Marketing

Why Brand Communities Are Awesome (and How to Build Your Own)

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Matt Moran

6 Jan, 2020

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In today’s increasingly isolated world, consumers are hungry for a sense of belonging. Studies show that the majority of Americans report feelings of loneliness and online communities are a great way to help foster connections between like minded people.

Creating an online community around your brand is a modern, customer-centric approach to marketing and one that businesses of all sizes should be considering. 

In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about brand communities, their benefits, and how to create your own. We’ll also be sharing some brand community examples from companies that are already nailing it. 

Let’s get started!

What is a brand community?

In a nutshell, a brand community is a group of customers brought together by a shared interest in your brand or what your brand stands for. They’re a group that is united in some way under the banner of your brand.

Note that this doesn’t necessarily make them ‘fans’ of your brand (though they often will be), as in many cases, members of a brand community are more interested in the community benefits rather than the brand itself.

It’s all about breaking down those customer-brand boundaries and making customers feel like they’re part of your brand. It’s about taking a ‘we’ rather than an ‘us-and-them’ approach to customer interactions.

We’re going to break down the different types of brand communities later on but first, let’s talk about why brand communities are important.

Want to get in front of another brand’s community?  Private Communities on Ampjar allow you to do just that – we place your content in front of other like-minded brands automatically.

The benefits of brand communities

Creating a brand community takes time, but the pay-off can be more than worth it. Brands that do it correctly get a few significant benefits:

Source of authentic, user-generated content

One of the biggest benefits to brand communities is that they are a free source of authentic, user-generated content around your products and services. Online communities can provide you with product reviews, comments, and Q & As that can be used as social proof to attract new customers..

Reviews, in particular, are incredibly valuable considering the fact that 97% of online buyers read reviews before making a purchase.

Fosters brand loyalty

Brand communities also foster brand loyalty by making your customers feel more invested in your brand. This translates to increased revenue, as two-thirds of consumers spend more on brands that they’re loyal to

Reduced customer support costs

Online brand communities and forums can function almost like a customer service department. Your customers can ask questions, troubleshoot problems and get answers from other members of the community.

This means less work for your customer support teams and is a big reason why almost half of businesses with online communities report annual cost savings of between 10% and 25%.

Increased brand exposure and credibility

Brand communities also contribute to your marketing efforts by sharing and promoting your brand to their own social networks (almost like a form of collaborative marketing). This increases brand exposure, as well as brand credibility. Customers are more likely to trust your brand when they can see social proof, and an active community is a pretty big sign of success.

A valuable source of data, insights, and feedback

Around two-thirds of businesses use their brand communities to gain insight into new products and services. This makes a lot of sense – your brand communities provide you with an abundance of honest data and feedback.

What makes this especially great is that the feedback you get is likely to be much more accurate as the participants in your research don’t know they’re being studied.

Better customer retention

Brand communities provide an excellent channel for post-purchase communications. Your customers can continue to interact with your brand long after they’ve made their purchase which can translate to better customer retention and more return business.

Great pre-release channel

A novel way to leverage your brand community is to use it as a pre-release channel. You can share or present new products and services with your community before the official public launch. That way, you can get feedback from your brand’s key customers and use it to iron out any kinks before launch day.

Types of brand communities

Now that we’ve covered the benefits, let’s take a look at some concrete, tangible brand community examples to get a better idea of what they might look like.

Forums

Online forums are a great, simple way to create an online community around your brand. Brand forums can be a place for users to ask questions, share ideas, and connect to other like-minded people.

Sephora offers a great example of how effective a well-organized forum can be. Their online community forum, Beauty Talk, includes a beauty board where users can upload pictures of themselves wearing Sephora products, which then link back to those product pages. 

This isn’t just a great way to promote community conversations, but it’s also turning those conversations into a sales channel. The community members become product promoters and help drive purchases of the products the use.

They also use it as a place to post customer service questions and condense their customer relations into one organized channel and share information about offline community events.

Starbucks also does something similar through its online community, My Starbucks Idea. This is a forum in which coffee enthusiasts can share their ideas for other members to vote on. 

