All In It Together: Building Brand Community

Consumerism is not a new thing – but it has transformed with the rise of the technological age. With customers more informed than ever about products, services and value for money, creating a sense of brand loyalty calls for customer engagement – which comes about through the construction of a brand community.

What is Brand Community?

Creating a brand community is not an optional extra – it’s something that should be cemented firmly into your company’s way of understanding and engaging your customers and the wider community.
Brand community is the social space you build around your business that encourages conversation around shared interests and experience. With a focus on customer needs, brands should always consider local individual consumers as well as larger companies, to ensure a personalised touch that welcomes all kinds of consumers to participate in your brand’s community.

No two brand communities have the same look or feel. For example, a real-estate brand’s community would likely generate conversation around the property market, financial offers, lifestyle, employment opportunities, location, accessibility, culture, property features and building materials, architecture, customer service and so on.
In contrast, a cake-making business’ community may enable feedback from consumers about the taste of the cakes and the customer service, with conversations around popular cake design themes and skills, children’s birthday parties, catering opportunities, with potential for people to share photos of themselves with their cakes and thus directly engage them in the brand’s community.

How does your brand objective overlap with your consumers’ needs? Keeping this mantra in mind at all times is key in ensuring that you’re pumping out relevant, engaging and valuable communications to your target market.

Knowing Your Consumers

Human beings crave to feel socially connected, in-the-loop and as though they have the ability to make informed decisions. Whether it’s deciding what kind of fruit to use in your morning smoothie based on which type has the least amount of sugar, or choosing your ultimate dream home thanks to the luxury 3D virtual reality tour you took of the impressive display suite, using your iPad.

Getting to know what your consumers want and need, as well as their expectations, buying habits and demographics is pivotal to understanding the direction of your brand personality, which will in turn affect the way your consumers respond. 
Generally, consumers will join your brand community because they want to be informed, to create social networks, to be heard, because they are requiring assistance, because they were recommended by a friend, because they saw your marketing campaign or simply because they are curious.

Nadav Shoval, CEO of Spot.IM, which is a developer of embeddable social networks for publishers, states:

"It's clear from the success of social networks that people are looking to connect. But in a content-saturated, noisy world, they only want to do so in relevant ways. A branded community gives online connection the purpose it needs to be sustainable… Communities aren't just a random gathering, they're a group of people who have come together for a purpose. It's that purpose that is the critical ingredient for making a community successful."

Let’s face it, nobody likes to be dictated to or micro-managed. That’s why brands can only tantalise consumers, as opposed to ordering them to join their brand community. No consumer HAS TO join your brand community. But creating an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and seen as having value to the customer will create a breadcrumb trail that leads right to your brand’s door.
Making sure that there is simple accessibility to your brand – whether it’s via social media channels, website, email, EDMs, phone, location information, events or blogs – will create a bridge that consumers can easily cross in making that first connection with your brand. Staying up-to-date with brand news, latest offers, customer interaction and providing relevant content are all factors that will influence how engaged your consumers might be within your brand community.

Using Social Media As Your Translator

“Going viral” seems to be every brand’s dream these days, with the wide reach of Youtube videos, notorious memes and infamous tweets. But is there more to it than just getting likes and shares?
Your brand’s social media community is more than just an attractive page filled with logos and product photos. If anything, it’s a portal through which you can share your brand’s personality with the world, and communicate directly with consumers. Consumer engagement through social media platforms involves the potential for creating conversations that matter, and fostering an interpersonal relationship between many consumers and the brand at once. Generating input through engaging, relevant content allows consumers to apply their own experiences via comments, likes, shares, user reviews and testimonials. The increased visibility of your brand via shares invites new followers to learn about and use your services/product, encouraging them to join your brand’s conversation.

Social media can driving traffic to your website, while receiving real-time feedback for improvements to services/products through user statistics. Staying active with your brand’s online presence (without being spammy) lets consumers know that you’re interested, interesting and open to communication. Creating meaningful, positive relationships with individual consumers constructs a feeling of trustworthiness, respect (consumer to brand and brand to consumer) and personalised service. Whether it’s a brand’s timely response to a customer’s question on Facebook, or a brand’s professional handling of an offensive comment made by a consumer on a social media site, all eyes are on your brand’s community presence. Using customer feedback as strategy by listening and learning from consumer response and behaviour can help your brand grow and improve.

Online presence allows brand to consumer communication – letting consumers know that their feedback is valuable allows them to feel as though their opinions are being heard, and may lead to their loyalty to you over your competitors, as they feel they might be having an influence over your brand’s next move. It also encourages consumer to consumer communication – often referred to as ‘word-of-mouth’. If people receive exceptional service, or a product that has impacted significantly on them, they are likely to share their experiences with people in their social network, both online and in their physical surroundings. This kind of free advertising relies on trust between people and their friends, as well as your willingness to be consistent with your services provided.

Being authentic to your brand will ensure that you create an appropriate community for your business, but communication is what can help you keep that community orbiting around your brand. Ultimately, inviting consumers to feel a sense of ownership in your brand through active engagement, rewards, conversation and feedback is a step towards cementing customer loyalty in your brand community.