Community Marketing is not an event, it is not activation within a community, nor it is event organization done for communities. Community Marketing does not buy consumers, what it does is meet their needs in a conducive context best for the brand and consumers to interact and engage. Community Marketing is a combination of interaction, communication, nurturing, networking, collaboration, fusion and assimilation of vision. These processes are critical in the very beginning when we approach each community under a common ground. There are no shortcuts, no formula, and no one standard operating procedure that can apply to all. Most tend to think that it is about building friendship and let social media amplify engagement around that relationship. It is more than that if one is to immerse and build commonality via culture building and cultivation. Anthropology, sociology & cross cultural sciences are knowledge one must use to manage the dynamics of community marketing. Regardless of how big or small the scale of the project, the process of identification, interaction, nurturing and cultivation are all critical to the proper implementation of community marketing.
Muniz and O’Guinn (1991) define a brand community as a “specialized, non-geographically bound community based on a structured set of relationships among admirers or a brand.” According to their research, brand communities share three core characteristics: the existence of a consciousness of a kind, the presence of shared rituals, and a sense of moral responsibility between members (source: A Brand Building Literature Review by Francisco Guzman (ESADE); excerpt from PhD thesis “Brand Building Towards Social Values: Associating to Public Goods”).
Marketing communication strategies such as advertising, promotion, PR, and sales all focus on attaining customers, community marketing focuses on the needs of existing customers. In order to fulfill these needs, we need to turn to the sciences of anthropology, sociology & cross cultural knowledge and create communication campaigns leveraging digital marketing, community relations, public relations, engagement tactics and storytelling. This combination of relevant communication disciplines are used within the context of group culture development.
People have many needs in their lives, and effective community brands cast a wide net of support. These needs covers the following: reach beyond my network, establish permanent roots, preserve moments of privacy, capture the present, get help to get stuff done, cultivate my skills, stay adventurous, manage expectations, seek tools to support my unique DNA, raise the quality of my interactions, pursue luxuries guilt-free, sustain my passions, explore different parts of my identity, express devotion, deepen bonds through shared ownership, aspire to be my own keeper, use social rules to position myself in the larger picture and level out my connections. Community efforts that work to recognize and fulfill the needs of real people – individually and collectively – are those that gain momentum and deliver results (source: The Seven Deadly Sins of Brand Community “Management” By Susan Fournier (Boston University) and Lara Lee (Jump Associates).
This is where it is critical to gain unity in a single vision by establishing commonality via creating a compelling value and mission for the recruitment of potential communities. Integrate a purpose to bond and bind community members by creating a platform for the brand to facilitate within the communities and become the integrator towards a common goal/greater purpose. Create an immersion program to penetrate communities and build co-create culture to strengthen the brand into the culture of the communities by positioning the brand as community co-creator. Nurture the relationship and engage with content on a routine and consistent basis.
Brand communities (Muniz and O’Guinn 2001; McAlexander, Schouten, and Koenig 2002) is a concept that strengthen brand equity and reinforcing the social nature of brands, thus, encouraging the process of brand community participation. “Brand communities carry out important functions on behalf of the brand, such as sharing information, perpetuating the history and culture of the brand, and providing assistance. (Muniz and O’Guinn 2001). Members actively engages in community activities and interacts with other brand community members (source: A Brand Building Literature Review by Francisco Guzman (ESADE); excerpt from PhD thesis “Brand Building Towards Social Values: Associating to Public Goods”).
Based on research on brand communities suggests various outcomes of brand community cultivation. For example, McAlexander et al. (2002) state that community participation encourages multifaceted relationships (i.e., between owners and the community, as well as between customers and the brand) that exert direct, positive, and long-term influences on brand loyalty.
Participation ensures a community’s long-term growth by attracting new members and strengthening the foundation of older members. Brand managers can benefit from community participation that offers valuable insights into potential product design improvements and new product development opportunities (Algesheimer et al., 2005) (source: A Brand Building Literature Review by Francisco Guzman (ESADE); excerpt from PhD thesis “Brand Building Towards Social Values: Associating to Public Goods”).
