All Marketers’ Eyes on Brand Community!
People no longer buy products; they buy things from brands and personalities that they trust. In most cases, the overwhelming amount of marketing information that constantly bombards the average modern consumer is too much to take in. No matter how incredible your product may be, its marketing will likely be ignored if the customers do not have a personal connection to your brand.
One of the best ways to ensure that your target market continues to associate its lifestyle with your brand is a brand community.
Online Brand Community from Scratch
Although there are no hard and fast rules about how to present a community, there are definitely some tried and true measures that are more likely to work if you are short on ideas. There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting from a template; only make sure that you are constantly updating your brand community according to the needs of the community that you are fostering.
Most brand communities have a solid foundation on a message board that is divided by topic. These boards will usually have moderators that will oversee the administration of the board, making sure that the discussion is relevant to the topic at hand and the brand overall. The position of moderator can be used as a reward for loyal customers – many people believe it to be an honor to be asked to moderate.
From the message board a community can branch out into many other communication arenas. Many will form meetup communities so that members of the community who are local to each other can meet each other. In many cases these events are sponsored by the company and will include some company theme.
A community may also hold contests and have giveaways that are unique to the community. The company may have coupons and other incentives as an outbound marketing tactic, but the best rewards are reserved for the inner circle.
The online community may continue its foray and become a full fledged club. Club members will often make the brand a part of their lifestyle, enhancing the company image. Harley Davidson is perhaps the best example of this, with the logo and the products taking on a higher meaning than other kinds of motorcycles in the lexicon of American history.
Two types of approaches can be chosen once a company has decided to use the idea of an online community. The first major type of community is the type that links people through the products of the company itself. This is the type of community that Harley-Davidson has created around its brand. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, you can gain an instant camaraderie with another Harley Davidson rider simply off of brand that you both use.
The second type of community is created by understanding the demographic that uses your products. This community may be formed for the purpose of selling more products, but the products are not the lead source of fellowship. Rather than creating a community that is completely centered around the brand such as Harley-Davidson, a company can also create a community that is centered around similar issues. For instance, a company that is selling wheatgrass might create a community around recycling rather than the actual product that it is selling. This has the advantage of appearing selfless and giving a company the look of authenticity and service. This type of grouping works especially well if a brand is not a lifestyle brand.
Whether your community is formed around the products or around similar issues, your brand must be known as the expert in the field. This is the only way that any community will form around your brand at all. In order to become known as an expert in an industry, a few things must take place.
First of all, first responders in the industry must feel as though you have something to offer. The first responders are the people who adopt new products first. These are the social leaders whom others look to for new trends. If your brand is the one that they adopt, then you can bet that their social circles will be soon to adopt your brand as well. This is the type of public relations that you simply cannot buy, no matter how big your marketing budget may be.
Second, you must pass the test of authenticity on a consistent basis. Many companies are seen as industry leaders and quickly lose that distinction because of bad customer service or an inability to communicate on social media. Consumers today expect a fully transparent company that is keen to have two-way conversations. A full 90% of customers expect a reply when they leave a comment on the Facebook status of a company. One reason that most companies are not as successful as they want to be is that only a quarter of companies actually respond on Facebook consistently.
The Power of Brand Community
Forming a brand community is not often profitable at the beginning stages. However, there are definitely many advantages to taking the loss upfront in order to see the rewards later. Here are just a few of the reasons that you need the power of a brand community behind your company.
If you have ever tried to generate leads in a synthetic manner, then you understand how quickly that can become stale. Lead generation companies will quickly sell you lists of people who want nothing to do with your products. You will spend most of your time on the phone dealing with rejection after rejection. If you want to generate leads in a productive way, then you need to build a brand community that will generate your leads for you.
Think of yourself when you are the consumer: You will respond much more quickly to a friend or trusted colleague recommending a certain brand than you will to a hard-sell ad from television or radio. As a matter of fact, response rates are anywhere from 50 to 60% higher when this happens.
Higher Sales ROI
The quickest way to get to the audience who is actually looking for your product is to generate your leads through your brand community. However, this process will also lead to a much higher return on any investment that you make after that point. People will be looking for you to be the expert in their lives on this particular topic. In short, you come in with trust to lose rather than having to gain trust. This translates to a higher conversion rate and a better ROI on any marketing activity that you undertake.
You also have the ability to branch out into much more effective methods of marketing. In the midst of consumer backlash about large companies like Walmart taking advantage of people in the recession of 2008, American Express created Small Business Saturday. Instead of being lumped into the same pile as Walmart, American Express was hailed as a hero in the press. However, the only reason that American Express was able to create this narrative behind itself was because of the stalwart community retweeting its posts and PR pieces across the Internet. You can do the same thing if you have a community behind you that will support your efforts.
Your Next Move
While you are focusing on your product quality, it behooves your business to focus on your brand quality as well. Be sure that you are creating a place in which your customers feel important and connected to your company. This is how you will turn skeptics and one time buyers into loyal customer who will spread the word about your company for you for years to come.