Brand communities are becoming more and more important.
No longer just a buzzword, the concept of a brand community was ushered in first by digital and increasingly by social media as users moved from just searching for, to congregating around a brand and subsequently expecting more meaningful interactions with it.
Any kind of community shares similar qualities, whether it’s a brand one or not. Users are learning and speaking to each other - and brands can act as both a facilitator of these conversations and/or take part in them (as long as this is done on the community's terms!). Indeed, Reddit recently launched a new in-house agency tasked with helping brands achieve this.
Brand communities are naturally an incredibly important way of both generating word-of-mouth custom and building loyalty, so strangely fit into both the acquisition and retention aspects of the marketing mix.
With acquisition increasingly competitive and complex for any brand, brand communities are an evolving necessity and exciting new opportunity.
They are a tactic that has gained more attention due to the maturing of Generation Z and their more value-based approach to consumerism as well as the Covid-19 pandemic which, in parallel, has increased the importance of digital and made brands re-evaluate what it is that will attract and keep their audiences engaged online.
It's therefore understandable that many brands are keen to tap into the community realm; however, building an enduring, authentic brand community is not necessarily straightforward. As reinvention company Jackman found in its recent Human Insights Study, there are many pitfalls that a brand may fall into, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to be followed.
Brands and community after Covid-19
For any brand which seeks to connect with consumers in the real world, Covid-19 has naturally had a serious impact on what they can do in this space. Many have rethought what they’re doing around digital.
However, now that the threat has subsided, can things go back to normal?
Obviously, not everything is now the same as pre-pandemic, but brand communities are likely to be of value, whatever happens next in our journey through (and hopefully out of) the pandemic.
According to GWI, people have now moved away from anticipating a life without Covid-19, to adjusting to life with it.
Subsequently, there are a number of new trends that have evolved and been consolidated because of it.
According to the Swiss Re Group, these include increased digital adoption and changes in purchasing behaviour.
Digital adoption has become mainstream now and even older age groups have adopted a ‘millennial mindset’ in which they rely on friends and digital sources to learn then buy, rather than former traditional information channels. Meanwhile, surveys have shown that consumers in several regions worldwide have shifted to value-based purchasing, meaning any brand has to express their values and reasons to buy through content marketing in order to attract consumers.
And, although physical movement is now easing, consumers have been migrating into virtual worlds at an unprecedented rate where they are now exposed to newer influences. This trend is unlikely to go away - a key note for marketers.
Brand communities and events
Online events is another topic that’s been researched by GWI in their paper Virtual Events and Interactions, with them concluding while virtual events helped brands to get through the pandemic, they’re unlikely to go away:
"With 8 in 10 consumers having attended at least one of the virtual events we asked about, the demand is plain to see. Although they’ve been primarily seen as a survival strategy so far, virtual events hold a bigger potential that can only be utilized if organizers move away from trying to replicate the perks of physical events in the online space. Our data shows that virtual event attendees want interactive experiences and video quality more than anything else, so creating unique interactive event models is key."
They also say this type of experience has been fuelled now that tech-related anxiety is decreasing and that virtual events may actually prove more profitable than real-life ones in the future; not only because of social gathering anxiety, but also because the digital world can generate other revenue via donations and merchandise.
Digital events and live streaming
What’s valuable to note is the fact that when it comes to events, people are attending for various key reasons beyond just ‘entertainment’; for many, they act as an escape from the everyday and an opportunity to hang out with friends and family.
As a result, these events provide more than a ‘service’ for consumers, they’re part of their identity, and so are very different to other types of experience where people just congregate. People therefore interact differently and more ‘intimately’ with strangers at events because of this shared sense of identity.
According to research, post-Covid, experiences are one of the most high-risk therefore. This combined with their high costs and low profit margins mean that often they’re at the mercy of market forces more than many other types of business.
It’s likely therefore that many may not return.
However, as we can see, people will still need to experience this shared sense of identity - and if they can’t do so in the real world, it’s likely that they will turn to the digital space to help fulfil this basic need and brand communities can fill the gap.
Naturally, brand communities are no longer a buzzword but something for all marketers to consider beyond just a tactical drive to sell.