In today's society, I am noticing more and more the decline of people buying a product or service solely for the the sake of having that particular company's logo or brand affiliated with them. Instead, consumers are being more and more drawn to companies where they can use the proliferation of social tools available and engage in real conversations with these companies. And in a world where word-of-mouth marketing has gone digital, referrals are even more powerful - clearly stamping a company/brand as "good" or "bad" in search results connected with customer online reviews.
And now that I think more deeply on this - I urge you not to confuse brand communities with product communities.
Product CommunitiesProduct communities are different in that they envelop many brands that exist in a certain product group and help customers discover and increase their exposure to brands they like. They are the impartial reservoirs of knowledge for a specific product/service and offer customers the ability to interact and understand the right brand fit for them. For example, some product communities that I would recommend looking into include:
1.Goodreads - for the book worms who are looking for a better means to discover and keep track of all of their books. Goodreads overs users to interact with friends, interact with book authors, and join digital reading groups, and share their opinions or progress on a certain book via social media.
2. Untappd - aspiring beer aficionados are the ideal target users for digital beer communities like Untappd. You can find your next microbrew favorite using this app, as it allows you to find nearby bars, breweries, read reviews on specialty beers, and share what they drinking with friends on Facebook and Twitter, while earning "badges" on their account.
3. Fika - Fika is a relatively new mobile application that is available only for iPhone users. However, reading about it really makes me jealous and hoping they expand to Android in the future. The premise of the application is similar to Untappd but focuses on the education and discovery of new coffee and coffee brewing methods. On its website, Fika describes itself as the "social coffee journal" and, if you're a fellow Android user eager to try out the app, I encourage you to at least read more about the company and check out Fika's coffee blog, as I've already learned enough about coffee to shame my local Starbucks barista. (Thanks, Fika).
4. Foursquare - and of course, let's not forget the giant social discovery community - FourSquare. FourSquare encompasses many different product communities and has pretty much established itself as the hub of social discovery. But chances are, you're already using/have used FourSquare, so that's all I'll really touch on regarding this service for now.
Brand CommunitiesWhile I've briefly explained the differences between product and brand communities, I guess if I had to give it a definition, brand communities are linkages among consumers and companies/brands, both online and offline, that facilitate a discussion between the customer and company, and ultimately, leads to a product/service that is better tailored to the customer.
Of the top of my head, some companies that have done a great job of creating a strong brand culture full of customer value include:
1. Frito Lay - With their "Lays Do Us a Flavor" campaign, this company has successfully embraced putting the ball in their customers court and allowing them to speak up in the conversation with the products they want. From new products like Greektown Gyro, Truffle Fries, and Rueben-flavored potato chips, Lays has proved to be a brand that listens and eager to change - which allows them to be more successful and make customers happier.
2. Nike - Nike has differentiated itself from being just another company holding onto its iconic logo and has transitioned into a successful social company with the popularity of its Nike+Running application. Nike has proven to be a true competitor to other running applications (i.e. MapMyRun, RunKeeper, Strava), by offering users a sleek interface, personalization, music integration, and social sharing options.
3. TheClymb - In addition to being a site for the nature/outdoors enthusiast, as well as being a sucessful e-commerce company working in a hip area, TheClymb already earned a special place in my heart and blog. However, in addition to selling outdoors equipment at discount prices, they've also developed a thriving brand community. TheClymb is run by people who are passionate about being active and making their life a series of adventures. And its reflected not only in their blog, but also in their products they offer and customer support. TheClymb doesn't really do the "hard sell" (with the prices it offers, it doesn't really have to), but instead aims to educate its consumers and offer value to fellow outdoor enthusiasts. If you visit the site, I recommend the blog and outdoor adventure packages.
While I will agree that there are some companies that maintain their customer loyalty simply with the strong brand identity or logos that resonate with customers, I think that kind of customer loyalty is much less permanent. I strongly believe, in most cases, it will be the companies that leverage technology and work towards creative solutions to better connect with customers that will be the most successful in the long run.
What product/brand communities did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!