“Community” is a buzzword these days. It is a term that epitomizes the holy grail for digital marketers, and, in reality, stands for a much-needed concept that seems to be poorly understood. As a result, the promise to establish a group of consumers who share common values and work together towards shared objectives in a meaningful way falls short. In reality, “community” is an exploitative and self-serving idea, that seems to be beneficial to the brand alone, and has little to do with benefiting its consumers. To succeed in community building, it is time to revisit what the notion means, and what brands can do to embrace it to its fullest.

A community is a group of people who share common interests, beliefs, and needs. Members are drawn to the same cultural expressions, appreciate the same taste, and share the longing for the same status milestones. The idea used to be rooted and tied to the shared physical locations, although the digital age opened up in this front, allowing individuals to connect from a variety of places, from Antwerp through London to New York. So far, brands seem to get this right. Recognizing commonality in people, however, does not make them a community, but rather a segmentation.

The missing component is the glue between members, the connection between one another.

Brands currently gather like-minded individuals, for their own gains, without making the effort to empower them to connect with each other, so that they can help one another build relationships, enable friendships, or enhance careers. They are summoning them for their own good, to establish a cumulative platform for advertising, because nothing is more impactful than to permeate the heart of consumers on Instagram.

If brands want to move beyond lifestyle, into community building, they better make a jump from talking the talk and start walking the walk. The key is to start prioritizing the consumer’s needs over their own. What does this mean in practice?

Brands need to ask…

…what is the life that their consumers wish to live?
By the time brands have accomplished a significant following, they have strategically or intuitively came to realize how to create stories that resonate with their audiences, and translate those into visuals that bring ideas into life. It is time to get very specific. Investigate, what is the fundamental way of life you project? For example, in the case of Rouje, it is “the breezy Parisian attitude, the feminine chic, the retro charm”. Correspondingly, their consumers long for a life that is simple, intellectual, but ever-flirtatious. It is the essence of the woman who dares to be classical and modern at once; mixing floral dresses with Balzac, market bags with designer jeans, and mundane with glamour. In short, now what is the mission that you share with your consumers?

…how can consumers help one another?
Thriving communities are characterized by commonality, openness, and generosity. Members must share interests, values, and goals – in other words, they need to relate and understand each other’s priorities. They also need to be open to each other, recognizing that there is a possibility for them to grow together, to find possibilities and value in mutual connection and exchange. And finally, members must be willing to pay it forward. Brands need to foster discourse, engagement, and a culture where these three pillars are continuously reinforced.

…what is the right communication platform to facilitate encounters?
Marketers need to anticipate the works of member connections. For this, they need to draw a conceptual blueprint on how multilateral relationships are being facilitated. Let’s start with the digital space, as most modern brands primarily live and connect in the cloud.

First, they need a community organizer, the brand itself. The role of the brand is to create prompts for communication and encounters, to ensure that the ground rules and policies are respected.

Second, a platform of communal exchange is beneficial for members to be stimulated to share and engage. This communal exchange place can even be broken up into categories, based on different aspects of the brand. And finally, for a deeper connection, members should be able to reach out to each other on an individual basis.

In the beginning, brands have marketed products. As products became abundant and marketing messages overflowed, marketers decided to push products aside, and focus on more intrinsic values, in an effort to stand out and connect on a deeper level in this saturated marketplace. As time passed, brands have succeeded in creating consistent and appealing storytelling methods that drew in consumers hungry for more. Conveniently, this not only ensured their brand building and competitive edge but provided platforms for tailored advertising. The infrastructure to transform these consumer segments into communities is in place. However, brands currently fail to elevate it onto the next level. Individuals, at present, think, act, and dream parallel to each other. It is time to find the glue that brings them together and create the communities that followers and brands deserve.

Cover image source: Manny Moreno