Branding in online brand communities

11Mar10

I wrote this article for CEMS Magazine. I would gladly answer your comments.

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Whether you are a company or a customer, you must have heard of online brand communities. As a matter of fact, the first thing that comes to one’s mind upon hearing the term is social media: a fad or an opportunity? Nevertheless, online brand communities have existed since the dawn of the internet communications. Companies such as Lego, Apple, Coca-Cola, Nutella, Harley Davidson etc. have been thriving in this area, connecting consumers and acting as platforms for collaboration and innovation. And they’ve been doing it well!

According to famous researchers Muniz and O’Guinn, brand communities are powered by three main characteristics: a consciousness of a kind, shared rituals and traditions, plus moral responsibility. In the virtual world, these are equally important in terms of context, creating the base for trust creating initiatives.

Building context, creating networks

The future of branding is happening now – it is all about conversations around brands. By creating context through dialogues, big brands are always present in the media, in their consumers’ minds. However, establishing relationships with consumers is not easy. Online brand communities are a tool for marketing together with the consumers – or prosumers. The value of talk in these communities has the potential to connect, listen, promote and engage. Explorations of consumers’ identities and loyalty may lead to strategies of self-expression that inspire others to create their own identities. This is the future of branding, because brands connect nowadays more with consumers. Online brand communities are the perfect medium for these relationships to thrive for the benefit of all parties involved.

Engaging your customers

There are still debates regarding the best way to engage customers in online brand communities. After all, communities exist through their users’ participation. It is no doubt the focus is the brand. Nevertheless, the conversations that happen are what drive the brand forward. How do you inspire other to tell your brand’s stories? How does your company involve consumers? How does CEMS involve its members?

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