It gives customers a platform to make their own suggestions and feel more included in brand decisions. In turn, this makes them feel valued, which improves customer loyalty and retention. It also provides a source of inspiration for Starbucks, who regularly implement the best customer ideas.

Social media groups

Social media groups are another type of online brand community. Small brands can create Facebook Groups or Reddit communities where their fans can interact, ask questions and create social ties.

Even your Instagram business account counts as a brand community. After all, your Instagram followers are a group of users that share an interest in your brand. 

You can foster that sense of community by sharing user-generated content on your social accounts; by posting regular, engaging posts and inviting your followers to engage with them, or by engaging with their posts. 

For example, the philanthropic jewelry brand the Giving Keys shares user-generated content on their Instagram page under the hashtag #thegivingkeys. They invite their customers to create their own Instagram Stories and use the hashtag to join the conversation and spread awareness. This helps to bring the community together under a common goal.  

Ambassador programs

One example of a more advanced brand community is an ambassador program. Brand ambassador programs involve selecting individuals who embody your brand to act as hubs within your community.

Let’s look at Xbox for a good example. Xbox has its own brand ambassador program in place where individuals with a certain Gamerscore and membership can become ‘Xbox Ambassadors’. 

These individuals function as pillars of the community and are encouraged to do things like host Twitch shows, create YouTube videos, provide support on the Xbox forums, give feedback, and more. In return, they’re rewarded with perks including Xbox games and merchandise. 

Ambassador programs do two things: they provide Xbox’s most engaged community members a way to get more involved with their brand, and they use those members to generate even more community involvement from other members. 

Selecting your brand ambassadors from those already involved in your community is a great approach, but you can also choose ambassadors based on their reach or influence. 

For example, many brands get celebrities and high-profile influencers to act as their brand influencers in exchange for a financial reward. These ambassadors are paid a flat-fee or via an affiliate program.

Fashion Nova is a great example of this – their program has been partly responsible for their meteoric rise on social media. They collaborated with an army of micro-influencers and big-name celebrities like Kylie Jenner to dominate their target markets and bolster their brand awareness. 

Rewards/Loyalty programs

Setting up customer rewards/loyalty programs is another great way to create a community around your brand. 

This is central to Starbucks’ brand community. Their Starbucks Rewards program allows customers to earn Stars when they make purchases, attend events, and complete other brand interactions.

Once they’ve earned enough, they can cash them in for free products and work their way up a tiered system towards Starbucks Gold VIP status. Gold VIP Starbucks customers get their own personalized gold Starbucks card increases their ties to the brand.

Contests

Contests involve encouraging your community to take part in some kind of competition related to your brand. It’s a great way to strengthen your community and get people engaged.

Let’s look at Lego as an example. They provide a brand community channel called Lego Ideas, which allows customers to submit design ideas, vote on other submissions, and more. The ideas that get the most community support are made into real products which is an awesome reward for Lego enthusiasts.

This doesn’t just generate excitement in the Lego community, it also provides invaluable market research for Lego. Their customers develop their product designs for them.

How to start and manage your own brand community (step by step)

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how you can start and manage your own brand community.

Step 1: Define your brand image

Before you can build a brand community, you need to know what your brand is.

That’s why building a brand starts with identifying your brand’s archetype, vision, and values. Once your customers know what your brand stands for, it will be easier to find a group of people that can get behind that image. 

Step 2: Choose a platform for your community

The next step is providing that group with an outlet to communicate with each other and your brand; a place to socially interact with each other in a way that fosters that sense of community.

To choose a platform, you’ll need to think about who your audience is and how they like to engage. 

It might be best to start with something simple, like a forum for your website or a Facebook group. You can promote these community hubs through email marketing, social media, or any other of your marketing channels.

Step 3: Give them a reason to stay involved

It’s no good to create a community hub that nobody uses – you need to give your members a real reason to engage in your community. Foster conversations through things like polls, contests, and questions. Get creative and think about ways you can help to make your community as active as possible.

Step 4: Utilize your brand community

The final step is leveraging that community for your own business efforts, whether that’s by using it to get customer feedback, reinforce brand loyalty, drive product sales, or get help with product research. 

Creating a strong, active community is hard work and takes time to get right.  However, as the above examples have shown, getting it right can have tremendous advantages for your business.

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