Los Angeles-based jewelry company, proactively employs people transitioning out of homelessness. Not surprisingly, consumers who share the mission of fighting homelessness gravitate toward this brand before others. It doesn’t matter what your mission is, as long as it’s meaningful and the commitment is genuine.
2. Build a space for community connections
Communities need a space to grow, and you need a place where you can engage directly with the community members to create deeper connections. There are plenty of existing opportunities for this on social media, such as creating a Facebook group for your community, but you can create your own platform if you crave more input into the overall look, feel and direction of your brand community.
LEGO recognized this opportunity when it built LEGO Ideas, an online community for people to show off what they build with its multi-hued plastic blocks. By putting its own iconic name on the community, LEGO unified the entire enthusiast population of builders. These spaces can also serve the uninitiated. Made, a UK-based furniture company, uses its Unboxed platform to collect pictures of its pieces in people’s homes, which helps potential buyers understand more about its products.
3. Let the community drive the brand
Communities involve communication and collaboration among equals, not top-down directives.“Today, brand-building is not primarily through one-way communication via advertising,” explains Ray Li, CEO of custom-made clothing company Sene, in an interview for American Express’s blog. “The new way is co-creation, enabling customers to build your brand with you.” Brands can demonstrate that by incorporating community feedback into future products or social initiatives. More than just listening, however, brands need to relinquish a certain amount of control to the community itself.
The TED Talk lecture series did this when it introduced TEDx in 2009, giving individuals the ability to organize their own lectures under the marquee brand name. Live-streaming company Twitch goes a step further and invites popular streamers to the company’s headquarters to have a direct dialogue. The lesson? Always treat community members like participants rather than audience members.
Don’t expect communities to evolve overnight. Instead, work to build them organically and incrementally. That may take longer and require more creative thinking, but the community that results could easily become your single biggest asset.