In the digital space, it’s easy to forget that what sits behind your sales figures are real people. And if there’s one thing people crave, it’s a sense of belonging. So much so that it now even informs our purchase decisions.
A brand community is a customer base that’s emotionally invested in who you are and what you’re looking to achieve. They’re not passive followers on social media, but actively involved and part of your brand’s story.
When you build a brand community, you bring together like minded people to create a powerful shared experience. These people become loyal, lifelong customers - they’ll buy from you time and time again, engage with and share your content, and tell their friends and family about you. They’ll also create stories of their own that really bring your brand to life.
In short, a brand community is a collection of your biggest advocates, and probably the most powerful tool for driving growth.
A brand community can help you move forward in so many ways. First and foremost, it’s the key to great marketing. Members not only help spread the word, but put a relatable spin on your story. They add a human touch that shows others they too can be part of that same community.
Second, you get direct access to what matters most - your target audience. You can use your brand community to trial new products or services, ask for opinions on development ideas, and make better informed, customer focused decisions.
What’s important to note is this - your brand community is already out there somewhere. It’s your job to find them, and develop strategies that bring these people together to share and shout about the experience you offer.
You can’t build a community around a brand with a confused identity, so the first thing you need to do is define exactly who you are. Ask yourself why you exist in the first place and what problem you’re trying to solve. Along with your purpose, define your values, tone of voice and brand persona. The key to encouraging emotional ties is to create an image your audience can identify with.
You also need to determine what you want from your brand community, how you’ll drive engagement, and how you’ll measure success. Build a strategy based on specific goals and metrics as you would with any other business activity. After all, you won’t know if your efforts are paying off unless you know what you’re trying to achieve.
Once you’ve developed the bones of your strategy, you can move on to finding the right platforms through which to deploy it. There’s a lot of avenues to choose here, including:
Social media - whether you use your own brand profile or create a group, social media is the ideal platform to build a brand community through. You can easily share content, both brand and user generated, kick start conversations and promote an all round community buzz with the potential for huge reach.
Rewards and referrals - drive loyalty by offering rewards like points for purchases, or discounts and exclusive offers for membership holders. You can also encourage community growth by giving a monetary reward for every referral made.
Third party platforms - consider if there’s a third party platform you can use to create a forum for community members, or if there’s any other brands you can partner up with to host virtual or in person events (there’s a great example of this in our success stories below).
Your brand community won’t build or run itself. You need to keep members continually engaged and let them know they’re valued. Have an active voice, responding to any comments, questions and feedback. Get them involved in activities and share valuable content that cements relationships, both between the community and your brand, and the members themselves.
To get your cogs turning, here’s a couple of success stories from two brands in the cycling apparel market. They both cater to elite riders and weekend enthusiasts alike with performance led products, but their brand communities have different vibes.
It’s all about where they’ve set the needle, and how they’ve focused on what matters most to their core audience.
An Australian (now global) brand founded in 2014, MAAP’s brand community has been built through multiple techniques. This includes rides held all over Australia, led by its biggest brand advocates. It’s also teamed up with Strava to host around four events a year, encouraging global participation to extend its community reach.
MAPP understands the makeup of its primary audience - their interest, lifestyles, and the tools and technology they use. It’s tapped into that to bring like minded people together, and as a result is experiencing substantial growth.
As its name suggests, Fat Lad At The Back’s primary audience is the cycling enthusiast with a somewhat different body type from the typical rider. Fat Lad At The Back’s brand community is so established its members have their own name - Flampions. Champions of the brand that have formed their own cycling groups to make the sport accessible, inclusive and fun for everyone, regardless of their size or shape. There’s around 60 of these groups across the UK, helping to propel Fat Lad to the forefront of its niche.
Whatever sector you're in, building a brand community is key. The more digitally distanced our lives become, the more we look for those things that bring us together. If you can create that sense of belonging, you can transform your brand into a movement.
All it takes is one person - one early adopter to recognise a good thing. Invest in this believer and you’ll soon see that people follow people. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole community of believers rallying around your brand.