Thursday, March 04, 2010

Marketing Strategy : Building Brand Tribes

Building Brand Tribes

Originally Published Here at

Tribe (noun): Group of people living together under a chief.

Brand Tribe: Group of Customers living together with a brand.

Renowned marketing guru Seth Godin in his latest book Tribes inspires every individual to become a leader of a tribe. In this must read book, he exhorts that every individual has an opportunity to become a leader and start a movement. Internet has enabled and empowered individuals with the opportunity to connect with millions of people across the world who shares the same vision.

The same opportunity is available to brands. An opportunity to build a tribe – a group of faithful followers who will nurture the brand’s vision and takes the brand to a whole new level of existence.

If we look at the global branding scenario, despite the millions of dollars spent on advertising and brand promotion, only a handful of brands can boast about building a tribe. Harley Davidson, Apple, Linux, Google, to name a few.

The situation is dismal in the Indian brand word. How many of Indian brands command a faithful following of customers. How many Indian brands have been able to generate the enthusiasm displayed by an Apple customer? Hardly any …

Compared to other markets, we don’t see any big queues in front of shops for getting the product during brand launches, no euphoria during customer meets and virtually no consumer evangelists spending his energy on his favourite brands.

Indian marketers are to blame for this scenario. Why Indian consumers are not emotionally attached to brands is because Indian brands always preferred to keep themselves away from the consumers. By and large, Indian brands preferred not to interact directly with the consumers. Except for some half-hearted efforts, largely there is no emotional chord developed between consumers and brands.

Developing a brand community needs a dedicated whole hearted effort from the brand to reach out to the consumers. Building brand communities means that consumers are emotionally attached towards the brand.

Brand User ----------> Brand Loyalist--------> Brand Advocate ------> Brand Evangelist

From an ordinary user of the product, the brand should be able to inspire the consumer to become an evangelist for the brand. While a brand advocate will recommend the brand to his friends, an evangelist will put his energy, time and reputation to promote the brand.

Professor Kevin Lane Keller uses the term Brand Resonance to explain this phenomenon. A brand is said to achieve resonance when the customers feel that they are in-sync with the brand. The customer willingly spent his time and energy to collect and share information about the brand. The highest level of brand resonance is where the consumers actively engage in activities beyond buying and using the product.

Not every brand may be able to achieve a resonance with consumers but all brands have the opportunity to build a community. Building a community around the brand is the first step towards building resonance. In India, Sunsilk successfully created a community around it using the website Sunsilk Gang of Girls.

Youth brands like Fastrack have been using the social networking sites to promote a meaningful interaction with the consumers.

One of the most successful brand communities ever created in marketing history is the Harley Owner’s Group (HOG) which was formed in 1983. HOG is a company sponsored community with over a million active members now has become the biggest strength of this brand.

The benefits of such a community are far fetched. Research has proved that while loyal customers buy more of the brand and members of brand communities not only buys more but also encourages others to become the brand followers.

Brand communities are also a valuable source of information for marketers. The members willingly share their experiences of using the product and can suggest valuable modification to the product. Communities are sounding board for suggestions and issues faced by the consumers.

Communities also can be a vital resource to tap for potential new product ideas. These are the consumers who would like the brand to play an important role in their lives. Hence they will be able to give you a lot of ideas which can later be used to develop new products.

Researches have proved that members of brand community members adopt new products from the brand faster than ordinary consumers. Apple consumer evangelists are in the forefront in adopting and later promoting the new products like IPod and IPhone. This offers a tremendous advantage for the company because there exist an enthusiastic Tribe willing to grab and use any new product from the company.

Building a brand community is never an easy task. This requires lot of investment and initiative from the company to build and sustain a community.

Understand the Consumer

Before building brand communities, a very thorough understanding of consumer is necessary. This deep understanding will be critical in designing the community, the theme, the mission and the critical events that will take the communities forward.

Invest and involve

More than the financial investment, brand marketers should be able to own up the responsibilities of nurturing the brand community. This is too important an activity to be outsourced. In the case of Harley Owner’s Group, there is a separate division in the company that has the responsibility of nurturing the community. Harley Davidson also ensures that the Senior Executives of the company participates in the community activities. It is important for the marketers to understand the role the company has to play in communities.

Successful communities are those which are driven by the members. Marketers have to play the role of facilitators and catalysts to ensure that the community is sustained and is moving in the right direction.

Build Relationship

Brand communities are not only about building relationship between the brand and the consumers. A brand community becomes successful only if there is a scope of developing a relationship between consumers. Most brand sponsored communities revolve around sharing information between consumer and the brand.

Hence there has to be an opportunity between consumers to meet, share ideas and build a bond between themselves. This will be the most difficult part for the brands taking up a community building activity. So the marketers have to device ways to promote kinship among members. Events, brand rituals, memorabilia, collectibles, blogs, forums, partying are ways to enhance the bonding between the community members.

Build a Story

Every community has a story. It is the story that will inspire consumers to join the community. The powerful the story is, the more powerful will be the bonding between the community members. Hence the marketers should be able to go deep into their target segment to craft the story that they will be passionate about. Harley Owner’s Group website reveals the story behind the group; the group wants the Harley Davidson Dream - a way of life.

Building Community is like building the family; the brand should take the leader’s responsibility in bringing the family closer and the members should be given the opportunity to develop a bond with each other to sustain the community.