Lady Gaga's little Japanese Monsters show lots of brand love (courtesy of Tokyofashion.com)
No brand is an island. Especially in the age of the mobile social web.
Going it alone is foolish when competitors are hot on your heels. It can also be extremely expensive to invest continually in new product development, mass advertising, and promotions to drive sales. What's more, there will always be a bigger fish in the ocean.
How can your brand make a difference then?
Well, consider how you can build a community of believers and fans. With third party recommendations becoming more important than ever before (when was the last time you bought something based on advertising alone?), peer generated content on social networks matters a lot more than before. This is why leading companies like Nike, Coke, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and more are actively building their "fandoms".
To begin, consider the 8 'I's of building brand fans. These strategies can be calibrated to suit different stages of community building, and are interchangeable.
First and foremost, you need to identify who your fans are. Who are these people who love and cherish your brand? Are they currently active in various online and offline communities? A good way to identify fans is to listen intently to what they have to say. Do this offline and online. Here, sentiment analysis tools can be helpful in discerning the characteristics of their online chatter.
After you've reached out to these fans, determine what their interests are. What do they do for living? How do they use your product or service? What are some of the challenges they face? Once you've got a fairly good idea of their spheres of interest, you can start creating content and activities that can better meet their needs, wants and desires.
Naturally, not all fans are equal. There will be some whom you may want to pay attention to - those who have a larger network or who are leaders in social or professional circles. Determine how you can influence these influencers, and work with them to trigger waves of interest in their own communities. Which brings us to our next "I"...
Having a huge community of fans is pretty worthless if you can't excite them to share your content, recommend their friends to join you, or participate in activities. In this regard, it helps to have an active imagination - one that is willing to embrace weird, quirky and creative stuff that catches their attention. In an overwhelming ocean of information, the one which stands out wins the crowd.
While generating buzz and triggering shock waves are vital, don't forget to be relevant to your brand. Ensure that your activities are somewhat related to your brand identity and values while still pushing the edge. I can't imagine, for example, that a brand which stands for rugged action and adventure (like Timberland) organising an online art competition...
Communities of fans exist because they want to interact with a living being. They want to chat, share content, seek opinion, and be involved. Here, brands should find ways to interact with their fans by organising activities (face-to-face meetups are great), or minimally to show interest in what they post. In addition, brand fans could be enlisted to help shape how producs or services are developed. Don't just push out endless promotional messages without taking an interest in what your brand fans have to say.
This is the critical WIIFM (What's In It For Me) factor. In an ocean of brands wanting to win fans, it is critical for you to provide both economic and social incentives to your fans. These include access to special deals, exclusive preview sales, interviews with your chief researcher, or a chance to travel to your HQ in the US/Japan/*insert cool country*. Remember that bragging rights are awesome for fans, and here, restricted group meet-ups, sneak peeks, and other activities could help the up the ante.
Finally and very importantly, grow and build your fanbase in a cyclical fashion. The best communities out there, whether online or offline, are nurtured through a painstaking process of continual learning, refining and adapting. Embrace the principles of experimentation by continually improving the way you manage your communities, actively seeking feedback, complaints and ideas. Learn what works - and what doesn't - and hone and refine your strategies and tactics to enlist, engage and empower your fans.
Labels: brand community, brand strategy, community building, fans, influence, social business, social media