Thursday, 1 November 2012

Consumer Behaviour in Brand Communities

Brand communities are widely recognised as one of the most effective ways of engaging target audiences as seen with aspirational brands like Harley Davidson and even commodity ones like the Duck brand duct tape. Instead of just focusing on the technology with presence across many social media platforms, these brands demonstrated that creating a brand community involves truly understanding the target audience’s needs. In the Consumer Insights module of the Master of Marketing programme, we looked at how consumer behaviour manifests in these communities and under what conditions a brand community is likely to evolve and be advantageous to the firm.

Brand community is essentially a group of individuals who share their interest in a specific brand and create a parallel social universe with its own values, rituals, vocabulary and hierarchy. They are becoming more and more popular due to people’s natural craving for belonging, the reaction to the individualism brought up by urbanization and the digital boom allowing people to connect more easily.

Brand communities help to define one’s identity and place in the world based on the social interactions and structures of the community. They help members to get greater access to companies, expand their brand knowledge, create relationships with like-minded people and provide support networks. They also offer an escape, the feeling of freedom or a space for fun, pride and creativity. Therefore, a brand community allows for consumption with strong social impact allowing for the bonding developed between participants to augment the bonding with the focal consumption object – the brand.

A company needs to nurture the community around a brand for it to evolve organically and become an advantageous way for customers to interact with the firm. Members will define rules to govern membership eligibility, codes of behaviour and group hierarchies. Companies, therefore, need not to set the rules but provide the structure and space to allow for members interaction and co-creation of their own shared rituals and traditions around the brand.

When designing a brand community or strengthening an existing one, companies need to incorporate tools and incentives to foster consciousness of a kind among its members, shared rituals and traditions, as well as moral responsibility. A way of achieving this is by encouraging members to share brand stories which illustrate the members’ belief in the brand and its supremacy over the rivals, promoting a close affinity towards one another based on their belief in the brand. Besides interaction with the brand, brand communities must develop tools to encourage conversation between members to further strengthen the ties among them and as result their loyalty and commitment to the brand.

Common misconceptions around building brand communities include delegating it solely to the marketing department and focusing only on an online social network, as opposed to treating it as a top-level strategy. In addition, many companies attempt to control the community instead of being guided by it and allowing it to serve the people in it. Many members will see more value in the social links that come from the brand affiliation than the brand itself but, by providing the opportunity for those links to take place, the brand increases loyalty from the members.

So, what brand communities do you belong to? What are the benefits that you get from them?

Adriana Heinzen
Current student in the
Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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