A 2009 Harvard Business Review article drew the comparison between Harley Davidson in 1983, when it was facing extinction, and the same company twenty-five years later when it had become a top-50 global brand with a $7.8 billion value. This stark reminder of the company’s progress introduced their discussion about what it takes to get brand communities right.
But the first step should really be to understand just how this phenomenon (or strategy) affects consumers and how they, in turn, can affect the brand right back. The best way to understand this is to observe the strong examples of this occurrence. Harley Davidson is not alone in illustrating the power of a well-built brand community. Apple, CrossFit, and even Star Wars are all brands that gained near-cult-like followers through different techniques, intentional or not, that gave their audience a sense of belonging.
It may not be immediately obvious that a sense of belonging is what has driven up the engagement with these brands, and ultimately their success. But the closer we examine them, the clearer it becomes. Apple does more than simply create and promote high-quality products. Its advertising strategies, including product launch live streams, seem to invite people into a shared future, in which the ideals of progress and connectedness are central. CrossFit appeals to the health-conscious population, inviting them to share their vision with like-minded people working toward the same goal. Star Wars gained its massive following by allowing audiences to feel part of the quintessential struggle of good vs evil, a common enough ingrained interest that drove them to bond with their fellow watchers.
The reality is that, as the same HBR article pointed out, a brand community is not merely a marketing strategy; it is a business strategy. It goes beyond being a selling point that can be used to draw in an audience, it is what often encourages brand loyalty and increases each member’s lifetime value for the brand.