Do Consumers Want To Commune With Brands?

For the many years that preceded social media, marketers relied mostly on engaging with their consumers in one-way communications. This included television, radio, direct mail, billboards etc. 

Once social media came along, consumers had the opportunity to “talk back,” so to speak, and tell brands what they thought about their products and services. Brands quickly learned just what consumers thought about the products and services. This type of consumer feedback was once relegated to the more controlled environments of market research and/or customer service listening.

The term “relationship marketing” took on a whole new meaning. Enterprising brands began to realize that the opportunity for a dialogue with their consumers, while uncontrolled, also presented a significant opportunity. 

After all, if brands could gather consumers in online environments, they could:

  • Generate insight: Build real-time, unfiltered, ongoing feedback with consumers.
  • Build relationships and advocacy: Engage in conversations with consumers and build meaningful and durable relationships and create brand advocates. The conversation itself has value.
  • Create a new channel for marketing: Conversations with consumers provide an effective way to deliver messages to customers, if done openly and respectfully.



With this in mind, brands began to build online consumer communities. These communities have taken on many forms and may be anything from a standalone site powered by marketing software to private, dedicated Facebook Groups. 

This does beg the question: Do consumers want to commune with brands? Well, as my favorite business school professor used to say, the answer is always, “It depends.”

It depends on whether the engagement with the brand will provide value to the consumer.

4 Principles for Building A Strong Community

After years of building and managing online communities, we have observed four key ingredients for building a strong brand community:

1. Shared Purpose 

  • Communities are strongest when the members share common interests, backgrounds or hobbies.
  • Consider a dog food brand that wants to build a consumer community. The shared passion and love of their dogs will be a strong bond among community members and encourage these members to engage with one another in addition to the brand.

2. Connection

  • Communities must provide a place for authentic, free flow of conversation.
  • Connections can occur between a brand and community members, and among the members of a community.
  • Strong communities allow for fluid and genuine movement between online and in-person opportunity. 

3. Recognition

  • Community members should be recognized for their participation and contributions. Recognition can be granted through rewards, personalization, and access:
    • Rewards can be monetary, product, giveaways or other tangible value for consumer participation.
    • Personalization is “treating me like you know me.” Your community members, a/k/a customers, want to know that you know who they are.
    • Access to information, people, or services that are limited or exclusive

4. Impact 

  • If a brand creates a dialogue with consumers through a community, it’s imperative to let the consumer know that they been heard and that they are having an impact.
  • Brands can provide quick summaries of the most important conversations and most meaningful, or can tell customers the changes being made because of these insights.

The most successful communities that we observed have a combination of the above elements and, most importantly, show community members appreciation for their participation.

Building a dialogue with consumers is the first step in building a strong relationship. Digital has provided brands with unprecedented opportunities to engage with its customers. Consumer communities can provide brands with rich insight and value if executed correctly. 

What elements have you seen in successful brand communities? Comment below or tweet me @shespeaking to let me know.

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