What is a strong brand community, and why is it important? Consider it this way, suppose you are a big sports fan. Have you ever bought a different brand of detergent because it was on sale? Maybe.
However, would you ever switch teams because another team’s t-shirts were on sale? No way.
See, that’s the power of a strong community.
When people find an authentic community they see fit, they will stick with it no matter what. Yes, even if they have options that cost them less, are more prestigious, or pay them more.
It means, having a strong and authentic community is one of the most powerful competitive edges any company (whether it is for-profit or nonprofit) can have.
Today, we will look into the top brand communities, their business strategies, the benefits they provide to their members, and what you can learn from them.
Evaluating the Benefits Communities Offer to Its Members
In this story, we will use the below framework to evaluate the benefits communities offers their members.
You can also use the same framework to determine your company’s community offering quickly. You can use any gaps as opportunities to develop new values, and the communities we will discuss as we move forward can serve as your source of inspiration.
Today, we will look at communities built around an existing product and communities in which the community itself is the main product that people are paying for.
Community Around An Existing Product
Companies typically make such communities to support customers, keep them close, and build loyalty. It is organized around particular products that members love, and the product guides the community offers.
H.O.G., Harley-Davidson’s Harley Owners Group
The H.O.G., Harley Owners Group (1), is an international community of motorcycle lovers. The entire membership is restricted to Harley-Davidson owners. However, others can also join if a full member sponsors them.
It has straight membership fees ranging from 29 to 49 USD a year. At present, the community has more than 1.4k chapters worldwide. There is no clarity regarding how much H.O.G. make. However, according to Harley-Davidson’s annual report, its “Other Revenue” consists mainly of revenue from H.O.G. membership sales, museum admissions, motorcycle rental commissions, events, and other miscellaneous products and services, but not including HD-licensed products, is more than 47 million USD a year.
Notably, in the first quarter of 2020, the aforementioned revenue category increased 15% Y-O-Y while all others, including bike parts, sales, licensing, and even the company’s financial products, were down 6.4 to 15.7 percent. It indicates how a strong community can rally during an economic crisis, helping the company weather the storm.
What Can You Learn From H.O.G.?
The Ride 365 program of H.O.G. is a series of riding challenges where members cruise pre-defined routes, visit Harley dealerships, log miles, and otherwise spend time on any hobby that brought them into the community in the first place. When members complete challenges, they get patches in return. They also receive points, which they can redeem later for Harley-Davidson gift cards.
The ride challenges outline the best cruising route worldwide, and members check them off like items on a bucket list. In the Dealership check-in challenge, members can earn points for shopping at certified Harley dealerships worldwide.
Even though there are several forms of gamification, the IRL “in real life” challenges have become unique in a world immersed in the internet. Harley also offers its members a novel experience, a memorable touchpoint with the company, and an opportunity to stand out within the community.
Another Community with IRL Challenges:
The Strenuous Life is another community with IRL challenges (2). It is a paid community operated by the founder of The Art of Manliness. The community is concentrated on helping men learn new skills. It has a series of over 50 badges that members can earn as they complete challenges like growing a garden, writing hand-written letters to loved ones, and learn to code.
The pursuit of these IRL challenges provides more than recognition or satisfaction for members. It creates an opportunity for user-generated content as people tell the story of how they participate in the community. The Strenuous Life’s newsletters are made up of user-generated reports and photos.
The Hundreds (3), born out of rebellious stake culture, is a streetwear brand steeped in community. The founder, Bobby Hundreds’ book, “This is Not a T-Shirt,” outlines how the company built a community by concentrating on in-person interaction, authentic voice, and a fierce dedication towards the mantra, “people over product.”
What Is Their Business Model?
The entire community of The Hundreds is built around selling t-shirts. There is no paywalled forum or any membership fee. Instead, Bobby is concentrating on creating a bond between the product and customers. And he does it via using a story. His blog has more than 3.5k articles, telling stories behind each of The Hundreds’ collections, talking about the culture’s concerns, and making readers feel like inside members of the streetwear art display. Consequently, The Hundreds can sell its t-shirts for as much as 160 USD.
What Can You Learn From Them?
There is so much you can learn from this brand when it comes to building community. However, two things stand out the most.
First, the company offers a direct connection to the founder. If you go to the By Bobby section on the site, you will find a button that says, “Text Bobby,” leading to the contact page below.
The functionality is powered by Community (4), a portal that allows leaders to text large groups of fans. Community members add their contact info straight to people’s phone books and open dialogue without giving out the actual number.
As per Community, texts are opened and read within three minutes of being received, which is one of the best rates for any media. To say the least, texting feels more personal. Moreover, it is also not accountable to changes in the algorithm as with Facebook or Twitter posts.
Since the open rate on text message marketing is about 98% (5), compared to an average of 20% for email, more than 4.9 people see each time Bobby sends a text. However, his small list has the same punch as a 25k people email list, or even more as he has 1:1 interactions with members, which drives a deeper sense of connection.
Community allows The Hundreds to make big revenue with a small audience. Notably, their marketing specifically encourages people not to spread the word.
In an interview, Bobby told WWD (6), “most people worldwide have never heard of our brand. If you look at our mascot, it is a bomb that never explodes. That was our original intent, to never explode completely.”
Another great feature of The Hundreds is that it has built out The Hundreds TV on its website. The page pulls in videos from their YouTube channel, and on Thursday, Bobby releases a video about him telling the story behind some of their most recent collections.
THe Hundreds classic pieces reworked by Joshua Vides. The Hundreds by @joshuavides releases tonight at 9 PM PT / Midnight ET.
