From Me to We — Community Brands and the Future Role of the Brand Manager
BRAND COMMUNITY IS A BUSINESS STRATEGY
A healthy brand community used to be considered a metric to determine brand loyalty. Today, nurturing your community has proven to be the most valuable element in your business-building strategy. Almost 70 percent of the recent $13 billion acquisition price for Whole Foods was derived from goodwill, suggesting Amazon paid more for its brand community than existing assets. This is not unusual, as a company’s brand or community goodwill can be around 80% of the overall value of the company. There’s no question your brand community is worth building.
According to a recent Accenture research study, consumers see themselves driving brands. Two-thirds believe their actions can influence a brand’s reaction to issues of the day. Nearly two-thirds also prefer to reward companies that are willing to take a stand on current issues. And almost half will walk away from a brand if they are frustrated with the position it takes or if it is unwilling to take a position at all. Today’s consumers require transparency not only in brand position and words but also in the actions, values and beliefs of the company — and the employees, partner companies and factories it influences.
Brands are becoming community property of shareholders, employees, stakeholders — and consumers.
HARLEY GANG LOYALTY
In 1983, Harley-Davidson faced extinction. Twenty-five years later, the company boasted a top 50 global brand position valued at $7.8 billion. Keystone to the company’s purposeful turnaround was Harley’s commitment to building a community around the lifestyle, authentic experience and events of the brand.
With strong vision and intent, Harley reformulated a competitive strategy and business model around this community philosophy. Harley-Davidson designed every aspect of its organization — from culture to operating procedures and governance structure — to drive brand community.
Harley leadership recognized that the brand had begun to develop as a community-based phenomenon. The “brotherhood” of Harley riders, united by a unique spirit of culture, beliefs and aspirations, offered Harley the basis for a strategic repositioning as the one motorcycle manufacturer that understood bikers on their terms. To reinforce this community-centric positioning and solidify the connection between the company and its customers, Harley staffed all community-outreach events with employees rather than hired hands. For employees, this regular, close contact with the people they served added incredible meaning and purpose to their work. Employees became riders, and many riders joined the company. Decisions at all levels were grounded in the community perspective, and today Harley acknowledges the community itself as the rightful owner of the brand.
While Warren Buffett encourages his managers to continually increase the size of the moats around their castles, Harley appreciates the ability of brand community to increase the size of its competitive moat, while also building the castle (overall company value).
BUILD AND NURTURE IT WELL, AND THEY WILL COME
EXPLORING END-TO-END ENGAGEMENT
The mortar is recognizing that in our prolific sharing environment, consumers self-generate brand content to inform, educate, evaluate and compare for themselves. Thus, your consumer’s voice and content are an important element of your overall brand and a significant asset that needs nurturing. Listen loudly, as consumer insights and consumer sharing organically shape your brand experience holistically.
Well-designed, end-to-end engagement will build a brand community that successfully embeds your brand in a category or activity, giving you a huge competitive advantage and naturally defendable position.
BUILD AND NURTURE IT WELL, AND THEY WILL COME
Being an authority is about how you nurture the brand and community to shape the business and less about controlling the brand.
Being a brand authority allows you to naturally shape and organically influence your brand. It also encourages you to be working within the brand, as opposed to working on the brand.
THE BRAND COMMUNITY ECOSYSTEM
As the earth’s natural environment changes, organisms modify their habitats, change habits and become more resilient. Healthy brand communities experience much of the same. Like nature’s ecosystems, brand community ecosystems are constantly evolving. These communities should be recognized as a living element of the brand, reflecting the health and growth of the brand.
As brand communities grow in significance to a company’s value, brand marketing roles will evolve towards nurturing the community and protecting the brand’s ecosystem.