Welcome to the club – how to build an inclusive brand community
It was the hilariously named Gretchen Wieners from the 2004 classic Mean Girls who famously said, “You can’t sit with us”.
An iconic movie moment, yes – but a terrible brand-building exercise. Increasingly, successful modern labels know that to be a smash-hit in any market, you can’t just put a product out there, sit back and watch the consumers flock; you have to open your arms and include your buyers in the experience.
Ever since Brooke Shields slipped on some average denim jeans and declared, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins,” companies have known that getting a customer to identify with a product, and then each other, is a major win. Are you a Mac or a PC? Are you born with it, or are you worth it? Most avid consumers will know where they fit in these classic scenarios.
The challenge exists in building this community organically. You’re forming a family, not a cult. You have to make them want to be there. And the benefits are astronomical. Consider that, according to Shopify, 92 per cent of global customers trust recommendations. Imagine amplifying that word of mouth effect beyond just friends and family. Mind-blowing.
One brand that’s made this exercise look effortless is Nike, with its global Run Club initiative. Via a well-designed app, Nike harnessed the power of mass motivation and used their existing reputation as “just do it” advocates to inextricably associate themselves with one of the world’s most popular, accessible athletic pursuits. If you’re a runner, chances are you own some Nike gear. Are we right?
Another brand widely applauded for its community values is media site Popsugar, which launched its own two-day festival in New York City this year for its readers, featuring big-name celebrity guests (hello, Kate Hudson and Mindy Kaling), expert panels, group workouts and an interactive shopping bazaar. Basically, it was a dreamland for their readers – proving just how well they knew their audience and securing this audience’s loyalty even further.
The take-aways for brands looking to generate a pack mentality (the good kind) are:
Know your customer and care about them. Being concerned with getting huge numbers will remove any sense of authenticity you have. Focus on the individuals, not the masses.
Don’t just be a moderator, American Express advises. Engage in discussion in your online community and in real life and inject personality wherever possible. Communicate to the customer that there are real people behind the brand.
Encourage many-to-many interaction, American Express says. For a community to be successful, the community members have to engage with each other, not just you and the brand.
Have clear values people can identify with, whether that’s sustainability, cruelty-free products, or even just fuss-free living.
Relinquish a bit of control. Do your best when it comes to the product, but know that you can’t sway how people spread your message, engage with your product or advocate for your brand, so just let them share how and what they want (within reason, of course).
On that note, we’ll leave you with the wise words of Rachel Shechtman, brand experiencer officer at Macy’s, who said the following to Business of Fashion:
“Two years ago, the word we used incessantly was ‘curated’. Now its ‘experience’. In two years, I think it will become ‘community’. When you look at the proliferation of content everywhere, it takes that much more to satiate someone. We’ve turned into a society of multi-taskers; people don’t want to just shop, they want to shop and eat and bond and learn and play.
The different elements that appeal to consumers are not one-way streets; frankly they’re not even linear. All these different trails connect to each other and therefore, we need to educate and operate in different ways to accommodate how consumers really live their lives.”
Rachel gets it.