Brand Communities … Adobe’s Behance to Harley Davidson, Spotify Rock Stars to Rapha Cycle Club, Disney D23 to Xbox Ambassadors

November 1, 2019

A brand community is a group of consumers who invest in a brand beyond what is being sold.

Think about some of the great examples of brand communities through which people engage with brands and businesses today, influencing what they buy, who they trust, and how they achieve more. From Lego Ideas to TED Talks, Xbox Ambassadors to Nike’s Run Club, Disney’s D23 Fans to Bayern Munich’s supporter’s club. Here are some of the most famous:

  • Harley Owners Group – recognised that owners loved much more than the bike, it was the freedom to ride the roads, the thrill to ride together, to hang out at Ace Cafes, to share their passion for life.
  • Glossier – became the world’s fastest growing beauty business, emerging out of a Vogue editor’s blog followers, to become a community where consumers share ideas and advice, but also co-create their products.
  • Rapha Cycle Club – a store for premium apparel became a hub for people who love cycling, a place to indulge in experiences, a service point to fix your bike, an online platform, a starting point for rides, all around the world.
  • Behance – Adobe’s platform for showcasing and discovering great creative work, a platform of over 10 million users, including exclusive tools and project collaboration spaces.
  • Spotify Rockstars – bringing together people who love music, encouraging discussion and recommendations, rewarding and ranking the most active, and also a platform for discovering new talent.

A brand community is a group of consumers who invest in a brand beyond what is being sold. From meaningful consumer retention to new sources of revenue, unfiltered consumer insight and predictable cashflows, branded communities offer many opportunities to drive growth:

  • Enhance consumer experiences – how people achieve more, collaborate and recommend, and create new content together.
  • Ongoing engagement – how people engage with brands continuously, not just at moments of promotion or purchase.
  • Know consumers better – 67% of businesses use communities to gain deeper insights to drive better focus and innovation.
  • Increase brand exposure and credibility, making it easier to sell without selling – typically 35% increase in brand awareness.
  • Reduce consumer support costs – 49% of businesses with online communities report cost savings of around 25% annually.
  • Improve retention and advocacy –  improving retention by 42%, tripling cross-selling, and people pay more too.

Building a great brand community has three foundations:

  • Consumer, starting with your target audience, with a captivating reason for members to join the “tribe”, be it a shared cause or interest, from hiphop music, to a love of science fiction novels, or a desire to get fit.
  • Collaboration, engaging with other people, facilitated by the brand and its community platform, which might take the form of discussions, co-creation and recommendations.
  • Content, the glue that makes the community work beyond products. These might take the form of newsletters, events, videos, other products, discussion boards, merchandise, exclusive offers, and much more.

Underpinning this is a business model that ensures that the community adds real value to its members, but also commercially works for the organisation. For members, this means it adds value beyond the brand’s conventional products and services, typically enabling them to use them better, and get more from them. For business, this means having a business model that drives incremental revenue growth. This might be in the form of consumer retention, selling more or different products, but also other types of content, and potentially a subscription to belong.

Communities are one of the most powerful ways a brand can grow, often exponentially.

 

Examples of brand communities

Here are some great examples of brand communities:

Rapha Cycle Club

Cycling is a sport of connisseurs. They love their coffee, in France they love their pastis, and they love their bikes and gear. Riding in the heart of a Sunday morning pelaton is as much social as physical, and so Rapha designed to create premium cycling gear, and coffee shops – or Cycle Clubs – where enthusiasts can meet.

Walk into a Rapha Cycle Clubs – in London or New York, Sydney or Osaka, and you can see, smell and touch a love of cycling. The business has grown rapidly, building a direct relationship with consumers, through events and online community, as well as its coffee-shop stores. There are also line extensions into luggage, skincare, books and travel. Tour de France and Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins, and his Team Sky wear Rapha, whilst there is a co-branded range with designer and cycling enthusiast Paul Smith.

Rapha is a brand that polarises opinion. For some it has created the ultimate in high performance equipment, dedicated to a sport that breeds passion and perspiration. For others, it is over-priced and over-designed vanity wear for middle-aged men who have taken up weekend cycling in recent years. Whichever your view, it gets talked about. Especially items such as the $450 pair of yak-leather cycling shoes, or the $150 pro-glide coffee tamper, to flatten your coffee like the best baristas after your run.

 

Adobe’s Behance

In 2012, Adobe acquired an existing online design community platform, Behance. Behance is a network for creative people and is highly-regarded in the design community. It allows people around the world to showcase their own work and discover the creative work of others. So why did Adobe decide to acquire it (for $150 million)?

