Commentary

Brand Communities And 3 Ways To Ensure Their Success

Forrester predicted that as social media matures, branded communities would make a comeback. Marketing leaders report they’re significantly less satisfied with Facebook and Twitter marketing. Along with that, Forrester found that 60% of businesses have a branded online community and 15% were planning to add one in the following 12 months. With that knowledge, many CPG marketers feel it is time to focus their engagement efforts on owned channels. 

For many years, CPG brands have turned to Facebook and other social networks as their gateway to build direct consumer relationships, something that they often struggle with. As we all know, brands soon discovered their ability to activate consumers was very limited. With the infamous Facebook algorithm change, social networking sites quickly shifted from a consumer engagement tool to a paid media channel. The aftermath of that has caused many teams to consider how they will manage their long-term consumer relationships. 

From a marketer’s perspective, a prime benefit of a community is its ability to activate enthusiastic advocates and influencers. A recent ANA study found that brands will spend roughly 60% of their entire budget on activation, more than media and trade promotion combined. According to the ANA, brand activation encompasses six pillars of marketing – relationship and loyalty, influencer, promotional, content, experiential and retailer marketing. 

Brand communities service all of these areas and many more such as customer support and product insights. For marketers looking to build a successful brand community of advocates, here are three important elements to keep in mind.   
  
1. Brand Communities Must Serve Their Members First

When done correctly, brand communities first and foremost serve its members. It should be a place for consumers to not only interact with your brand, but also interact with like-minded people who share common interests. Make sure your community has a common identity that reinforces brand equity. Some of the most classic examples of successful online communities include Harley Davidson’s “Harleys Owner Group” and Starbucks’ “My Starbucks Idea.”

Harley Davidson boasts an incredibly impassioned community and their Owner Group serves as a connector for enthusiasts around the world. Starbucks leverages its community to empower consumers to share ideas, and then shows follow-through by listening and implementing popular ideas. This helps reinforce loyalty as 83% of consumers said they would be more loyal to a brand if they knew that brand would act on their feedback and make improvements.   

2. Integrate Your Community Across Organization 

A brand community is not just marketing strategy, but a way to enhance all areas of a business. Most marketers I speak with build a community of advocates in order to achieve a certain set of objectives – perhaps to help reduce customer support, gather insights or to spark word-of-mouth content. Marketers realize quickly the utility of a brand community across a plethora of channels. A community of advocates can be used across many strategic business units. From promoting new product launches to A/B testing advertising messages to event invitations and FSIs, brand enthusiasts are primed to respond to brand communication. 

3. Quality vs. Quantity

For a community of brand advocates to succeed, it needs to deliver a worthy value exchange between consumer and brand. It must also offer personalized communications and intrinsic behavior drivers. Brands should focus less on the number of times they engage their community, but rather the impact of each interaction.

Success can be determined by the actions taken when members are prompted, not by how often they visit. Do they participate when asked? Do they drive action among their friends? Do they complete activities when offered? Brand enthusiasts don't need to be engaged every day. This is a slippery slope into overworked community managers and drained resources. Focus on the impact advocates provide while in your community. 

At the end of the day, a community dedicated to a specific brand is not a new idea. Many brands have built communities to facilitate category discussions, customer support, or loyalty programs. Community building is not a one-off approach, nor is it an automated strategy. However, when done strategically, it becomes the ultimate brand touch point of co-creation and the optimal solution for brands to evolve in the continually changing social landscape.

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