What is a community” What is a brand community?In a modern world, especially when faced with challenges such as a global pandemic, our chances to forge human-to-human connections are dwindling. Without any obvious ways to fill this gap, people are looking to brand interactions to give them a sense of community and identity. A community is a group of individuals that bond over shared values and interests, and a sense of obligation to each other. If a community forms around a brand, that brand can leverage the emotional and social needs that the brand community provides, increasing bonds between community members and the brand itself. The brand community can become a space where the brand can speak to customers in a humanised way, vastly improving the customer experience. A well-shaped brand community can flourish with minimal input, forming profound connections with customers for a fraction of the cost of traditional campaigns.
Why should you have a brand community?Here are some specific ways in which a brand community can help your brand:
Market researchKnowing what customers think about you is a business essential, but market research can be costly. By talking to communities directly through brand community platforms, brands on a budget can gauge the mood of consumers without resorting to expensive focus groups and surveys. In fact, Oracle’s Socially Driven Collaboration Report found that 71% of companies use customer collaborations for market research. Many brands have found that brand communities are steering their market research in a more profound way. Sector Intelligence asked brand managers at 16 leading companies that used brand communities about the way these communities have changed the way they think about their customers. 86% of these companies reported a “deeper/richer insight into customer needs” and 82% say they now have the “ability to listen/uncover new questions.”
Brand visibilityAchieving a significant share of voice online in an increasingly crowded market is always going to be a challenge, but branded communities can help brands amplify what’s already there. According to Inversoft, 77% of companies believe that an online community significantly improves a brand’s exposure, awareness, and credibility. This has a positive knock-on effect on the bottom line; Hubspot reports that 80% of marketers indicate that building brand communities has increased traffic. Young sports clothing brand Gymshark caught long-established retailers off-guard because they quickly realised how powerful and cost-effective making full use of communities could be. Glance at Gymshark’s Instagram page and you’ll notice the high levels of engagement that they’ve managed to cultivate in their diverse pool of fans. In addition, Gymshark’s community-based marketing means that they can change campaign directions fast to make the best of changing situations such as pandemic lockdowns and keep the all-important social share of voice high. Last year, Gymshark mobilised their fans for the #sweatyselfie challenge, encouraging people to exercise whilst raising £1 for NHS Charities for every post tagged. It’s tempting to think that social media is an effective substitute for a separately managed branded community, as it gives brands an opportunity to interact with individuals on a human level, and communities can congregate around special pages and hashtags. However, research shows that online communities come out on top by some way when it comes to increasing purchase power. According to a Michigan University study, customers spend 19% more after joining a company’s online community in comparison to third party sites like Facebook.
Build creative communities and increase your earned mediaOne way that brand communities increase the social share of voice is through encouraging the creation of user-generated content (UGC) and other earned media. UGC is content by engaged customers, which can take many forms: written or video reviews, product demonstrations, tutorials, and many more creative applications besides. In return, brands can reward hard work by showcasing UGC on their socials and elsewhere along the purchase path. More than 50% of consumers want a brand to tell them what type of content to create and share (Merkley & Partners), so don’t be afraid to set challenges with clear instructions. Lego’s Ideas community website is a neat demonstration of how a brand can collaborate directly with their community in order to shape their business direction. Within the community, anyone can submit new Lego designs to a community vote, with the winning designs standing a chance of being turned into a commercially available Lego set where the designer earns 1% of royalties.
Build TrustAccording to media agency UM, despite its influencer marketing growing in popularity with brands, only 4% of customers trust paid influencers. So how can a brand cultivate authenticity at a time when trust is at an all-time low” By moving to community-based marketing, brands can benefit from the trust that people-centric marketing builds. Research from Nielsen shows that 92% of consumers trust earned media such as reviews and recommendations from family and friends, more than traditional media. The benefits from these deep and authentic connections run both ways. By humanising the interaction between consumer and brand, and by cultivating trust, the customer experience is greatly enhanced. According to GlobalWebIndex report, community site members felt that communities were better than social media sites for getting their voice heard (19% higher). This is reflected in the bottom line: In CMX’s 2017 Community Value and Metrics Report, it was found that during the buying decision-making process, 27.3% of customers used an online community dedicated to the product or service.
ConclusionMost brands are fortunate to have willing customers ready and waiting to collaborate with them, they just need to be discovered via the content they share to social media. Luckily, technology has evolved to enable brands to leverage social listening capabilities to discover their most vocal community members and invite them into a brand-owned community experience. Team up with a digital platform that allows you to cultivate strong brand communities, and you’ll unlock a powerful wealth of UGC, lasting customer bonds and a cost-effective marketing strategy that can weather fast-changing global situations.
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