In my day job at New Kind, I spend quite a bit of my time working on brand-related assignments, particularly for organizations interested in community-based approaches to building their brands.
When marrying the art of community building to the art of brand building, it's hard not to talk about building "brand communities." It's a convenient term, and brand experts love to trot out examples like Harley Davidson and Apple as examples of thriving communities built around brands.
The term "brand community" even has its own Wikipedia page (definition: "a community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque"). Harvard Business Review writes about brand communities. Guy Kawasaki writes about brand communities.
Yet almost every article I've read about building "brand communities" shares a common trait:
They are all written by brand people for brand people.
The result? Articles focusing on what's in it for the brands (and the companies behind them), not what's in it for the communities. Learn how to build a brand community so your company will succeed, not so a community will succeed.
Typical corporate thinking.
What if we turned things on their heads for a second and changed the words around? What if, instead of "brand community," the phrase du jour was "community brand?"
Is there a difference? I think so.
If "brand community" is defined this way:
A community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque.
I'd define a "community brand" as:
A brand formed in service to a community or group of communities.
I'm just making this stuff up, but this difference is meaningful for me.
I love that smart companies are successfully building brand communities around their products. Companies that can do it well can make a lot of money, and Apple and Harley Davidson are fantastic examples.
But truly enlightened brands are starting to think beyond building brand communities around themselves. They are beginning to think with humility about which existing communities they can serve better than they do today.
These companies serve more than just the bottom line, they also serve multiple communities—as small as the community of their own employees and as big as the global common good.
They make active, positive contributions to many communities beyond the ones centered around them.
To sum my feelings up, there is nothing wrong with building brand communities around your products. In fact usually having an active brand community is a good sign of brand health.
Is it enough? Should we be aspiring to make more of our brands into community brands—brands that make positive contributions to communities other than their own—as well?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.