Adobe makes a considerable profit from selling creative software like Photoshop and Acrobat, and increasingly renting it via Creative Cloud. Therefore, enabling a network like Behance, puts it at the centre of the creative community, bringing together everything from its essential software to professional socialising. It also allows Adobe to bring community features to the creative cloud, creating myriad two-way links between its community and the products that it offers.

Gymshark

Gymshark is one of the fastest growing fitness apparel brands in the world, and their incredible growth is largely fueled by the strong community they have built around their brand. Using their Gymshark Central blog as a hub, they make it easy for new and returning customers alike to dive into their community without having to do any heavy lifting. With articles loaded with tips, tutorials, and recipes, their blog is jam-packed full of health and fitness related information that has clearly positioned them as their members’ go-to source for anything health and fitness related. This makes it easy for customers to decide to purchase their products as a way of strengthening their connection with the fitness community.

Gymshark’s strong value-add marketing strategy is also evident through their team of athletes. With huge social following of their own, each athlete is handpicked to represent the brand to their own communities. This gives them the chance to individually engage with their own loyal fans on a personal level as a reflection of the Gymshark brand. When you combine these social interactions with their strong purchase intent,

Gymshark consumers are given many opportunities to continue engaging with the brand over time, and almost as many opportunities to share their Gymshark experiences with their own communities. This is most clear at Gymshark’s many pop up shops that spring up across the UK. Featuring special sales as well as live classes, demonstrations, and appearances from Gymshark athletes, these are highly anticipated events that have community members waiting for hours for the doors to open in the hopes of scooping up some exclusive gear and meeting up with other Gymshark fans. By growing their community both on-and-offline, Gymshark is a prime example of what it means to build a brand experience consumers can’t wait to be a part of.

 

Sephora’s Beauty Talk

Sephora has one of the best brand communities both in and outside of the cosmetics industry. Whether you’re a beauty buff or not, they’ve created a consumer experience so unique that you would know you’re in a Sephora (or on their website) even if you stripped away all of their logos and product images.

While their website already has everything you could want to know about their products, how to use them, or anything else beauty related, the real power of their community comes from their rewards program. Beauty Insiders get great perks at every level of the three-tiered program, including exclusive sales and invitations to members only events and meetups. Every tier also has access to the Rewards Bazar, a huge catalogue of products they can get for free by redeeming the points they’ve earned.

By offering incredible rewards at every tier, Sephora has fine-tuned their program so that it’s still motivating enough to keep their community engaged and working towards achieving the next level of luxury. This is what makes their program so attractive to join, and has built them an enormous community of cosmetic and beauty enthusiasts that simply love being Beauty Insiders.

 

Spotify

This won’t shock to you I’m sure, but Apple sell a lot of smart devices and each one ships with Apple Music already installed. Yet Spotify has roughly twice as many paying subscribers to a very similar service. How? Well, Spotify have a young, engaged and dedicated fan base who will stand by them foreverSpotify’s community solves a number of business challenges, from consumer support to enhancing brand value. It’s a place for music lovers to discuss the industry, suggest ideas to Spotify (in terms of platform improvements), and get user support from the company.

It also enables Spotify’s Rock Star program, which gives users the chance to write helpful posts and answer questions from other users in order to earn points. They can spend the points on merchandise, Spotify Premium and even gig tickets. A nice incentive to encourage user generated content.

Starbucks

The Starbucks brand has been synonymous with community for quite a while, thanks to how well they’ve crafted their brand image. For starters, when you enter a Starbucks cafe you aren’t greeted by mere employees — you’re greeted by Starbucks partners.  This is the term Starbucks uses to refer to their baristas, and this small detail helps make inclusion in the brand community something felt by everyone, not just the customers that come in to get a drink.

Outside each cafe’s walls, Starbucks has continued to do an amazing job of strengthening their community with a number of social initiatives to boost member interaction and engagement. One great social impact initiative is the volunteer matching service they created to help partners and community members engage with each other, and help those outside the community that need assistance. Between the annual #redcupcontest holiday cup decorating contest and the countless #psl (pumpkin spice latte) photos customers post every fall, Starbucks has taken full advantage of the power of user-generated content to build community, reposting some of the best tagged customer photos on their corporate social profiles.

However, this all pales in comparison to the crowning jewel of the Starbucks brand community: their Starbucks Rewards program. As a Starbucks Rewards member, customers can earn Stars for making purchases, playing games, and attending bonus point events. They can then cash those Stars in for free products, all in the hopes of achieving the prestigious Gold VIP status.  Achieving this honor gets members a personalized gold card that they can show off, creating a tangible connection between themselves and their position in the Starbucks brand community. This small token is an incredibly powerful way that Starbucks has been able to build a community that gets their customers excited to join and stay engaged over time — all for a piece of plastic.

