March 1, 2022
By: Kyjean Tomboc
You’re here because you’ve been meaning to build a community around your brand, but many things are holding you back.
For one, what if only a handful of people will participate and engage with you?
Perhaps you’ve already established a brand community, but there’s lackluster participation and engagement. Despite your best efforts, your community isn’t taking off, and members aren’t sticking around.
In this article, you’ll discover the elements of a flourishing brand community, plus brand communities examples you can draw inspiration from.
You’ll also learn the basic steps to setting up a brand community that your customers want to join, participate in, and share with others.
Before diving into the different brand community examples and learning how you can incorporate community building into your brand strategy, let’s go back to the basics — what a brand community is.
Tim Peckover, Smile.io’s marketing and community manager, describes it succinctly:
“A brand community is a group of customers who are invested in a brand beyond what is being sold. These customers want to become a part of the brand itself.”
In a nutshell, a brand community develops when your customers do more than just buy from you. For these customers, their relationship with your brand is more than transactional. They also invest their time and attention in your brand.
For example, when you start a YouTube channel and share it on your social media, a strong brand community will engage with your content and be excited about it. They don’t just watch your videos; they will tweet and talk about your new channel to their friends, family, and other social networks.
Like relationships and communities in a traditional sense, thriving brand communities have the following elements:
Who is your brand community for and what is its purpose? Who will be managing the community?
You also have to consider the emotional safety of the members, foster a sense of belongingness and identification, and come up with a common symbols system shared within the group. Hashtags are an excellent example of a symbols system.
According to social psychologists McMillan and Chavis, influence within a community is a two-way street.
In brand communities, influence isn't just limited to brands influencing its members; it's also about how those members can influence the rest of the community.
This element boils down to going beyond your usual brand marketing tactics by rewarding members for joining the tribe. These rewards could be in the form of priority service, special events, and members-only discounts.
For example, if you have a cleaning business, you can provide community members with special discounts and priority handling by a dedicated cleaning services manager. In addition, your community members want to know that their voices and opinions are valued and taken seriously.
Finally, a deep sense of shared emotional connection among members is crucial in a brand community. Authentic relationships are developed when members go through the same experiences and believe that they will be going through similar experiences in the future.
A good brand community manager understands that fostering a strong emotional bond between members is an invaluable asset.
People often ask whether building brand communities is still worth it as a branding strategy in 2022.
The short answer is yes.
Take this example from Richard Millington, founder of a community consultancy agency called FeverBee. Millington and his team ran a small experiment with one of their clients whom they managed to persuade to hide their online community in Google Search for four months. Their goal was to show the community's true value to the client.
Here's what happened during the closure:
From this small experiment, it's clear that building brand communities can help future-proof your brand through the following benefits:
You’ve seen the benefits of brand communities — more loyal, happy customers, less overwhelmed customer support teams, and a better relationship with your customers. Now you’re excited to start building your own.
Take inspiration from these five community branding examples from different industries.
As far as the best brand communities go, Starbucks is one for the books. If you haven't heard of it yet, there's a Facebook group called Leaf Rakers Society. This group of 43K+ members (as of this writing) revels in everything autumn and Starbucks' Pumpkin Spiced Latte.
Aside from this fall-loving community on Facebook, Starbucks also does brand community right through its rewards program.
Members can order from the Starbucks Rewards app, place orders before getting to the store, and send gift cards to friends and family. Members also get exclusive access to events and new product releases. They even get free drinks on their birthday!
Despite the rise of smaller, third-wave coffee brands, this reward program has increased the American retail coffee giant's sales and revenues.
Besides their stellar TikTok marketing tactics (their mascot Duo the Owl is hard to miss on the platform!) and well-done branding videos on YouTube, Duolingo is also ahead of the curve in building brand communities.
Here are two reasons why the freemium language-learning platform is a great example of brand community:
Lastly, Duolingo has also made it easier for users to learn with their existing network by encouraging new users to sync their contacts upon signing up.
"The app notifies you when your friends have hit milestones, and you're able to provide quick and easy encouragement by simply tapping a button - creating a feedback loop between you and your friends," shares Susan Mees, a community manager, and growth marketer.
Traditional Medicinals is an herbal tea brand established in 1974. They've been in business long enough to understand that a brand community is one of the key drivers to business success.
Wellness enthusiasts flock to their online community of herb nerds called the Plant Power Journal for everything, tea and healthy living. Aside from making it easy for community members to share reviews and feedback, the community also has a vast library of DIY ideas, recipes, tea guides, and wellness tips.
Sephora's Beauty Insider Community is a place where skincare and makeup enthusiasts hang out for tips, advice, and reviews.
The brand has also just rolled out the Sephora Beauty Insider Community Ambassador Program as a way to reach out to beauty influencers.
What makes the Sephora community an excellent example of a brand community done right?
For a start, its members have a shared sense of identity and purpose (to look and feel good!) despite their differences in age, gender, race, culture, and even experience level in skincare and makeup.
As a member, you get a lot of value by joining the community. You can ask questions, share your latest looks, swap products, and participate in fun challenges.
Mary Beth Laughton, former SVP digital at Sephora, shared:
"For our Beauty Insider community, we set out to take all the things that were working really well across our various digital platforms and combine them for a unified, mobile-friendly experience. Community is for those clients who crave a deeper level of beauty connection and inspiration from people just like her, whom she can trust."
And how is Sephora benefiting from its community?
In Business of Belonging, a book about brand communities, author David Spink writes:
"The Sephora Beauty Talk community team found that members who participate in the forum spend two times more than their average customer. And their power members spend ten times more than their average customer."
With over a million members and counting, the Harley Owners Group is a venue for its members to promote the Harley way of life and the brand's image in advocating for an individual sense of identity.
"To build a successful community, you want to be perceived as cool to the people who care about that topic. If you want to start a community for your customers, you have to make a space that your customers will aspire to be a part of because it will make them feel cool to be a member," explains David Spinks in The Business of Belonging.
"Being cool is really about being accepted for who you are. In the sense of community theory and most definitions of community, emotional safety is a critical element. The true power of community is to help people become more authentic versions of themselves."
The Harley Owners Group community also provides its ride-hard-live-free members with round-the-clock roadside assistance, exclusive access to events and rallies, organizations, and a peek at the latest gear.
Now that you have taken down notes from the brand community examples highlighted above, you're ready to set up your own.
According to Tom Norman, a community management professional and founder of Kickstart Your Community, here are the basic steps to consider in setting up a brand community:
The book The Business of Belonging is a good read if you want more specific actionable steps, plus thriving brand community examples.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building brand communities that drive massive business impact.
However, if you look at thriving brand communities, you will find the following core elements: clearly-defined membership, common language and symbols, two-way influence, a shared sense of identity, safety, incentives, and delivery of promised value.
Remember these elements and you're ready to build your thriving brand community.
Kyjean Tomboc is currently taking care of content at Piktochart, a visual storytelling tool for businesses of all sizes. She has written for various SaaS brands and publications like G2. She lives for mountain trips, lap swimming, books, and conversations over beer.