Howard Wilmot
Howard Wilmot 20 August 2020

Brand Community Marketing vs Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing may seem like the be all and end all, but with changing algorithms and an increasing need for budget to reach your audience, it's getting harder. Brand communities offer a much better solution when it comes to creating brand loyalists, word of mouth and client retention.

There is a common misperception that a brand community and social media are exactly the same thing - or at least play the same role.

It’s easy to see why. 

As much as today’s consumers seek individuality, something that sets them apart completely from others in a growing population – they also need, by their very instinctual nature, to have a sense of belonging. 

Social media platforms have tapped into this innate need on a grand scale, offering people the chance to engage with like-minded individuals whom they may never otherwise have met, and to build not only local communities, but global ones. For this reason, they have subsequently become an indispensable tool in marketing. 

But are we missing a trick if we rely solely on social media when building consumer relationships in 2020 and beyond? Recent research conducted by Dialogue has revealed that we should be taking a much wider view…

Brand Community Marketing vs Social Media Marketing

While the arrival of social media brought ‘communities’ into the modern age and facilitated an exciting new opportunity for two-way conversation between brand and consumer, the online media landscape has since become rather more complex to navigate.

Social media algorithms can compete against brands’ needs. Facebook pages with fewer than 10,000 fans can now expect an average organic post reach (vs page likes) of just 8.18%, while for pages with more than 100,000 fans the percentage is even lower, at 2.59% (source: We Are Social report: The Global State of Digital). 

But it’s also to do with the phenomenon known as ‘content shock’, where audiences have now become swamped with information due to the rise in content marketing. 

So, how can a brand forge a strong, meaningful and long-lasting bond with its customers? How, importantly, does it provide them with that sense of belonging? 

The answer lies in the ‘brand community’ – a group of people who have developed an emotional attachment or affinity towards a brand after purchasing their products or engaging with their services… [and have] a shared sense of purpose, passion and values, inspiring them to seek connections beyond interactions on social media.

Brand Communities and Shared Experience

Brand communities have a common purpose – a purpose that becomes strengthened through interactions in both the real and digital worlds. This is the foundation on which the brand community is built – and why it’s much more powerful than just a social media presence.

Communities are more than a quickfire conversation between brand and individual. Community members enjoy the brand, try the product, swap stories. Competent management of social platforms shouldn’t be seen by brands as a satisfactory substitute for true, emotion-building engagement.

“From website visits and interactions to social media likes and attendance at physical events, communities offer a wealth of insight that can be fed in to boost customers’ appreciation of the brand, and keep them coming back,” - The Power of Brand Communities.

Why Brand Communities Matter 

The data gathered for the report, from 100 B2C marketers and 1,000 consumers in the UK, has highlighted a huge opportunity for brands to tap into the power of brand communities.

The number one insight to draw out from The Power of Brand Communities research is the fact that if anyone has an appetite for being part of a brand community, it’s the 16- to 24-year-old age group.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise as these digital natives have grown up with the internet and social media is a natural part of their daily lives: 50% of this demographic said they were members of at least one brand community.

It was their attitude to the brand communities that was of particular interest - and how positively. Of those polled, 31% admit to frequently discussing the brand and 57% sometimes discussing the brand. 

This demographic would also like early access to price promotions, special offers or sales (31%), also key for them are experiences and content that helps them understand the brand; 27% cite exclusive content and 22% exclusive experiences as important to them. All good news for brands. 

The types of brands that are most attractive to this demographic naturally relate to passion subjects: fashion (30%) and beauty (28%). More service-orientated brands like telecoms, banks or ones that are less relevant to their age group (occupation and career related) tail behind significantly however.

If you're looking to market to this demographic, then setting up a brand community should be of key consideration. But they're also of interest to other demographics too. 

However, the majority of brands aren’t realising what community can do for retention – only 26% of the marketers polled focus on retention. No doubt, often feeling they have done enough already to develop a community.

Brand Communities in Action

So, what does a successful brand community look like? There are a number of brands with highly active and successful communities.

Take, for example, some of the top performers, such as outdoor wear company Patagonia, iconic motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson, media services provider Netflix, sportswear manufacturer Adidas, and beauty retailer Sephora.

Each of these brand communities share four key characteristics: membership, a two-way influence model, integration and fulfilment of needs or shared goals.

Sephora, for instance, has given customers an open line of communication with its experts and fellow shoppers through its Beauty Insider Community – a loyalty member-only mobile and online platform. Key aspects include a ‘Get Inspired’ gallery, where users can upload looks (which are then tagged so you can buy easily); a ‘Talk About It’ forum, where they can crowdsource expertise from other Sephora lovers; and a live chat tool, allowing them to connect with other consumers in real time.

Adidas, meanwhile, builds physical engagement too, using gamification. Its Creators Club encourages consumers to attend brand events and to log their running kilometres through a Runtastic app, as well as to buy products, provide feedback and generate content.

As Gary Bott, Managing Director (UK) of Gentle Monster, observes, “the strongest sense of community where engagement is most powerful is where a brand develops a cult-like following. While social media, especially Instagram, is an important platform for engagement and provides direct access to our audience, we have to focus on brand resonation and go back to basics. Be evocative or essential; differentiate/disrupt; have meaning and modern relevance”.

You can download the full Power of Brand Communities report from Archant Dialogue, which also contains advice on how to build a successful brand community. 

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