Lesson 5: A Brand Community is a Business Strategy

As fate would have it, April 2009’s Harvard Business Review presents an article titled “Getting Brand Communities Right.” The article written by Susan Fournier and Lara Lee highlights seven ideas that are important to our analysis. I’ve summarized them here. To purchase this fascinating article so that you can read it in its entirety, click here.

(1)    A brand community is no longer a marketing strategy. It is a business strategy. To be most successful, allow your brand community be a high-level strategy that supports all of your business goals. Communicating with the community allows your business activities to take on new meaning and reflect the needs of those you wish to have as customers.

(2)    A brand community exists to serve the people in it. The authors state that if you meet the needs of the individuals within the community, you will in fact be meeting the needs of the business. Here’s the challenge. All businesses like to control the products they sell, the conversations they have and how they are perceived. Being effective here though means being vulnerable, not all-knowing and committed to addressing a need – rather than building your brand. Now, here’s the payoff. You just might discover an unmet need not related to your opportunity but one that keeps people very related to your business.

(3)    Engineer the community and the brand will follow. There is a science to engineering a community. Typically, people try to build communities around pools. These are individuals united by share values or goals (such as Republicans or Democrats). The authors explain that the relationships these pools form are limited and suggest that Web affiliations based on strong one-to-one connections (the example they use is a Cancer Survivors Network) is the catalyst that creates an engaging energy that sustains the community. The last element is to build a web community around hubs, individuals whom the community admires and is related to. Hooking up with such an individual will again drive passion.

(4)    Smart companies embrace the conflicts that make communities thrive. The natural reaction when one hears a complaint is to address it or squelch it. But in order to be an “in” group you need an “out” group. (Think Apple vs. PC, Coke vs. Pepsi). Strengthen the conflict and you strengthen the community.

(5)    Communities are strongest when everyone plays a role. The best metaphor that I could think of for this principle was the physical neighborhood within which that I live. What gives a neighborhood color, charm and notoriety are the characters within it. Each contributes to the fabric. Allowing people to be diverse in their thinking, types of support and nature makes the community engaging. To see a full list of roles, check out the article.

(6)    Online networks are just one tool, not a community. On-line networks re not enough to create a community. Communities grow from traditional approaches as well. Companies build communities using advertisements, celebrity spokespeople (“hub”), social interaction, entertainment, expert advice, packaging…and on and on.

(7)    Of and by the people, companies defy managerial control. Much like your physical community, to thrive, an on-line community can’t be controlled. Yes, it can be supported and nurtured…but not controlled. Supporting and nurturing may be done with scripts that articulate behavior guidelines  and those that encourage appropriate behavior in a particular setting. In fact, you can create settings that have different rules and allowed behaviors.

The plan for addressing our challenge incorporates these rules. Still there is more analysis to be done.

Stay tuned…

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One Comment on “Lesson 5: A Brand Community is a Business Strategy”

  1. Joy Says:

    This was a very interesting post, it is tempting to buy the article. I really liked the point about conflicts making communities thrive, with in groups and out groups. I also wanted to mention a neat strategy I came across recently on http://micalendar.ca/online-calendar-builder.html – they provide a way to have a link to an online calendar builder on your website, where your customers can personalize a calendar with your brand on it. I think it definitely seems worth looking into.
    Looking forward to your next post!


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