Norty Cohen
Norty Cohen 12 November 2018

Three steps to building your brand community.

Once customers become lifelong friends with brands, your job as a marketer completely changes to retention and relationships. But how to get there?

Jeep owners have an exclusive wave.

In and Out Burger has a secret menu.

REI invites customers to exclusive outdoor events.

NYX cosmetics ads and sites only feature customers.

Maker’s Mark has card carrying ambassadors.

Taco Bell hosts weddings in Las Vegas.

Six years ago, Moosylvania began an annual survey, asking consumers how and why they adopt brands.  Each year, we started with a baseline of 1,000 millennial consumers and asked for their three favorite brands – unaided. Just fill in the blanks.

Pull down menus probed what drives affinity.  With on-going studies, we uncovered more about stickiness and loyalty.

We asked, “What emotion has your favorite brand caused you to have in the past 30 days?” They said, “Joy, trust, anticipation and surprise,” in that order, consistently.

We asked how and where they connect. We found email and websites to be more personal and cost-effective for one-on-one interaction than social channels, where they were spending up to two hours a day creating their own content. 

We realized we are marketers, marketing to marketers. Social platforms are their outlet for developing self-identity and elevating status.  Personal metrics (likes, followers) measure success. 

In an “eight second attention span” world, we found that giving attention is more effective than getting attention.  Definitely more affordable.

When asked how they adopt new brands, they told us shared content from friends and family is 2.5x more likely to spur intent than TV, YouTube and Facebook ads combined.

After compiling the data into our top 100 millennial brands report, we devised a formula.

The leaders all:

Make Them Look Good, Make Them Feel Good and Keep Them Entertained.

That led to the book, The Participation Game, in which we proposed that “People don’t consume advertising, they choose to participate in brands.”

Our research into this highly motivated consumer continued.  We saw them becoming one with their favorite brands and literally borrowing the identity to brand themselves.

We launched six new studies, delving into fans and super fans. We found that consumers inherently want to join brands. 

If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy – it’s right there. First, PHYSIOLOGIAL (food and water). Next SAFETY (avoid getting attacked by a wild boar), then BELONGING, then ESTEEM, then SELF-ACTUALIZATION.  It’s in everyone’s DNA to belong and build esteem.  It’s human instinct.

We began studying how consumers connect already with their own communities. Everything from fantasy sports to book clubs. Can brands play along?  We believe so.  However, as brand marketers, you may want to join them before they join you.

After looking at the data and hundreds of cases, we devised a new formula:

1.     Ignite The Fire

Start by creating an identity that is strong enough to believe in. 

We found that brands with strong communities have one thing in common: a truly unique story that is clear and shareable.  Leveraging that story creates a solid base.

Consider Tito’s Handmade Vodka. A global brand that started from scratch in 1997.  At the time, their founder was batching and experimenting, accompanied by his dog on his Texas ranch. Soon, more dogs came along and he adopted them.  After a few years, the brand decided to go all in and describe themselves as “The Vodka for Dog People.” They now have a full-time manager who focuses on administering dog charities. 

2.     Fuel The Flame

Once consumers believe in a brand, they naturally want to develop in-the-know shortcuts.

Believers will unite around nicknames, common language and fan rituals.

The Jeep Wave is a two-finger salute that true enthusiasts will share.  Not-so-secret menus are fun to learn and recite at fast food joints.  There’s a sense of camaraderie that begins to form and 71% want to represent their favorite brand while 47% “mentally smile” when they see others using it.

3.     Pass The Torch

Once you build a fan base, you can leverage existing fans by enlisting them.  Being part of your community can mean earning status, competing in applications for ranking or other challenges.

TheSkimm, is a daily condensed news email that targets dynamic, energetic, female subscribers.  They grow their base by enlisting Skimmbassadors, who need to enlist 10 friends to qualify for various prizes, which in turn, allows advertisers to participate organically.

The conclusion:  Own Don’t Rent

In our second book, Join The Brand, we propose that with a dedicated, loyal following, brands can build their community on platforms they own and control. These steps are rational and necessary. 

As marketers, we can no longer just say, “Buy the Brand.”  We need to say, “Join The Brand.”

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