Find the Passion (Give Your Brand Away, Part 2)

Last week I started discussing brand communities. The brand community is a phenomenon that has, since the advent of the Internet, grown so significantly that we simply can’t overlook it anymore. Harry Potter’s official Web site is www.harrypotterfans.com, Star Wars’ official Web site is www.starwars-rpg.net and LEGO’s official Web site is www.lugnet.com…well, at least according to their fans.

While less than 1 percent of companies have a brand community strategy, all indications are that, soon, perhaps even within five years, up to 40 percent of top brands will have integrated a brand community strategy into their marketing plans.

This week, let’s consider how your brand might broach the challenging exercise of nudging a brand community into existence.

First, explore your audience. By now, you probably already know what your consumers think about your brand. But do you know how passionate they are about it? Brand communities are all driven by passion, by the audience’s willingness to dedicate time — often loads of it — to a brand they’re truly passionate about. A brand can attain this devotion when it achieves emotional engagement with the consumer. Emotional engagement is achieved when a brand changes people’s lives in some way, by adding a new dimension, changing their routines, altering their choices, affecting their daily rhythms.

Not all brands do this. Well, let’s be frank; not all products have the potential to do so. And herein lies your next step: determine if your brand belongs to this category or not. How? First, read your consumer feedback. How does it sound? Are you sometimes surprised about how engaged your customers are with your brand or product? Do you detect a pattern — letters that share the same love or hate for it, that cover the same themes and discuss the same topics? If so, yours might very well be among the fortunate 5 percent of brands that become community leaders.

But if you reckon your brand is among the 95 percent that don’t exhibit this potential, don’t despair. You might, in fact, have brand community potential without actually being aware of it. In all honesty, not all products can generate passionate discussion…like washing powder, for example. However, the product’s use and performance could generate some interesting opportunities.

Let’s continue to look at washing powder. Some user situations might represent passion-potential. Think of babies, and of women who are about to have a baby or who’ve just given birth. Everyone knows that the household’s washing powder use trebles when a child comes into the family. The baby situation offers you a ready-made brand community, an audience of mothers dedicated to whatever is best for their babies, and that includes sanitizing, sensitive, allergy-free washing powder.

But how far can you go? Could a banking brand, for example, build a brand community based on a computer game that reflects one of its sponsorship relationships? Possibly. But the link between the branding tool and the product has to be tight, relevant and obvious so that the consumer using the tool is always aware of the brand behind it. Far too often, we see a pop star promoting a brand. The result is that consumers remember the ad because of the pop star, but they can’t remember the product or the brand he or she was promoting. So, one of your challenges is to determine how far you can go laterally without losing the plot.

At this stage, your brand will either:

  1. Exhibit brand-community potential;
  2. Be associated with one or more user situations that represent brand community opportunities; or
  3. Demonstrate no obvious link that could justify pushing for a brand community. If you belong to this category, and about 60 percent of brands do, I’m sorry to say that next week’s article won’t apply to you — not in practical terms anyway.

But how can brand-builders possibly capitalize on the brand community phenomenon? How can you kick start something that has, so far, arisen spontaneously and voluntarily? Next week I’ll discuss ways your brand might be able to encourage that most valuable of audiences, the brand community.

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