Should brands build their own communities or ride on existing ones? Simran Arora decodes the answer

We frequently overlook the fact that what people say about a brand is a far more powerful lever than even a huge billboard commercial. Think about it, do you read advertisements the way you read reviews? As authenticity becomes more important in today's digitally cluttered market, the value of word-of-mouth marketing is only likely to grow. That is why businesses continue to rely on communities to establish long-term connections with prospective brand champions. 

Simran Arora
Simran Arora, senior public relations consultant, Adfactors PR

Understanding communities - Why are they so powerful?

It is natural for humans to seek a sense of belonging and establish groups and communities. But belonging, in essence, is more than merely being a member of something. It has to do with a person's social identity and the conceptions of good and bad. If you stop and mull over the purchasing choices you make, you’d realise that they are highly influenced by the ideal members of the communities around you. This is what I’d like to call the “Community Effect”.

Building the “Community Effect” or riding on it?

Brands can leverage the community-effect to influence prominent members of the community and initiate an overall shift in the community's psychology. A prevalent misconception is that brands need to build their own communities in order to benefit from them. Consider the Facebook group Adventure Women India (AWI) which connects almost 1 lakh women who are interested in travel and adventure. If a travel-related firm onboards the most popular members of such a network as brand ambassadors, the choices of many women who are a part of the community shall change.

The benefits of creating your own brand community, on the other hand, extend far beyond word-of-mouth marketing. It's a means of interacting with customers and eliciting feelings about the brand that go beyond the products. They want to share their thoughts and build the product with you, not simply promote it to others. In order to make the choice between building a community or riding on one, PR & Marketing professionals must consider three factors.

Long term commitment, integrated module and values key for building your own brand community. Let's understand these further:

First, community, as John Noe, CEO and creator of Rokkan, describes it, is a "living and complex organism with all the ‘feels’” including conflict. Unlike any other conventional form of marketing, communities require active engagement and must only be formed if the brand can take up the long term commitment they demand.

Second, as customers influence all aspects of a firm, turning around a successful outreach from a brand-owned community necessitates the cooperation of all departments. It must only be established if the brand is prepared to break the silo mindset and embrace it as a full-fledged business plan.

Third, a brand-led community revolves on the values it espouses rather than the brand itself. In fact, once members get overwhelmed by the information, a community centred around a brand is certain to saturate. Brands, thus, must consider setting up communities once they have a firm sense of the organisational values that they intend to share.

Are you ready?

Although the members of a community already exist behind the social media pages or the active user base of a brand, an effective brand community strategy can bring them together and keep them engaged. Leveraging communities, thus, is not an additional marketing tactic; rather, it's making the most of what already exists.

 Simran Arora, is senior public relations consultant, Adfactors PR

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