Brand communities start out as psychological communities in the mind of the brand users. When users first identify with a brand, they eventually find a connection to other people who are involved in the same activities because of the central role it plays in their lives. This attraction leads to social groupings that eventually create social brand communities.
By Jenny Lee, The CultBranding Company
Three Signatures of Community
Brand communities demonstrate three attributes (...) 1: a shared consciousness; 2: rituals and traditions; and 3: a sense of moral responsibility.
1. Shared Consciousness:
A shared consciousness is the connection members have with the brand and with one another. Through this constellation of social bonds, members feel as if they know each other even in the absence of face-to-face contact. This connection creates a feeling of “specialness” among brand users. For example, since Mac users are a minority in a PC-dominated world, there may be an instant feeling of camaraderie with fellow Mac users who are strangers in every other way. Mac users share a creative lifestyle aligned with a certain aesthetic appeal that makes them stand apart from the masses. Yet in their separation, they stand together in their bonds of shared consciousness.
2. Rituals and Traditions:
The second marker of community is rituals and traditions. These may involve public greetings that recognize and acknowledge fellow brand users. For example, Harley owners share a special handshake that consolidates the brother-sisterhood of riders. MINI also proudly fosters a solid network of customer communities —the MINI Family, as it’s called— connected throughout the world. MINI explains, “Dating back to its birth in the UK, there’s a long-standing tradition of MINI owners acknowledging each other when they pass on the streets … so when you pass another MINI, don’t be shy. Give them a wave. It could be as subtle as raising an index finger off the steering wheel or as enthusiastic as two hands out the sunroof.” You’ll also hear MINI drivers acknowledging one another by flicking their headlights, and even giving high fives out the window while passing each other by. These rituals and traditions help reinforce the shared consciousness among brand users.
3. Moral Responsibility:
Brand communities are further marked by a collective sense of moral responsibility to individual members as well as the community-as-a-whole.This marker can be seen in MUGs, independent clubs supported by users who convene to share their love of Mac. Apple’s Web site reads, “As a Mac user, you can experience a feeling of connectedness by finding other Mac users in your community.” One benefit of MUG membership is to teach others: “Maybe you’ve got some of the answers. User groups are a rewarding way for you to share your expertise. Someone may have helped you learn about technology; now you can repay the favor while meeting new people and making new contacts.” Furthermore, people tend to think they are attracted to others because they have similar opinions and not because they participate in similar activities. Research on friendships has found that participation in mutually pleasurable activities may be a stronger motivator for friendship choice and maintenance, compared to the satisfaction in knowing that someone agrees with you.
Friendships are born out of participation in shared activities, which are the main attractions that brand communities offer.
With this understanding, the steps to foster brand communities can be broken down into psychological and social components. Although both aspects are important, as we’ve mentioned, the psychological lays the foundation for the social. Decoding the psychological dimensions will provide the necessary insights that will help materialize tangible offerings within the social dimension.
• Understand what needs your brand fulfills in your best customers.
• Identify your brand’s archetype.
• Align your efforts to one singular vision and keep your message consistent. Knowing what your
business stands for makes it easier for consumers to commit to your brand.
• Use the insights gained from your customers’ psychological attraction to the brand as inspiration
for developing programs to support community.
• Sponsor social events, whenever possible, that reflect your brand’s mission.
• Acknowledge and authenticate the community. Strong communities provide a sense of identity totheir members and become an integral part of their lives.
• Support the community so that it reinforces the psychological attraction customers have towards your brand.
• Set up the conditions for a fun, playful environment where friendships can be made. The stronger the bond members have to one another, the stronger the bond members will have with your brand.
• Don’t control the community. Instead, participate as a co-creator. View communities as an opportunity to stay close to your consumers and to discover ways to innovate around their needs.
• Communities aren’t focus groups. Don’t think of them as a way to gather data but as a way for customers to fall in love with your brand.
• Differences help define group identity. Look to your competitors and see how your “enemies” can be leveraged to reinforce the culture of the community (think Mac vs. PC).
• Understand that every touch point contributes to the perception of your brand.
• Lastly, sell into your internal team, aligning them to a shared vision of what your brand represents.
These are only a few excerpts from a white paper titled “Why We Join: A Sociological and Psychological
Analysis of Brand Communities”. You can download it freely (along with an illustrative presentation) here.
Published in Cultbranding
Via BrandXpress , May 28th, 2009