Building Brand Communities for Small Businesses

In the past decade, much talk has been generated in the academic and industry worlds regarding brand communities. Broadly speaking, a brand community is a social network (or “community”) formed by a common attachment to a brand or product. People who actively participate and advocate this concept are much more easily observable today, through SNS platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Fans of sports teams or clothing brands can simply share online contents or post pictures of the product with them to gain social bonding. As a relatively new phenomenon, brand communities have been mostly attributed to large, major corporate brands. But could small businesses also build such loyal communities for their brands?

According to several marketing practitioners, the brand community is not an exclusive concept for big name companies. As mentioned above, the advent of social media and particularly the increased power of mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) allow people with similar tastes and values to be more easily connected. Moreover, by uploading pictures and reviews on Google and Yelp, even people without any prior acquaintance can promote a brand community for small businesses.

What is the role for the small business owner or manager to help aid building a loyal brand community? This can be answered in two broad perspectives. First and foremost is to create unique and positively provoking (emotionally or cognitively) product and service. One example is a craft brewery that serves a line of beer products that require an “acquired taste”. The point is that not everyone will like it but some will absolutely love it. Heterogeneity in taste is an absolute gold mine for small businesses to target, especially through effective product experimentation with local customers.

A second approach to encourage brand community building is to create avenues for customers to socialize about your brand. One easy step today is to create and maintain social network pages (namely Facebook and Twitter), and regularly post exciting news, events, and achievements by your brand. Occasionally hosting small and fun competitions or sweepstakes can also help engage customers to become loyal followers. However, this is still a secondary approach, as they need intriguing and reliable product and service to associate with your brand as mentioned in the first point. With a much level playing field in terms of marketing communications, small businesses should absolutely seek to maximize their exposure and strategic positioning through the available tools online. Building a brand community is a great way to expand a small business, successfully and sustainably.

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