At Newgroup we love working with brands to help them make interactions become relationships and customers become communities. Recently, we’ve seen some really brilliant examples of community engagement done right. Woolworths response last week to some problematic Hummus channelled rapper Ice Cube and gained over 46,000 likes along with a string of praise from social media users. Similarly, Optus gained widespread respect when their Customer Service Representative ‘Dan’ took a firm but fair approach to customers complaining about multilingual advertising.
However, building and managing a community is easier said than done. Many brands make mistakes in their efforts to build communities around their brand. Here are a few points that you shouldn’t overlook:
Connect Your Community
We have all been taught that customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to their problems. Well, brand communities work the same way. People don’t gather and connect with each other just because they like your brand, they do so because it satisfies their social needs and interests – whether it be support, guidance, entertainment or something else.
Think of the iconic Harley-Davidson who not so long ago was a dying brand. Its reputation for mechanical problems tarnished its image and led the brand to be perceived as inferior to its competitors.
In the mid 1980s, Harley-Davidson management decided to act. Not only did the company massively invest in improving their bikes’ reliability and performance, but it also redesigned its strategy around a brand community philosophy.
Harley-Davidson adopted a community-centric position, putting its customers at the centre of its operations and developing programs tailored to fulfil its community’s needs. It established it’s now famous Harley Owners Group (HOG) as a way to foster a sense of community within its customers while promoting the brand’s values. Bikers from all around the world were given the opportunity to connect with fellow riders, share their knowledge and stories, and express themselves through the club.
Harley-Davidson kept on articulating its strategy around meeting its customer’s social needs and facilitating interactions between them because it understood that humans are social animals by nature. By putting its community-building activities at the centre of its strategy and adopting a comprehensive approach in doing so, Harley Davidson managed to turn itself around from a bankrupt company to a world leader. Not bad.
The rise of social media has allowed communities to play an active part in the value creation process and helped companies in their brand management efforts.
The Chicago-based e-commerce Threadless was part of the movement that saw companies focusing on developing brands through their communities, instead of the other way round.
Threadless, who sell apparel and prints, grew through a strategy that focused on connecting artists and customers and giving them the ability to design and choose the products they liked and wanted to purchase. It focused all of its efforts in the development of an online community of artists and enthusiasts and relinquished control of its product portfolio to its community members. To this day, the company still defines itself as a hub that facilitates creative minds to express themselves, not as an online retail business.
Threadless founders started the company in 2000 with $1000 in their pocket. 15 years later the company generates more than $30 million in revenue and has hundreds of thousands of fans and followers on their social accounts that actively participate in the brand’s life. Why? Because Threadless is not a brand, it’s a community.
One of the biggest mistake brands can make is to think that they can control their communities.
The reality is that your community members are the true owners of your brand and will defy your control. Guide them, engage with them, support them and facilitate the communication between them, but do not think you can do whatever you want.
Porsche learned this lesson the hard way when it released its Cayenne to compete in the SUV market in 2002. Back then, the SUV market was a growing one with all major high-end car manufacturers (BMW, Audi, Mercedes) having their own model in their portfolio.
The problem was that traditional Porsche fans rejected the Cayenne, arguing it did not represent the brand’s values of speed, luxury and masculinity. They despised Cayenne drivers, banned them from Rennlist.com (one of the most popular Porsche-dedicated websites), while some went as far as asking Porsche to not offer them club membership.
Porsche’s marketing team tried to defuse the conflict through a communication campaign designed to convince purists that the Cayenne belonged to the Porsche family. This attempt to reposition the Cayenne in the race car category failed to impress and received negative feedback from the Porsche community.
Sure, expanding its portfolio was a smart business move, the Cayenne being one of the company’s most popular products. However, Porsche’s story is a great example that your community is not made of puppets and can not be told what to think or do.
More Than Just the Platform
Building a community takes a little bit more than simply creating a Facebook and Instagram page. While online social networks can play a valuable role for your community, such as providing guidance or connecting people, they are just a platform, not the reason why the community gathered in the first place.
Ask Google. The American juggernaut thought it could capitalize on its reputation and its popularity among users and launched its own social network Google +. Despite the high numbers of Google + users (logging into it gives you access to multiple Google-related services), no one really cared about its social network aspect. Why? Well we could find many reasons to justify this superb failure: Google+ shared too many similarities with Facebook, it was a late-entrant in a saturated market, it lacked simplicity, and it also lacked a compelling social value proposition that would have attracted users. While Google+ is a great platform that enables one to easily connect to Google’s services, it failed to answer a simple question: why would we join?