How to Build a Brand Community from the Beginning
How many brands are there in the world?
Researchers at Nielsen list more than half a million brands in more than 2,000 categories. However, that’s just the ones they’ve listed. The actual count of brands could be a multiple of that number.
Regardless, it’s brand soup out there. How do you establish and build a brand when there’s so much competition? It’s a challenge for sure. One of the ways many companies build and enhance their brand is by building a brand community to augment their marketing efforts.
When you build a brand community, it creates additional opportunities for customers to engage with your brand and builds loyalty.
But first, let’s take a step back. We need to talk about why you need to build a brand community, why brand is important, and how to build (and engage) your community.
What Is a Brand Community?
A brand community brings together groups of customers and fans who are invested in your company more than just buying your products. They are emotionally invested in your products and want to engage with your brand.
When you look at the world’s most valuable brands, they all have one thing in common: a passionate base of loyalists. Think about the Apple advocates that line up (sometimes for days) to get the newest iPhone or the people that embrace Nike’s “Just Do It” mentality.
They’re more than just consumers and they help spread the brand message in ways the company itself would never be able to do. For example, Microsoft’s developer community now has tens of thousands of supporters. It’s spawned more than 20 distinct subgroups and launched dozens of blogs, podcasts, and video platforms. Developers freely give their time and ideas for free to help make Microsoft products better.
That’s a brand community.
The Importance of Brand Awareness
Perhaps the biggest reason to build a brand community is to enhance brand awareness.
Think of it this way. You have a series of ladders. Each ladder represents a different category of business. Upon each ladder, you have a limited number of spaces that can hold different brands. At the top of the ladder is the brand that’s foremost in your mind. Before you can even think about other brands on the ladder, this is the one that pops up first. To even think about other brands, you need to go past this one first.
Try this. Quick - think of a soft drink, a fast-food restaurant, a search engine, and a social media platform.
If you’re like most people, at the top of your ladder is Coke, McDonald’s, Google, and Facebook. It doesn’t matter if you really said Pepsi, Burger King, Duck Duck Go, or Twitter. The fact is that before you think of any other category, you’ll always think about the brand leader first.
Why Is Community Development Important?
When you build a brand community, you enhance your overall online brand presence in a variety of ways.
Creating a brand community connects at a deeper level with your customers. It increases your exposure by sharing valuable information, educating people about what you do (and why you do it), and encouraging them to support and join the conversation.
Communities let you have a better understanding about what your customers like (and don’t like) about your products and services. This can help you see things from the customer’s perspective rather than your own. It’s like getting market research for free from your most loyal customers.
It can also lead to strategic partnerships as you find synergies between you and online community members. When you successfully build a brand community, you create loyalists and influencers that will spread your message to others.
Creating a brand community can:
- Increase engagement with your brand
- Drive more traffic to your website
- Provide better communication with your customers
- Increase sign-ups to your newsletters, emails, and loyalty programs
- Increase trust and authority within your industry
- Solve customer problems before they escalate
- Enhance your brand marketing
Most importantly, brand loyalty pays off. Loyal customers will spend more and buy more often. Building a strong online community has been shown to lift brand revenue by as much as 20%.
How to Build Brand Community
When building a brand community, here are the key steps you need to take and things you need to define.
Of course, you have to define your brand before you can build a brand community. You need a clear definition of what your company stands for, what its mission is, and what your unique selling proposition is.
Coke, Nike, McDonald’s, Google, and Facebook are so associated with their core products that can make the association instantly. While your brand might not yet be established, it’s crucial that you have a clear understanding of what it is, how you want to position it, and what image you want to create in a customer’s mind.
You’ll also need to settle on a brand voice. That’s the way you say things and how you say it. Is your brand voice playful and fun, authoritative, intellectual, or helpful? Is it snarky or sarcastic? Whatever you choose, it should be consistent with your brand and permeate your marketing and your brand community.
All of this has to happen first before you build a brand community to make sure you send a consistent message.
Building a brand community will require you to establish digital brand guidelines for consistency. This will ensure your business has a strong brand identity that’s recognizable. This helps customers immediately identify your brand and associate it with your products or services.
Consistency is key. One recent study showed that a consistent presentation of a brand can lead to a 33% increase in revenue.
You’ll also need to decide what your goals are. While your overarching goal may be to build a brand community to help spread your message, build loyalty, and generate revenue, there are things you’ll need to decide on first, such as:
- What is the purpose?
Is it there to help people use your products, educate them about their business, help them develop their skills, or just to have fun? There’s no right or wrong answer, but your decision will dictate how you approach creating your online community.
- How will you measure success?
Depending on what you define as success, you’ll need to set up the metrics to measure it. You may want to track engagement, lead generation, conversions, or brand lift.
- How will your brand community support your brand?
We’ve told you that consistency is the key. Your brand community needs to align closely with the way you want to be perceived. When you have alignment between marketing and sales, things are more seamless.
- How will you market your brand community to increase engagement?
Build a brand community, and they will come — at least that’s the theory. Will they? That’s up to you. You’ll need to market your community to get people to join and then actively participate to encourage engagement.
You’ll also need to choose the platform you use to build a brand community.
- Online forums
- Social media
- Third-party platforms
Each has its pros and cons.
Online forums can be attached to your website, which means you get the benefit of online traffic to help market your products, services, and brand. Until it’s established, however, it can be limiting unless you market it effectively or customers stumble upon it.
Social media can reach people where they already are online, but unless you’re driving them to your website, you’re only getting part of the benefit.
Third-party platforms, such as Slack, can be great for instant communication and engaging a community, but you’re handing off your brand exposure to someone else.
Here’s the good news in all of this. Your brand community doesn’t need to be exclusive. You can activate social channels and third-party platforms, for example, to support and market your online forums. Each channel can work in concert with the others to reinforce your overall brand message.
We’d suggest that it’s crucial to engage every communication channel in some form to elicit engagement. We live in an omnichannel world now. It’s not unusual for customers to use email, text, phone, chat, or social media to communicate and even change channels within short periods. Your presence across channels is crucial for customer service and support and it’s important for your community forum as well.
This takes us back to alignment. When you have an active brand community, your customer support team can help guide customers to engage. Let’s say someone asks how to use a feature of your product in a live chat with your support team. Your support team can send them the link to the brand community forum or knowledge center that has tutorials.
Even better, they might be able to tell that customer “Here’s a how-to guide to use that feature and a link to how several customers used that feature in unique ways.”
Engage Your Community
When you build a brand community, community communication will be essential. If you build a brand community, you must continue to engage participants in an authentic and genuine manner.
This requires responding to questions, driving conversations, and rewarding people for participation. It will take active management and engagement on your part if you want customers to participate.
A Brand Community Is Not Just a Marketing Ploy
In the early 80s, Harley-Davidson was on the brink of collapse. Today, it has a market cap of $5.93 billion. What changed? Harley-Davidson stopped being a motorcycle company and became a lifestyle. Harley engaged bike riders and embraced their community. Then, the company retooled its entire strategy to align with the culture and its customers.
Successfully creating a brand community should not be the sole function of the marketing department. It needs to be central to the company’s core mission.
Above all, your brand community needs to be a sincere effort to deliver value to your customers. If it doesn’t, no amount of marketing will work.