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We seem to be at a point in time where brands — whether they are new or established — are obsessed with growth.

In its simplest form, the growth of an organisation usually means reaching new customers and convincing them to sign up or to buy what you’re selling. When gaining new customers becomes the principal focus of an organisation, the benefits of building a strong brand community are something that can easily be overlooked.

In the final episode of season 1 of One More Question, we spoke to Kevin Huynh and Bailey Richardson, founding partners of People & Company, about the importance of focusing on people that are already fans of your brand.

So, what’s a community?

By definition, a community is a group of people that share a common attitude or interest toward something.

According to People & Company, it’s a group of people who keep coming together over what they care about — the cornerstone being that they continue to show up. But how do you ensure that people continue to show up and engage in a community?

A lot of brands and companies are articulating their purpose and using it to find an audience of people that care about the product or service that they’re creating.

Ross Drakes, One More Question

According to Kevin, the magic that brands or organisations search for (whether knowingly or not) is care. It sounds simple, and it is — if someone cares enough about your product, they’re more likely to want it in their lives, they’re more likely to want to be involved in the communities that surround it, and they’re more likely to want to share it with their friends and family.

Developing care among new users can be a hit-or-miss game — it’s difficult to know how your product will be received or if they’ll even continue to use it beyond their first interaction.

If more focus is given to developing a stronger connection with existing customer bases, you’re able to approach them with more certainty (with knowledge of their preferences) and build on existing care that customers already have for your brand — because they already care enough to associate themselves with it.

The value in a strong community

Aside from the fact that it’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one, focusing on an existing group of users allows an organisation to double down on a group of people that have already shown interest in (and may already love) your product or service.

Investing time and money into a community can provide value on multiple levels:

Research: Members of brand communities will often share their experiences with a brand. The opportunity to provide feedback allows customers to feel that they are being listened to and can also provide valuable insight into their experiences, how they are using your product or service, and what they love and hate about it. If managed correctly, insight from the core of your community is incredibly valuable and can be used to make changes that are beneficial to users, improving their overall experience.

Teaching and support: Brand communities allow customers that love your product or service to find like-minded individuals — whether they are new to your offering or have been around since the beginning. Users that have been engaging with your product for longer periods of time may be able to provide valuable information to new users, enhancing a sense of community among users and their sense of ownership in your brand.

In some cases, active brand communities may be able to save your team time and money by answering questions or solving problems that may have otherwise been pushed your way.

Ownership: Providing customers with the opportunity to own and design a part of their experience can provide a competitive advantage on the basis of customers feeling that they have some agency over the way the brand engages with them.

Brand acolytes: A great reason to narrow your niche is to find your ideal customer and people like them (their friends and family). The same can be said for members of your community — if they feel a sense of ownership, that your brand brings value to their lives, and are happy to associate themselves with you, they are likely to recommend (or at the very least mention) your brand to their network.

Building loyalty: Maintaining brand communities can be an extremely effective way to create deeper connections between your brand and its customers. By showing customers that you value their feedback and by providing opportunities for them to own their experience, you create a connection that is deeper than just purchase-and-use — this connection can make customers less likely to switch to other brands and more likely to forgive when something goes wrong.

How to build a community

The most basic ingredient for any brand wanting to build a community is care.

  1. People have to care about your product or service enough to keep showing up for it — as Kevin puts it, customers have to be prepared to give up their weekend time to interact with your brand community.
  2. Your organisation has to care about the people that are using your product or service — not just the money they spend with you or their positive feedback. 

The first step in building a community is finding the right people or the right rallying point. Seek out customers that are passionate about your product and are engaging on a deeper level, either online or at physical meetups without your organisation’s official involvement.

If you’re building a community from scratch you will still need the people but if they aren’t mobilising themselves, you may need to find something for them to rally around — this could be a popular product feature, a geographic location, or users that are considered experts among other customers.

Your customers (or fans) that are engaging with your product on a deeper level or the clearly defined rallying point are the embers on which your community can start to come to life. The next step is to add kindling to the embers and help them grow.

It’s often assumed that the best way to grow a community is by throwing money at them, but this isn’t always the case. When you’re considering investing in a community to help them grow, a good question to ask is what could you give them that they couldn’t get without you or how could you add the most value to their movement? This could be access to a venue, or building a platform for them to use — by understanding their needs and giving them what they really need you’re able to show value beyond just funding, which they could access through various other channels.

Lastly, you have to be prepared to build with them, not for them. This has two implications:

  1. You have to listen to your community and co-create solutions with them. This seems simple enough, but often we’re caught thinking we know what our customers need, without actually listening to them. It also means that we have to be prepared to take all feedback on board — whether negative or positive — and act on it.
  2. You have to be prepared to stay in for the long term. There are times where you’ll be able to provide funding and support for shorter-term engagements, but building a strong brand community that is beneficial to customers and your brand will almost always be a sustained effort — one that takes understanding and time.

A practical example: Lego Ideas

For the majority of their almost one hundred-year history, Lego made toys for their customers — they went through a private innovation process, designed and fabricated their product, and then revealed the final product to the public.

About 10 years ago, they launched Mindstorms, a hardware and software structure which allows customers to build programmable robots based on Lego building blocks. Customers liked Mindstorms so much that they started hacking the product and figuring out ways to make their robots do things outside of their initial intended use.

At first, Lego planned to take legal action against users involved in the hacking, but after seeing how their product had been altered by their customers, the development team suggested working with customers to create new products and, what we know today as Lego Ideas was born.

Through Lego Ideas, fans are able to submit their ideas for a Lego set, the community then votes on which ones they like the most. The most popular nominations are then taken under review and if the idea is viable, Lego puts it into production. The customer that submitted the idea also gets a share of the profits.

Listen to Bailey talk about Lego Ideas on One More Question

Communities can’t be bought or switched on or off at an organisation’s whim, but a strong community can be incredibly valuable to brands that take the time to listen to their customers and make the effort to build with them.

If you have clarity of purpose and the time and care to correctly build a community, the upside in terms of customer feedback, loyalty, and brand acolytes can far outweigh the work needed to sustain it.

We believe that the best way to build loyal fans is to get them to care. Let’s make people care about your brand.

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