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How to Get Brand Communities Right

Liz Carson

A white tiled wall with a framed sign saying

There’s a lot of talk about brand communities these days. And for good reason.    

A brand community showcases loyalty at its best. It occurs when your brand’s most devoted fans gather to connect and exchange ideas. They are emotionally invested in your brand, which inspires trust. 

When people trust your brand, they will engage in your content, co-create with you, attend your events, purchase your products, and share their experiences. 

Today, we connect with brands that reflect our beliefs. This is not opinion, but fact. Our 2023 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index showed that ‘has values close to my own’ is one of the top reasons Canadians say they trust a brand or corporation, second only to employee well-being. 

According to Mark Schaefer, the author of Belonging to the Brand, communities are reshaping the marketing landscape: “Helping a person belong to something represents the ultimate marketing achievement.”  Why? Because it changes the marketing dynamic. You are connecting, not selling. Collaborating, not directing. Talking with your community, not at them. The power of two-way marketing through genuine community engagement is undeniable.  

Communities can foster engagement, deepen customer relationships, and ultimately drive growth. They can inspire new ideas, lighten a company’s load by answering product-related questions, or even come to a brand’s defence in times of reputational risk. When done well, brand communities can be a key tool in your marketing arsenal. 

So how do you create brand communities? Here is my take on real marketers who get it right with their brands: 

Motivate with a Mission: We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. When a brand’s truth connects genuinely with a cultural truth, it resonates with people who share those values. Dating app Bumble understands this. Bumble inspires connections in love, life, and work. Its mission is to end misogyny through accountability, equality, and kindness. From empowering its members to stand up for reproductive rights to Serena Williams’ infamous #InHerCourt campaign, Bumble lives its truth. 

Partner with Community: Your community doesn’t work for you. Repeat that with me. People connect with brand communities when they enjoy the experience, it answers their questions, or they benefit in some way. Just look at Lululemon’s Sweat Collective – brand believers with a love of Lulu and an active lifestyle. From yogis to personal trainers, they weigh in on product designs and access special events and exclusive discounts as member perks. Popular beauty retailer Sephora also has a thriving brand community – Beauty Insider. This online hub is where the beauty-obsessed can discuss their favourite products, share tips, earn points for purchases, or enjoy exclusive experiences. You also get a birthday gift – sweet!   

Co-Create with Your Community: User-Generated Content – content created by real people, not marketers – fosters a brand community. The grassroots nature of this content (think real, not glossy) acts as a form of word-of-mouth with the benefits of being repurposed on brand channels, highlighting open dialogues, and creating shared brand experiences. No one knows this better than the streaming music service Spotify, which turns user data into compelling stories. Who didn’t giggle at this quirky UK billboard with the tag: “Be as loving as the person who put 48 Ed Sheeran songs on their ‘I Love Gingers’ playlist”? I know I did. Closer to home, Canada’s Spotify 2023 Wrapped unveils our most streamed secret songs, then invites us to spread the word. Brilliant.  

Listen & Learn: How do you stay relevant? By listening to your community. A decade ago, Founder Joanna Griffiths started Knix – an intimate apparel company – by listening to women talk online about their desire for better products. This customer-centric approach inspired Knix’s brand value of living “unapologetically free,” from untouched photo shoots to demystifying perimenopause. 

Connect & Delight: Taylor Swift isn’t just a musician; she’s the Queen of brand community. Her approach of connecting, empowering, and delighting ensures her “Swifties” devotion. Taylor is known for liking her fans’ posts, responding to their messages, and even opening her home for dancing and cookies. From sharing her journey of the double standards women face to seeing both Beyoncé and Taylor at their respective film openings, her value of solidarity for women is front and centre. In 2023, her vault tracks were locked away for years, then released as a special surprise to her fans. But you don’t have to be a star to connect. Who gets passionate over a cooler? Apparently, the 2 million+ outdoor fans on YETI’s Instagram. Drinkables brand YETI has an outstanding reputation for high-quality products with an equally high price tag. From empowering their customers to share their innovative ideas and stories to ‘surprising and delighting’ with limited edition coolers, YETI has built a connected cult following. 

At a time when the world is increasingly divided, these communities bring people together around a single common bond: your brand.