People love coming together for a number of reasons, and more than anything else. It is one of the many things that this global crisis has taught us – and a positive lesson, for once. There is nothing like a worldwide illness to make people feel closer together.
Brands had understood the power of building loyal communities long before Covid-19, but it was just in the past 12 months that this potential was fully realised, making or breaking brands according to how they acted during the pandemic.
We must not forget the all-so-dear Mike Ashley, boss of Sports Direct, who tried to have his employees labelled as key workers only to keep his shops open. Or Wetherspoon coming under fire after some employees exposed the terrible policies adopted in this difficult time. Brands will have understood by now how their actions matter today more than ever. It is only by building a sense of community that they can hope to keep their momentum for the near future.
How to build a community from scratch
You may be wondering what even is the point of having a brand community. All you want to do is sell products and make profits, right? What do you need communities for?
Wrong. I believe any brand nowadays should build a sense of community around its actions. It may sound idealistic or even utopian, but working on a cutting-edge campaign with stellar budget to sell your products isn’t enough anymore. Today, people want to see the humans behind the brands. They want to see the people, the intentions, and feel that connection with themselves. Long gone are the days in which a brand could only aim for profit – and I thank goodness that it is the case.
But building a great and solid community around your brand is no mean feat, and too many have tried and failed in the attempt. How do you build a killer brand community? How do you create loyalty and engagement around your brand, beyond your product sales?
As one of the largest creative networks on the planet, we at Creativepool will have learned one thing or two in the past 15 years, right?
Image credit: us!
Give people a sense of belonging
It sounds obvious when you think about it, but this is the one most important thing of having a community: connecting people over a common purpose.
If you want to build a successful community, your brand must inspire a sense of belonging. Your customers must feel proud of being part of your community, and only this way will they become advocates for your brand in the future, when you’re going through a PR crisis (it will happen) and you’ll have to deal with the consequences.
The worst thing that can happen in your community is to have people that don’t care at all. They don’t care whether you succeed or fail, whether you advocate for the oppressed or the oppressors, whether you make a false step or the most incredible achievement you could think of. It is then that your brand will feel truly wilted – a shade of its original mission, a husk that can only be used to sell products henceforth.
If you can give your customers one more reason to believe in their cherished cause, they will follow you forever
Right from the start, you should set some clear objectives and values that can resonate with your customers. This way, every time you take a stand or make a meaningful choice, it will be like giving your customers a little moral reward. And people love receiving rewards – just as much as they love having opinions!
That is why adopting a purpose and supporting social causes is so important in today’s brandscape. If you can validate your customers’ opinions, if you can give them one more reason to believe in their cherished cause, they will remember you and your products for years.
But don’t make the assumption that your consumers are stupid or too distracted to care. If you are not genuine, they will see through the hypocrisy of your actions. Just look at what happens every time that McDonald’s publishes anything advocating for human rights. People are usually quite fast to point out the discrepancies between their marketing and HR departments.
Find your own voice
Is your brand cool, professional, young? Is it all of these things? Whatever your brand proposition is, your identity is what makes you unique. There will be something in your brand that nobody else has. And whatever that is, you should bring your own vision to the fore and start engaging with your consumers based on that.
All your marketing should be a reflection of your voice. Just take a look at what Brewdog is doing on social media, or the incredibly hilarious social accounts of Innocent. They are irreverent, funny, unique, and have a tone of voice that nobody else in the industry has.
Most importantly, these two brands love taking a stand. Brewdog has repurposed some factories to producing hand-sanitiser during the pandemic, while Innocent is enormously committed to sustainability and to making the world a better place.
Your voice and personal identity can be a powerful tool to engage with your audience in a way that is unique to you. It is important that you adopt it at all times, from your marketing collateral to your social media touchpoints.
Show some humanity
Never before have people craved more for some connection and humanity. I, for one, am someone who values empathy enormously, an aspect that will often make me choose a brand over another. If your brand is bland, too focused on selling and too little on showing how much it cares about humanity as a whole, you may fail to engage me.