The Giving Keys

As a company that’s branded themselves around the idea of being a “Pay it Forward Company”, it’s no wonder their community is so successful. If you’re not familiar with the Giving Keys, their key shaped jewellery is engraved with motivational words. With a company goal to end homelessness, they employ individuals to help them transition out of it as a way of giving back to their surrounding community. These two ideas alone are enough to get others interested in joining, but they don’t stop there. To help spread the word and get others to join their mission, The Giving Keys have started sharing user-generated content on their own social media pages. Using the #thegivingkeys hashtag on Instagram, customers can create Instagram Stories and other social posts to join The Giving Keys’ conversation. This type of visibility is extremely valuable to many customers, and quickly allows them to feel like a contributing member of the larger community.

Community members can also share their stories with others by submitting their experiences of passing along of a Giving Key to the brand’s website. These stories are then added to an ever-growing list on display, inspiring hope, positivity, and encouragement in every visitor who comes across them. These positive stories easily help establish strong emotional connections with customers from the start, as they see parts of themselves represented in the stories of those who have come before. These storytelling tools are all brought together in their VIP rewards program. With rewards for purchases, social engagement, and customer referrals, The Giving Keys have given ongoing engagement with their brand tangible value that plays into the idea of “paying it forward.” This reciprocal approach to their own customer experience perfectly unites each community member with what they stand for, enticing their community to help keep it growing while also  getting them closer to the ultimate goal of ending homelessness.

 

The Walt Disney Company

When you think about brands that have huge a huge community of followers, one of the first ones you probably think of is the House of Mouse. For a company that was founded nearly 100 years ago, Disney has done everything possible to make their brand not just a media company, but a complete entertainment experience. With beloved characters like Winnie the Pooh and Donald Duck, their films and stories are the perfect vehicle for building lasting emotional relationships with each of their customers, no matter where they are in the world.

Perhaps the most exciting event, however, is the D23 Expo. This annual gathering is sponsored by the Official Disney Fan Club, D23, and welcomes members of the Disney community to come together and celebrate all things Disney. This three day event is the highlight of the year for the most avid Disney community members, and is a fantastic opportunity for new and old fans alike to meet, create more lasting relationships, and share their own experiences with each other.

While each of these experiences are magical in their own right, the pinnacle of a true Disney community experience is physically going to one of their parks. Gathering with a crowd of other wide-eyed enthusiasts to take part in the rides, sights, and sounds of the world of Disney is the ultimate expression of what it means to be a member of this worldwide community.

Lululemon Athletica

Athleisure has become the fastest growing category in sportswear, and few brands have had as much of an impact on this trend than Lululemon. With luxurious yoga gear serving as the heart of their diverse product line, Lululemon’s brand community is built around empowering their customers to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.

One of the ways they do that is by offering accessible, invigorating experiences to their community members. If you’ve never tried yoga before, Lululemon gives you a chance to join them for a free yoga class or for come to one of their other larger festivals and events. At all of these gatherings, community members can sweat, meditate, and retreat together from the chaos of everyday life. For people like me who have never done yoga, this provides huge value to me, as I would get to experience the sport, connect with the Lululemon brand, and connect with others in their community without any risk.Even though these events do a lot to keep members engaged, Lululemon also recognizes that they need advocates to help their community grow. To help draw a crowd to their events, Lululemon has an active ambassador program that features a number of athletes and leaders in fitness, nutrition, and business. As independent brand ambassadors, these leaders evangelize the Lulu brand, serving as a living embodiment of the brand’s values in the real world.

Joining a new community can be intimidating, but Lululemon has done a lot to make the barriers to both their sport and their community as non-existent as possible. Since great brand communities have to be accessible, by embracing the values of both athleticism and leisure, Lululemon has made their brand community easy to try out and join, but still exciting to engage with through their events and ambassadors.

 

Xbox Ambassadors

This is an example of an advanced brand community. It works for Xbox because this is a brand (and an industry) that tends to have customers that are much more than your average enthusiast. Who, the brand of course has a forum for already.

These people are devotees. Not just anyone can be an Xbox Ambassador. These individuals have to have a minimum Gamescore and an active Xbox Live Gold Membership. Ambassadors provide a huge support network for both gamers and the brand – offering support on the Official Xbox Forums, hosting Twitch shows, creating YouTube videos, and providing product feedback. In return, Ambassadors are rewarded with games, branded merchandise, and other perks that specifically appeal to hardcore gamers.

Getting started

Here is a great resource for help in developing a brand community: Community Canvas