As I travel around the country speaking about brand advocacy and engagement, the question I am often asked is, “What makes for a truly successful brand-owned community?” Having worked with many marketers on establishing a home base for their consumers, or when I consider other companies that have made meaningful connections with their fans, my answer is this: the most successful brand communities are grounded in deep emotion.
The marketers doing it well understand that, at the end of the day, it’s not a product they are selling, it’s a lifestyle. And actually, it’s not even a brand they’re promoting through these communities; it’s a movement. Passion is the positioning. Of course, the idea of stoking emotion isn’t new to branding. But sometimes when it comes to building a community, marketers forget this, focusing on “product facts” not on “product feels.” I caution against this because, once a consumer knows everything there is to know about a product’s functionality, what is the reason to return? So don’t get stuck on features. Instead, make an emotional connection with the consumer’s life for the long-term.
Help Them Find Their Tribe
The best brand communities foster a sense of belonging, a powerful human need. At the heart is how the brand supports a shared lifestyle. The community becomes the place where lifestyle participants find their cohort and feel like they are part of something important to be shared. A brand like Under Armour has skillfully created a sense of unity and proudly states that it has never been solely about their products. It has not always been easy for Under Armour. Their strategy, which has been grounded in grassroots efforts, promotes a powerful underdog challenger story, fighting it out with behemoths. With its relatable emotions, it’s no wonder, so many consumers gravitate to their brand. In fact, 165M fans have downloaded the Under Armour Record App, a home to connect behind the scenes and to stay abreast of brand news and product innovation.
Fortunately for CPG companies, apparel manufacturers aren’t the only ones who can create a home for their consumers. There are many brands I can think of who have the potential to gather their most devoted consumers for meaningful brand-consumer interaction. For example, La Croix mineral water has grown exponentially by pursuing word-of-mouth via social media and welcomes content on its website created by micro influencers, everyday people that are influential among their social and familial circles. Brand fans share posts that show how they #LiveLaCroix. A next step would be to have consumers opt into a brand-owned community enabling the brand to engage more meaningfully in two-way communication and natural advocacy.
Real Emotion Amplifies Authentic Engagement
What the best brand communities have in common are consumers that would’ve advocated and taken action even without a brand-owned home. Increasing their brand engagement and exerting their influence on others is a natural byproduct of the deep feelings they already have. With goodwill toward the brand and their fellow community members as the foundation, advocacy is organic. Real life emotions result in authentic relationships and trigger the intuitive propensity for action on behalf of the brand.
Inspiring Influence and Welcoming Co-creation
The most effective communities do a good job at balancing co-creation with brand-driven action. This means allowing consumers to steer part of the marketing by telling their stories in their own way. Handing over control of the brand narrative can be intimidating for marketers. But to encourage meaningful user generated content in a context that will inspire other compatible consumers to purchase, consumers must be empowered to contribute authentically. Further, community members are power users of the brand who can inspire what’s next in the form of line extensions, new features, product refinement, and more.
An Insights Goldmine
Discovering ways to evolve the brand is just one example of the strategic potential of a brand-owned community. It can also be mined for insights to inform the outreach of every Marketing stakeholder, such as testing promotions, messaging, retail strategy, or loyalty program features. By involving the most highly engaged in the strategic process, brands improve end-to-end interaction along the consumer journey, from discovery to post-purchase engagement.