While today Harley-Davidson is a top-50 global brand valued at $7.8 billion, in 1983 it was facing extinction. Its turn around from the brink of bankruptcy can be attributed to a number of radical actions taken by the brand, but the most central of them all was the company’s renewed approach to community-centered brand engagement.
Harley’s commitment to building a brand community cemented its longevity in the mind of its most loyal of customers. Targeting power users, a group of die-hard Harley consumers organized around the lifestyle, activities, and ethos of the brand. Harley-Davidson is a paramount example of a brand that has developed a community-based customer engagement strategy based on the theory of brand community identification, or BCI.
The idea of brand community identification stems from the basis of the social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner). Under the BIC theory, consumers are motivated to enhance their self-identity through identification with certain social groups, including virtual brand communities. For example, consumers who identify with a specific community develop an emotional sense of belonging ––– both to the brand and the virtual community.
By creating meaningful connections with customers who join virtual communities, brands can increase the value of their relationships with consumers. Nurtured over time, these relationships have the potential to enhance engagement with current customers, creating brand loyalists –– or what we would call power users.
Developing online brand communities can be a long-term investment with long-lasting benefits for your business. For instance, research shows time and time again that building close relationships between your brand and your customers can increase customer retention rates drastically.
Another advantage of virtual online communities can come from customer engagement opportunities, such as product surveys –– an opportunity to collect valuable information directly from active and engaged users. Often, members who choose to stay engaged with your brand via your online community will be the customers you can rely on to give the most beneficial and honest feedback.
Long-term Benefits of Community Engagement
- 1. Increased Brand Awareness
- Contrary to popular belief and growing ad budgets, word-of-mouth is still the most effective way to raise brand awareness and grow your business. Actually, people are 84% more likely to trust a referral from a friend or acquaintance, highlighting the importance of community engagement and the power of user-generated content.
Brand ambassadors play a critical role in helping your business engage with your community and raise brand awareness. theSkimm, a popular daily newsletter, attributed nearly 20% of its overall company growth to its customer ambassador program dubbed “Skimm’bassadors” where customers were asked to share the company’s newsletter with friends and receive milestone perks in return.
2. Improved Product Development
- While engagement primarily facilitates business growth, it can also be the most valuable and honest source of feedback for your product teams. Traditional product marketing research is often expensive and time-consuming, think focus groups, which aren’t as reliable as companies were once led to believe.
When taking part in traditional research methods, studies show that people often suffer from what’s called the Hawthorne Effect. Since people know they’re being observed and studied, they will likely change their behavior as a result. But this effect doesn’t happen in virtual communities online and when people share on social media, they tend to be far more brutal and honest in their feedback of your business and their customer experience. With 97% of online consumers searching reviews before making a purchase, it’s critical for brand communities to actively engage and create content around your company’s product.
3. Guarantees Customer Success
- Every community wants to make an impact –– and your customers are no exception. As individuals, we often find the most success with the support and guidance of others, and strong communities provide value to others when they empower and support one another.
By providing a sense of fraternity, customers can make strategic connections and become expert sources on your brand and business, providing new customers with advice and insider tips. Within a strong brand community, members often find value in sharing their passion for your product or service offering –– creating more loyalists as your business grows.
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