To create bonding of such depth, it is key to view communities as a sub-culture group (a subculture is a group of people within a culture that differentiates itself from the larger culture to which it belongs). Community is about building sustainable and lasting impact: it’s about cultivating cultural bedrock in which everyone can find a role. The strongest communities recognize and nurture multiple roles beyond those dedicated to buzz-making, and enable members to evolve, negotiate, and change their community roles over time. Strong communities appreciate the complete person, and refuse to segment into fragmented, static roles (source: The Seven Deadly Sins of Brand Community “Management” By Susan Fournier (Boston University) and Lara Lee (Jump Associates).
- Audience: receives and validates performances
- Learner: takes mentorship and seeks improvement
- Back-up: act as a safety net to others
- Partner: acts as both peer and motivator
- Storyteller: carries the culture within the community
- Hero: acts as a role model to others
- Catalyst: introduces others to new people or things
- Provider: hosts or takes care of others
- Mentor: teaches others and shared expertise
- Decision Maker: makes key choices affecting community function and form
- Talent Scout: recruits and invites new people
- Performer: takes the spotlight and makes themselves visibile
- Ambassador: represent the community to the outside
- Celebrity: well known figures of the community
In viewing communities as sub-culture groups therefore, communication is about engaging the audience in an active, non-intrusive prospect and customer conversation. There are 3 Tools of Community Marketing which consists of:
- Pools: People have loose associations with others in the community and strong associations with the shared activity, goals, or values. The activity, goals or belief is key to this affiliation.
- Webs: People have strong one to one relationships with others in the community who have a similar set of needs. The other people are key to this affiliation.
- Hubs: People have strong connections to a central person in the community and weaker associations to others in the community, the central person is key to this affiliation
Astute companies fully leverage community by engaging all three forms of affiliation—pools, webs and hubs—in ways that are relevant to consumers and the brand.
- Brand pools can be strengthened by actively cultivating webs within the community, and expanded by selectively affiliating with hubs to bring in new members.
- Hubs can be used to create bridges to new pools with shared values, and webs can be fostered to encourage assimilation of new members and deeper connections among the existing base.
Multiple approaches allow the firm to create and capture more value than through one affiliation form alone. Community as a system can be optimized for maximum strength (source: The Seven Deadly Sins of Brand Community “Management” By Susan Fournier (Boston University) and Lara Lee (Jump Associates).
Whatever the communication activities/programs like digital, event, engagement, collaborative projects etc., community marketing positions the communities as assets and prioritize collaboration with brands in bringing innovation and creativity. Community marketing is structured on 3 key elements:
- Community is a potential strength when in collaboration. The strength lies in the power of partnership, togetherness, teamwork and involvement/engagement with consumers. Community marketing has the appeal of sustainable engagement since the characteristics of community are teamwork, synergy and integration founded on similar values and goals. Communities are potential market that go beyond selling, more so it builds culture and when done right can provides innovation for the brand.
- Content: is the lifeblood for community building. This is bridge for the creation of creativity and innovation. Conversations and co-creation culture will thrive on content that solidify the values and interactions between its members. It is this content that provides context and breadth for the brand to speak and voice out. It is critical to create an independent digital ecosystem that will aggregate and become the home of the communities collaborative & co-creation efforts. In gathering all members into one web, it collects database of the collective communities that the brand is able to synergize and integrate. Content will focus on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
- Consumer: any consumers that aspire to the same value will engage and gain added value by being associated to the community and the brand. Recruitment of consumers will be the results of collaboration and co-creation where the brand will come to life through creativity and innovation.
How do brands navigate in community marketing? It is best to accept the truth early on in the process that brands can not and do not own communities. Brands are gatekeepers of values and nurture that value into action via community marketing. Brands are community co-creators. Brand stewards view themselves as community co-creators: colleagues who act in tacit partnership with the community to help members reach their goals. Community members continually refresh the brand’s meaning through new applications and expressions.
Doing activation riding on community events via community leaders is only an entry tactic however will not be sustainable in the long run in building brand community participation. The brand steward’s job is to create conditions in which the community can thrive and flourish, and stay attuned to opportunities to meet community needs as they evolve. Engage with the community based on core design principles that allow the flexibility that communities need to thrive and grow.
The convention defines ‘market’ as a place of buy & sell, community marketing has a different perspective. Market can be created and cultivated within existing communities through culture and collaboration.
Community marketing is compelling especially when community costs less, community bonds closer, community maintains authenticity & relevancy, and community drives innovation.