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What are Brand communities?

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After the success of our first post in the Customer Commitment series, today I decided to contribute with the second chapter. In this case, I will talk about Brand communities.

The term community is of high importance for anthropology since it constitutes the fundamental unit of observation of our investigations (psychologists study individuals, anthropologists “cultures”). Also, the term community begins to be common in many of the strategies of marketing and strategic business innovation, so it is essential to dedicate a few lines of reflection

From the anthropological point of view, communities constitute basic social units, that is, elementary modes of association: groups whose members have common interests, practices, perceptions, and values. These shared elements create a sense of belonging in people, make them feel part of a group.

The communities to which we belong contribute to the formation of our identity as they function as frames of reference for our values, perceptions, and behaviors. A community can exist at the family level, at the neighborhood level, at the national level or even internationally (digitally), each with different forms of interaction, commitment, value systems, perceptions, and behaviors.

Each person accepts or challenges some of the shared elements that are part of the communities to which they belong and uses them in the continuous process of constructing their identity.

For example, a person can be defined as a follower of a football team, and at the same time as musician, businessperson, athlete, foreigner, vegetarian, Spanish-speaking, claustrophobic and lover of cat’s photographs. Each of these micro fragments of his/her identity will represent his/her adherence to a certain type of community.

As members of a community we have a sense of responsibility with our peers and within the community. There is an emotional bond that comes from both, the way we identify with the group, and our sense of belonging. It drives us to respect rules, collaborate with other members, contribute to their development and to transmit the values of the community.


Communities and brands

When we bring community and brand together, we get groups of people who have constructed a small part of their identity in connection to a particular brand. Belonging to the Apple brand community is not just buying an iPhone, it also implies total or partial adherence to a whole series of practices (going to the Apple Store), beliefs (Apple has no virus), tastes (minimalist aesthetics) and values (innovation, quality). Therefore, the brand acts as glue for the community itself, directly appealing to the sense of belonging.

In addition to bringing members together, adhering to a brand also allows generates a sense of differentiation from the “others”, in this case, competing brands. You are from Android or iPhone (iOS), Mac or PC, Xbox or PlayStation, Rolex or AP, Coca Cola or Pepsi, Barça or Madrid. Each of these brands brings with it a symbolic body of knowledge and values that serve to position the brand in the minds of users. For example, in the face of the exclusivity and luxury of iPhone phones, we find the accessibility and democratization of the Huawei brand.

In certain cases, brand communities may even act as a link with other “larger” communities, for example, nations. In this sense, the case of the Barça brand is very emblematic: its slogan “Mès que un club” (More than a club) acts as the spearhead of Catalan nationalism/independence, opposed to the team of the capital of Spain, Real Madrid.


Brand communities and communities of practice

Brand communities are closely related to communities of practice. Communities of practice are groups of people who share an interest in a particular practice, constructing and sharing meanings in relation to it. There are thousands of communities of practice, for example, groups of friends that get together to play football in their neighborhoods, virtual forums for solving doubts, reading groups, or digital spaces to talk about motherhood.

Communities of practice can be used by brands to facilitate user engagement, and it is undoubtedly an indispensable strategy to turn brands into Love Brands. The users of the brand can share usage anecdotes, publish opinions about the products, set up tutorials or create discussion forums. All these activities contribute to both the adhesion of the users and the growth of the brand.

In addition, communities of practice are an indispensable source of information to understand the cultural and symbolic codes of brand users. A rigorous analysis of the emic language allows brands to speak the same language as their users and refine their marketing and development strategies by putting their customers at the center of the strategy.

An emblematic example of synergy between the community of practice and brand community is Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson bikers are popularly known as H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group), an acronym that comes precisely from a community of practice. The story goes that one of Harley Davidson’s most iconic riders, Ray Weishaar, used to celebrate his victories by driving his motorcycle with his pet pig (Hog). This act soon became a symbol for Harley bikers, who came to be collectively referred to as HOGs (Panhead, 2017).

As we can see, in this case, the acronym adapts to the myth, and it is the users who autonomously (without the intermediation of the brand) generate new narratives and symbologies.


How to foster brand communities?

Although brand communities can be formed independently, it is increasingly common for brands themselves to provide a meeting and interaction space for their consumers: social media groups, community dedicated pages, forums in which content is shared, YouTube channels with video tutorials, etc …

In this way, brands manage to centralize the interaction channels, be closer to their users and generate greater ties with the brand. To achieve this, it is important to understand which values bring users and brand together, what are the codes and means of communication, what are the reasons that drive (or not) users to participate in the community, what do members do that makes them feel part of the community or what are their points of dissatisfaction.

The “cultural” monitoring of the brand community is a work that must be carried out rigorously since this analysis will depend on fundamental issues such as the launch of new products and services, effective brand communication, the creation of experiences or the acquisition and loyalty of customers. Therefore, having cultural experts is always an added value.

In Antropología 2.0 we contribute to the creation and optimization of brand communities. Our anthropological approach allows us to understand the phenomenon of the communities holistically, explaining practices, values, symbols, functions, hierarchies, and unmet needs.

The intensive use of ethnography allows us to get into the bowels of the community and obtain a reliable picture of what is happening, both in online and offline contexts. In this way, we create better relationships between brands and customers, putting the user at the center of the strategy.

If you want your brand to become a Love Brand, do not hesitate to contact us.

I am interested in applying anthropology in different areas of interdisciplinary research, especially the virtual and business worlds. I have done research in epidemiology, the design of products and services, virtual communities, knowledge distribution, comparative literature, and the “classic” socio-cultural anthropology. I believe that our discipline can offer something special to all research topics, hence my interest in it.

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