So yesterday I ended by posing this question:
What makes a brand community-able?
That is, I wonder what the qualities are of brands that inspire people to form collectives or communities around them?
I consider that we can actually think about some products that may have very low community-able characteristics but big community. I was thinking in particular of Tide detergent (which seems to be having a lot of price-based promotions lately, maybe indicating that their loyal base is eroding). Consumers love and are very loyal to Tide, as a detergent. But they sure don’t form communities based on Tide (unless they are paid to by firms like Communispace that will compensate them for forming synthetic brand communities). Tide’s just not that kind of product. And think about Snicker’s bars, or Kraft Cheese, or almost any other kind of consumer packages good (CPG) product. Hardly any of them (soft drinks and some other beverages are a big exception) have communities that form around them. That’s interesting.
Similarly, I think we see brands that can have a high community-ability (“communitability”?) but fairly low loyalty, if we consider loyalty followership or consumption that continues on into the long-term. I’m thinking of products of the entertainment industry. Say the show Lost, which was extremely popular in Season 1, seems to be such a show, and is losing ground fairly quickly, going from highs of 23 million viewers in the second season to lows of 11 million (less than half of the high) in the third season. There are numerous celebrity based examples, such as Martha Stewart or Britney Spears. They are very community-able, but not particularly loyal.
I offer a rough diagram here.
Harley-Davidson bikes clearly would have both aspects going for them, loyal consumers and a community-able brand. But consider the many products that don’t have either, like the commodity supermarket coffee market. Say Sanka, or Nescafe. No communities, and not much loyalty either.
So it seems that loyalty to a brand and it’s communityableness are orthogonal, they are independent characteristics.
That leads me to wonder more about what characteristics might make a brand community-able? For starters maybe we could consider five of the following dimensions of a brand being communityable:
- 1. Product category: maybe some product types are strongly experiential and communal (like motorcycles or cars or sports or rock concerts)
- 2. Look and Feel: characteristics of the product can evoke strong responses within particular communities that they might want to share with others, such as experiential design (like the Prada brands and store), retailing (like the service at Nordstrom), or even packaging (like the Red Envelope online gift store)
- 3. History of the brand: does it have deep local or lifestyle linkages of one kind or another?
4. Subculturalization: did a subculture once take it into the fold and associate with it, thus communalizing it in grassroots fashion (as with the UK Mods appropriation of the Italian Vespa scooter in the 1960s, or the hippies appropriation of the VW Beetle)?
5. Identity Contradiction-Resolution: did the brand (often due to advertising) help to resolve an important shared identity conflict (such as the current natural beauty Dove campaign drawing attention to female body image issues)?
6. Made to Order Community: maybe some just have the community ingredient built right into the service or business model, like the YMCA, many non-profits, and of course Web 2.0 companies like eBay and Threadless
These are just initial thoughts, that I literally (I swear) wrote on the back of an envelope during a hockey practice. They await much further develop and research. I think this would be a fascinating topic for a Ph.D. student (one or more…it’s a big topic) or another scholar to pick up as an area well worth investigating. I’m going to continue to think about it more as well, and I’m interested, as always, in your thoughts. Don’t be shy.