— The Hundreds (@thehundreds) August 11, 2021
This type of interactive shopping, where viewers can chat, watch, and shop all in one place while engaging with a thought leader, drove over 16 billion USD in commerce in China in 2019 and about 32 billion USD in 2020.
Succulents and Sunshine
The Succulent Lovers Club (7) is an excellent example of how a solopreneur can build a thriving community around a product. Cassidy Tuttle, the author of the bestselling book, “The Idiot’s Guide to Succulents,” runs it. A platform is a place for succulent growers to learn, meet, and exchange ideas with one another.
The Business Model
The community drives revenue mostly via membership fees, about 25 USD a month. Tuttle also generates extra revenue via Amazon referral links, selling courses to community members at a discounted rates.
What Can You Learn? Setting Standards
Apart from her paid community, Tuttle also has a free Facebook group for succulent growing enthusiasts. New members need to answer several questions like sharing their recent challenge, biggest win, and agree to the group’s rule before joining. And, it is so essential.
Standards are important for keeping the health of any community. And when there is a set standard for what is and what is not tolerable, it allows you to guide the culture and build expectations that everyone can trust around group interactions. And you can also use your standards to find a solution in case of an issue.
Be sure to set a few clear rules and have every new member agree to them to protect the health of your community in the long run. Three of the most common but important community guidelines include:
- Respect for everyone
- no selling
- giving more than you receive
Community as product
There is no common product that members love in such communities. Instead, the community itself is the product. Here members pay for human connection and for a tribe that shares the same values.
Workfrom (8) is a community of remote professionals interested in networking and avoiding the loneliness from remote work. The platform has free and paid versions, where premium members can access more curated opportunities to connect.
What’s Their Business Model?
It has straight membership fees of 9.99 USD a month. With more than 3.5k members, the community is making about 35k USD revenue a month.
What Can You Learn From Workfrom?
Workfrom puts its members at the front and center, making it easy to find and connect with link-minded people. Moreover, premium members can narrow the search with geography, connecting only with other remote workers nearby.
It is an essential feature that distinguishes audiences from communities; communities focus on fostering relationships between their group’s members, whereas audiences focus only on the relationship between the brand and its followers.
If you find a way to connect members of your community, you can forge a stronger bond with all your members and your brand.
The Farnam Street Learning Community (9), run by the author Shane Parish, is a dedicated platform that helps members continue to grow, learn, and level up themselves via interaction with other smart peers. Parish, an ex-Canadian intelligence officer, has spent years blogging about the high-pressure decision-making and art of learning. The FS community is an opportunity for people who enjoy his content, share his outlook, and meet other link-minded individuals.
The Business Model
It has straight membership fees between 100 USD to 250 USD a year.
What Can You Learn? Showing Value
Farnam Street does an exceptional job of showing the value of its premium community. In the beginning, they have powerful testimonials and quotes from the community members talking about how valuable it is. The platform also has a unique model where members can pay either 100 USD or 250 USD a year. Even though both memberships offer the same perks, several members have asked how they can give more support to the resource they love and depend on. As per the landing page, “it is an easy way to do it.”
The big question that is always on most people’s minds is, “would it be worth the money?” While you may not copy Farnam Street’s payment structure, be sure to look for ways to show the value of your community to prospective members.
Creative Mornings (10) is a worldwide group of designers that hosts monthly educational meetings. It is not a paid group. However, they have made excellent accomplishments with an all-volunteer squad.
With chapters in more than 215 cities and over 1.5k volunteers, the community hosts more than 2.5k educational events every year. These events are like mini TED expos, professionally filmed with fascinative creators giving 20 to 30-minute talks on the most important parts of their trade. Each event has about a hundred attendees.
What Can You Learn? Community Leadership Program
Building a strong community needs communicating and connecting with every member, which becomes more challenging as the group grows. Whether you are a solopreneur, managing the community yourself, or a huge company with a dozen dedicated community managers, your efforts can only go so far.
Hence, you need to implement a community leader program to find, recruit, and train volunteer leaders within the community to scale. These people can be your brand ambassadors and trusted sounding boards for your core team to offer insights and feedback on the community.
And Creating Mornings has one of the most thorough community leadership programs of any volunteer organization globally. There is only one leader per city, and they sign a one-year contract officially licensing the Creative Mornings name. They commit to working over 40 hours per month for free to produce a dozen high-quality events every year, and coordinate sponsors, even marketing, videography, reporting, and more.
In exchange, they become an integral member of their local design community and get the satisfaction of helping fellow creators to learn and grow professionally. They also get leadership training via Creative Mornings, a direct connection to the CM team and other volunteer leaders, and a degree of prestige. Since their standards are so high, being a Creative Mornings organizer means a lot in the design world. You also want your leadership program to achieve the same.
Challenges and Opportunities
According to Community Industry Trends Report 2021 published by CMX Hub (11), there are several challenges professional community builders face. And each of these challenges offers multiple opportunities for products and services for community managers.
We can boil down these challenges into 3As; Assembly, Automation, and Analytics.
The biggest challenge both the online and in-person communities face is assembly and getting members to engage with the group actively. As previously mentioned, platforms like Community allow leaders to continue personal conversations at scale to increase the percentage of a group that engages at any given time. Solutions like Community would continue to be in demand as more businesses will focus on community building.
There are challenges like manual efforts, the need for bigger staff, and time-consuming planning; all of them speak to a requirement for automation tools, making it easier for small community tools to operate at scale.
Like any other team in a company, community teams also need to be data-driven to know which initiatives are working and prove their value to the company. The last is particularly challenging as there is not always a direct return on community programs similar to ad-spend. And since most community team members are not from a technical background, there are opportunities for tools that make the data as user-friendly as possible.