Community influence Buyer BehaviorPerhaps nothing drives a brand forward more than its community.  Knowing that 55% of consumers are willing to recommend companies that deliver great experiences and 85% are willing to pay a premium for those services, whom are those “People” making those recommendations?

It is your community, right?

One thing I’m certain beyond a doubt is that if I asked most CMO’s and Marketing Leaders how they define their brand’s community that I would get a different answer from each.

Community being a more subjective topic will tend to yield widely varying answers.

This subjectivity is further driven by the wide variance in how different brands are seen, heard and felt by their community.  More or less, how connected are they to the brand?

Think about Apple for instance.  Apple is an oft used reference due to their powerful brand recognition, but have you considered how influential Apple’s community been on the success of the brand?

To further envision what I mean, think of the last “Apple Fan” that you have talked to about Apple or Apple Competitive products?

What did that conversation look like?

If your experience is anything like mine, chances are the conversation went wonderfully so long as you touted how wonderful Apple products are.

However, if you dare to question the products, ideas or innovation of Apple to an “Apple Fan,” be warned, for you have just crossed into enemy territory.

It is almost as if you are telling your child that Santa isn’t real, only worse.

What is the catalyst for this insanely powerful connection that Apple has with its community?

By in large Apple isn’t a highly Social company, so they aren’t doing it in the more “Nouveau” style where they build their army through Facebook and Twitter etc.

Apple has merely brought together a worldwide community by creating a feeling of belonging that its users get when they utilize their products.

Their slogan, “Think Differently” defines their cult like following because people who want to be seen as creative broad thinkers can often be found attached to their Macbook inside a Starbucks somewhere; almost as if the presence of an Apple defines who they are.

For Apple this works, through their idea of being cool, different and innovative they have built one of the tightest brand communities on and off the web.

However, like you, I know that Apple is an established ‘Gagillion’ dollar company, leaving me (we?) to ask, how do other brands, smaller brands, newer brands tap into the power of community?

Not Just Community, A Close Community

Think about the neighborhood you grew up in when you were young.

What was it like?  Was it urban or rural?  Were there many houses or just a few?  Did you know your neighbors or were they merely passing strangers?

building community like a neighborhood

Regardless of the shape, size and geography, most neighborhoods have some sense of community.  However, they aren’t all the same.   Where I grew up there was a “Community Center” which was a place where folks from the neighborhood would come to congregate and discuss the issues affecting the area.

The closer the community the more they would work together to get things done.  Say for instance a Stop Sign in a critical area where kids play or passing a referendum to build a new school.

With the shift from more traditional urban settings to modern subdivisions they created a community on purpose with Neighborhood Watch, a Board of Directors and sometimes even their own pool and recreation center.

This intentional community brought all the stakeholders closer through creating a greater visibility to what was happening in their neighborhood AND by helping the community see the impact of there involvement.

Building a Brand Community Like a Neighborhood. 

When you boil it down to its most simplistic form, a community is made up of those that are stakeholders in your brand.

The reason I use the word stakeholder rather than customer is that many people beyond just those that purchase your products and services can become part of a brands community.

First there are the obvious extensions such as employees and friends.  Then there are the less obvious community builders such as those that are interested in learning more about your products and services.

I like to use automobiles as examples because most people can understand, so here is one that better explains what I mean.

When I was 14 years old (1995) my favorite car in the whole world was the new Pontiac Grand Prix.  They had just changed it to the wide track and as a 14 year old I thought it was one bad machine.

However at 14 I wasn’t legally or financially able to buy a car.

4 Years later when I was 18 and I had scraped together all the loose change from under the sofa cushions I was ready to buy a car.  Guess what I bought? The Grand Prix of course!

That is because I had emotionally tied myself to the brand, the car, the community and when I was ready to consume it wasn’t even a question who would earn my business.

While my story is just one example, this type of brand loyalty can be seen to a greater or lesser extreme with everything from the food we eat to the blue jeans we wear and beyond.

When people become a part of something. Their purchasing sentiment changes and guess what, so does the way they evangelize for your product.

You think someone that likes your product is a good ambassador, just think of someone who has bought your product and likes it.  That is another great frontier for brand building!

Which takes us back to building a close –knit community.  It requires a setting for cultivation and nurturing.  Much like a neighborhood only different to suit the needs of the brand and its community.

Community in the Connected World

If you think about the example of the neighborhood, you will usually think that a good community is small, tight knit and somewhat directionally aligned.

In the new world, the connected world where we have communities on our blog, our Facebook Page, our Twitter Account and on what seems like a million other places, the idea of community can become pretty daunting.

This is because the “Internet of Things” is not as big as it seems, it is bigger and this “Massiveness” is really hard for most marketers to break down into something meaningful.

Most often this leads to brands making a few mistakes.

  1. They aim too large: This is where they go for mere numbers (Page Visits, Likes, Followers, Etc.)
  2. They don’t engage:  Communicating with a digital community can seem like a daunting task.
  3. They Miss Out:  Online communities are a powerful way to build influential brand advocates, but sometimes inaction takes over when brands don’t know where to start.

When Communities Fail

While these mistakes are commonly made, they can be avoided by following a few common sense tactics.

  1. Aim For Relevance:  Rather than shooting for a large community, start by aiming for those that are most likely to buy your product/service now or in the near future.  Also, when it comes to online networks, especially social, find out where your target audience is and go there first!
  2. Engage More Than You Promote:  Share your stories, ideas and information, but make sure you allow the community to become part of the conversation.  Ask more questions, build more testimonials and case studies, invite participation.
  3. Start: Even if your “Start” is small, don’t miss the opportunity to build a community by putting your head in the sand.

Driving Community Success

Remember That Building A Community Can Take Time

Apple does have an amazing community of insanely loyal brand advocates.

They also nearly crashed and burned on multiple occasions and were saved by the innovation of how music was consumed on a tiny little MP3 player.

For most businesses not named Apple, community takes time and real work to build.

This goes from the core of building products and services that your customers love to build places for them to congregate and talk about your products.

On the flip side building communities requires brands to also acknowledge their shortcomings and respond transparently when things go poorly.

Think about the kind of community rebuilding brands like Target and Snap Chat will have to do following their security breach.

Neither of these incidents was purposeful by the brand, but they cost them trust and their community response will be monumental in recreating trust that may have been lost.

The beauty of community however is that when you build it, nurture it and engage with it, they will help your brand in good times and in bad.   While never perfect, like your family, your neighborhood or your City, the community that is your brand is one of the most powerful tools in the connected world.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore or underestimate the power of your brand’s community!

This is an excerpt from “The New Rules of Customer Engagement,” my new book coming out Spring 2014.