Brand community is the term which I am living with for the last three years. It simply means a group of people who are connected to a brand, irrespective of whether they have purchased it or not. In earlier times, brand communities were formed in offline world which required gathering of brand enthusiasts at a particular place at regular intervals of time to stay connected with other brand enthusiasts and feel proud of being associated with the brand. I wonder if any brand in India, could manage to build such a strong brand community, but the one global brand which did it successfully is Harley Davidson. Also, these brand community enthusiasts helped fellow community members in whatever manner they could. However, with the arrival of Internet and subsequently social media which facilitated enormous amount of two way communication the phenomenon of brand communities has become crucial for every organization.This pulsating combination of brand community and the social media impressed me and thus I chose this as my research topic for my doctoral work.
I had an opportunity to talk about research avenues in this domain, with doctoral students of Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad. The initially planned 6 hours session exceeded to 7 hours session with just three doctoral students. Yes, you don’t have luxury of many voices in a doctoral class! It was indeed a new experience for me and enjoyed it a lot.
We began discussing the change in branding phenomenon. Gone are the days when branding was just considered to be an activity that marketing department had to fulfill. We discussed how various environmental factors have enriched the branding phenomenon as its impact on business ecosystem has become complex. The discussion led to the point that branding is not just about logos, name, colour etc. but its a promise that an organization makes to the both internal and external stakeholders. Then we discussed about the emergence of brand community phenomenon. This led to the discussion on user-generated brand communities vs. firm-generated brand communities. It was necessary to understand that given the technology available, even if brands choose not to participate in this community phenomenon, there are other stakeholders who have the rights and the capability to create a brand community and one never knows if that brand community would be spreading a positive word of mouth or a negative!
Then we arrived at the discussion of where to host the brand community assuming that brand decides to create a community around its brand. There are two alternatives, either brands could create it on their own infrastructure (corporate website or a dedicated website for the community) or they could leverage third party infrastructure like that of Facebook, Twitter etc. It came out very well from the discussion that creating a brand community is just half job done, the challenge lies in maintaining the momentum of the community on a continuous basis. Once, the brand realizes it therein emerge related issues of why community members should join a community?, why they would participate regularly? what they would get out of this community? and last but not the least, how would brand get benefited (explicitly or implicitly) after having invested resources in this community building and community management exercise.
The answers to the above questions were found in the second half of the day with live examples shared by me and we sliced case studies one after another to understand each aspect raised above.
I was happy that by end of the day, I could expose the students to this topic, make them understand its importance and helped them identify few research avenues which they could pursue further in their doctoral research journey.