The evolution of the digital world has enabled us to build communities with more ease but bringing a group of people together around your brand, supporting them and growing is still hard to nail. Some brands succeed in establishing their communities and reap the benefits. Big brands such as Dove, Nike, and Apple understand this. They know how to maximise the connections between their communities and their brands.

Building a community around your brand is complex. I have listed five ideas/strategies to help you start building a new community or strengthen your existing communities.

1. Build a customer-oriented community

It is essential to establish a customer-centric community. Why? Your brand personality and story are what resonates with your customers. By default, your community is about serving your customers’ wants and needs. Your community needs to provide value, a point of relatability, and inspiration. Understanding your customers’ needs can be achieved by communicating with them and understanding what matters. The steps you take are focused on that information.

The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour and brand interactions, ultimately impacting brand communities. Recognising your consumer’s struggles is crucial to learning how to champion and strengthen your community. Studies have shown that COVID-19 has severely affected levels of loneliness and mental health issues. Your brand community can help curb this.

For example, provide a space for your customers to connect. Twitch effectively does this with their Discord server. Their users can communicate and connect without the obligation to primarily focus on Twitch services. Communities are about human connections and meaningful interactions. When your brand provides a way for your customers to connect organically, you’ve enabled belonging, meaning and community for them.

2. Communities are for and by the people

Don’t think of your brand community as something you own; you must release control. Consumers do not like being controlled. Assuming complete control will cripple your brand community.

I am not suggesting all responsibilities are resigned. Quite the opposite, your role is vital, just exercised elsewhere and differently. Your responsibility is to ensure your brand establishes the conditions required for your community to thrive. You must adopt a hands-off approach and allow your community to decide how you can serve them best organically. LEGO adopted this approach and bounced back from bankruptcy to the no.1 toy manufacturer. In the LEGO community, creative LEGO fans can submit construction ideas with the chance of seeing them on the shelves, if popular.

3. Knowing what your brand stands for

Establish your brand standing in the world, politically, socially and environmentally, and be clear and consistent.

Studies show consumers now not only prefer brands aligned with important issues but also demand to know. Edelman’s Earned Brand study (2018) highlights that nearly two-thirds of consumers now buy on belief: “[t]hese Belief-Driven Buyers will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about.”

Ultimately your brand’s actions need to resonate with your customers, and it is the key to a loyal customer base. Taking a stand can be done in various ways. For example, guaranteeing all entry-level workers are paid a living wage, donating to a worthy cause with every purchase your customers make or pledging a commitment to environmental sustainability. Bombas has donated 900,000 pairs of socks to the homeless per their donation per purchase policy.

4. Not all conflict is bad conflict

Don’t shy away from a good fight. Brand giants are known to get in the ring and face conflicts head-on. The value in conflict? It helps propel your brand to the forefront of people’s conversations. More people get to know about you if more people are talking about you.

A great example is Dove and its multiple “controversial” campaigns, i.e. “Campaign for Real Beauty” and “Dove Men+ Care”. Each campaign tackles real-life issues relevant to Dove’s brand vision. The “Campaign for Real Beauty” confronts the industry beauty standards. By acknowledging women worldwide, Dove created an inclusive platform for women to connect and resonate with their brand and products. The “Dove Men+ Care” campaign saw Dove collaborate with Headspace, a leading mindfulness and meditation app. Again, Dove showcased their commitment to customer well-being caring beyond their bodies and focusing on mental health. Dove enlarged their community by targeting men, acknowledging that their male customers also need space.

5. Digital is essential, but you must tackle the physical too

Online communities are critical, but they are not the entire picture. Future-proof communities recognise avenues beyond our digital footprint. L’Oreal is a clear representation of this, understanding that no one fits all strategy for community building. Chief digital officer Lubomira Rochet explains the reason being is in some countries; TV remains to be dominant, whereas in other countries video and social are dominant.

Brands can also do this on a smaller scale. For example, your brand could focus on grassroots and local charity sponsorships to establish a more robust social relationship and enhance the parameters of your brand community.

Establishing an authentic community is vital to your brand. It requires patience, commitment, and an extensive understanding of your community’s DNA. You’ll build a loyal customer base and reap the benefits if you can do all three.