I am convinced I am not a black sheep in this regard. Consumer habits are shifting towards a more empathy and storytelling-oriented model. Brands that feel more authentic, human, transparent and committed to positive change will have more success than the ones who are solely focused on selling, selling, selling – and sounding extremely boring while doing so.
Most importantly, show that you care about your consumers as much as your employees. The Sports Direct/Wetherspoon cases are quite powerful in showcasing why this matters. By showing the world that you care about your own workforce, you will demonstrate that you care about people – and thus, that you may genuinely care about your consumers as well.
Beware of false steps, but don’t worry if they happen. Of one thing you can be grateful in this digital era: people will forgive you quite easily, if you admit your own faults. Don’t try to hide your mistakes under the carpet, and don’t ignore them either – if you fucked up, people who care about your brand deserve an explanation.
Snickers has a history of publishing pretty questionable ads that enraged the LGBT community. However, the brand is really trying to erase that bad history by actively supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and people barely even remember their awful reputation now.
Mistakes happen. It is what you choose to do after a mistake that defines who you are. Both as a brand, a professional, and a member of the human race.
The Black Tile.
It has to make sense!
Too often you can see brands jumping on the bandwagon to just tick some boxes. If your purpose, voice or community intents feel watered down, tokenistic or anything similar, you will have the opposite effect to what you are hoping to achieve. People will see through you and move away from your brand, and you’ll be left with a potential PR crisis to resolve.
I have already mentioned Innocent further up, but that is still an excellent example in this case too. Innocent knows its place. It makes perfect sense for Innocent to be talking about sustainability – they work with sustainable packaging, their juices aim to be as healthy as possible, and sustainability is woven into their very history as a brand.
Last year, a number of brands jumped on the #BlackLivesMatter bandwagon and uploaded a black tile. Too many of them were called out as being too little diverse to advocate for the community, or inconsistent with their policies. YouTube was one of those.
So we’re back to the issue of authenticity, aren’t we? If you want to build a rock-solid community around your brand, if you want to bring people together under a common cause, you have to lead by example. You have to be the one showing that your actions are where your mouth is, and that you can be a reliable advocate for your own community.
Some great examples of brand communities
There are tons of examples of brand communities out there, but sadly only a few are really powerful in what they do.
Nike is a great one. From selling sportswear to becoming a proper voice for the health and fitness community, Nike found its own niche and is constantly bringing people together through the power of sports.
Starbucks is another brand that tries very hard to build a community around itself. And it starts from very small things: employees in bars are called ‘partners,’ not baristas. That helps with immersion, experience and making the whole Starbucks brand feel more genuine.
In a similar way, Disney employees are mostly called Cast Members, either in stores, corporate or parks. Every employee will have a ‘Cast Member ID’ (this throws me back ages…), store employees are required to fuel the magic by weaving storytelling in their sales practices, and so on. Through the power of stories, Disney was able to connect an entire world under their beliefs. And contrary to what some may think, people are extremely proud to be Disney fans, once they move past their edgy teenage years. That’s a strong brand community if I’ve ever seen one.
Ckibe is an Italian illustrator, animator and gamer who built an amazing community around her Twitch channel. She was made an Italian Twitch Ambassador last year.
But if you really want to learn about how to build a loyal community, YouTube and Twitch is where you should go for research. Any successful streamer out there is an amazing example of a small brand building a community around its personality. People will support streamers, they will spend money for streamers, they will follow streamers and fight for them if needed.
When you think about it, brand communities aren’t too far from the kind of following influencers will gather around them. You must aim to be seen as an influencer in the industry, an expert in your field, a leader and a pioneer of change for everything you believe in.
Only then will people truly take you seriously. Only then will people start bonding together and form a loyal relationship with you, your brand, and most importantly, each other.