The Power of Brand Communities

 Photo by  Adam Jang  

Photo by Adam Jang 

Brand loyalty is hard to come by these days. With most things consumers want to buy or do, they’re presented with a variety of choices at every price point. If they want a shampoo, they’re faced with shelves of colourful options. If they want something to watch, they can turn on their TV, hit up YouTube or Netflix, or even scroll through videos on their Facebook feed. If they want to donate their money to a cause, they’ll find multiple charities addressing the issue. With everybody vying for people’s attention, capturing it is no longer an easy task, especially with attention spans diminishing.

For some companies, building a brand community has been an answer to these problems. Forging deeper relationships with customers means more engagement, with brands finding their communities play a helping hand in customer retention. There are also other benefits to maintaining a brand community: engagement can lead to customers spending more. A study conducted by the University of Michigan of a book, CD, and DVD retailer found a 19% increase in revenue from customers after they joined the store’s online community. Engaged community members are also more likely to act as advocates and ambassadors for the brand, spreading awareness and information to their friends or followers. It can even be a way for brands to get to know their customers better, giving them more opportunities to interact directly with them and find out what they want.

It’s not just retailers who can benefit from building a community – the third sector would do well to adopt this approach too. With charities facing donor retention problems and a decline in public trust, growing a loyal following is becoming increasingly difficult. Creating a community out of supporters would lead to stronger relationships with them, more engagement, and advocates who are more likely to promote the cause and the work being done by the charity.

But building a community isn’t a quick and simple process, and it certainly takes more than just offering a loyalty card or holding one annual event. But brands who have taken the time to cultivate a community are reaping the rewards.

Embracing the power of community from the get-go, Glossier is a beauty startup that’s managed to build a cult following in just a few years. Launching in 2014 off the back of Into the Gloss – a popular beauty blog started by Glossier’s founder Emily Weiss that gives readers accessible beauty content – the brand already had an audience paying attention before the first product even went on sale.

Speaking at a StrictlyVC event, Weiss said she recognised a “disconnect between many of the leading global beauty conglomerates and the brands that they own…and the customer herself”. Women may love certain products from a brand but they might not know much about the brand itself or its values due to a lack of communication and involvement. Weiss saw the opportunity to close these gaps and create a beauty brand driven by a digital community.

Glossier has embraced social media, realising its potential for both talking to consumers and listening to what they have to say. They receive comments on Into the Gloss articles, on their Instagram and on other social media channels, and often share content created by users. There’s also a community Slack channel where the company’s biggest fans can talk about the brand. Glossier even goes a step further to engage customers, using their open channels of communication to involve them with product development. The company has asked users what they want in their beauty products on Into the Gloss, compiling the comments into sets of criteria they try to fulfil when creating new cleansers or moisturisers, and have even written back to explain when a product couldn’t meet certain requests.

Glossier knows the power of word-of-mouth marketing and recognises the influence of online reviews and friends when women purchase beauty products. Seeing every woman as an influencer and their products as pieces of content, Glossier makes sure their product packaging is up to standard, knowing they’re likely to end up in photos on many Instagram feeds. Focusing on organic and earned media rather than traditional marketing methods such as advertising has worked well for them - 80% of Glossier's growth and sales come from peer-to-peer channels.

Rooster Teeth is a production company creating online videos and podcasts that span gaming, comedy, animation, drama, and many other genres. Starting out in a spare bedroom in 2003, the company has since grown exponentially, and part of their success is down to their dedicated fan base. Rooster Teeth has always understood the importance of engaged viewers and have created spaces for their community to connect and grow. Viewers can sign up to the community by creating a profile on the Rooster Teeth website, talk to other fans through the forums, or attend one of the company’s annual conventions in Austin, Sydney, or London where they can meet staff members and attend panel discussions for various shows.

The dedication of their community became apparent to various news outlets during their 2014 crowdfunding campaign for “Lazer Team”, a sci-fi comedy film. Using the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, they reached their funding goal of $650,000 in just 10 hours and raised $2.48 million in total, breaking the site’s record for the most funded film at the time. What’s more is that the money came from just 37,497 backers. In an interview, CEO Matt Hullum said the response was “shocking, but not surprising in a sense…we know our audience and their level of engagement is so high. We just had a very positive feeling from the get-go that they were going to step up to do something awesome and they did.” Another crowdfunding campaign by the company in 2016, this time for a card game based on one of their popular shows, raised over $1 million from 30,546 backers on Kickstarter.

Giving people content to connect and fan over has been an integral way for Glossier and Rooster Teeth to build up their communities. Companies can also tap into existing sub-cultures and create their communities within them. Rapha, a company that primarily sells cycling clothing and accessories, connects people through the sport. In 2015, Rapha established the Rapha Cycling Club which now has over 10,000 members internationally. Joining the club comes with a slew of benefits, including invitations to join other members on regular rides, trips, and social gatherings at Rapha Clubhouses, which are Rapha’s stores and cafes that screen live cycling events. And if members still haven’t gotten their cycling fix, there’s even an online forum to continue any cycling-based conversations.

What’s interesting about Rapha is how polarising the brand is within the road cycling community. Its detractors call its fans the ‘Raphia’, argues the brand is style over substance, and scoffs at its luxury price points. But founder Simon Mottram sees the animosity in a positive light, having created Rapha with the mind-set of making it everything for someone and not something for everyone. It’s a strategy that’s worked well for them, considering they have 10,000 Cycling Club members out of 185,000 customers – that’s an RCC member for every 18.5 customers.

Encouraging an active community around a brand or a cause can be an invaluable way to increase engagement and loyalty, but remember that lasting communities go beyond a hashtag or a loyalty programme. This applies to charities too. Giving fans or supporters a place and space to connect, listening to their ideas and opinions, and even making them a part of business decisions will lead to real engagement. Communities might not always be a silver bullet for brands, but there’s no denying the power they can have.