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Building brands for communities
Why letting go of control is the secret behind successful community brands
First time here? I’m Amanda, and this is Creative Growth Memo, a newsletter that breaks down authentic brands (from grassroots baby brands to Fortune 500 behemoths). I give you the cheat codes to build a brand that lasts with: 1 case study/week & 3 actionable tips to build strong brands. If you like what you read here, you can: book a 1:1 call with me, find me on Twitter, or follow me on LinkedIn.
I’ve been marveling at this week’s auto worker strike.
My takeaway: Organized communities are powerful.
I once worked with a labor union. One of the union members had the union name and logo tattooed on his bicep (talk about incentive to keep the logo the same).
Talk about incentive to retain the old logo 😅
I love brands building for communities. But it’s not easy.
It’s not easy because there’s a perception that brand management is about control.
Getting groups of people to do anything together is nothing short of miraculous.
Old world brand building: command + control.
New world brand building: trust + inspire.
What is a community?
3 real community brands
3 tips for building an authentic community brand
What’s a community?
First things first:
A customer base is not a community.
An email list is not a community.
A community is interconnected.
Here’s how I define a community:
A close-knit group of people with a common goal, bond or interest.
For marketers who say ‘join the community’ when they mean ‘give us your email’ - that’s quite the shift.
Shifting from command + control to trust + inspire
People, when powered by shared belief and asked to do something meaningful, can change the world.
Brands, for the most part, sleep on this opportunity because they try to control a community to do something for the brand.
If you want a community, you have to ditch the brand police brigade. Fewer rules! More community organizing!
The very best community-centric brands do three things:
Articulate an inspiring vision with (and for) the community.
Reflect their users. Visually. Verbally.
Trust their users to take on roles to reflect and build on their brand.
Three real examples of community brands from grassroots to VC backed behemoths
Word Tonic. Word Tonic is a 400+ strong GEN-Z copywriting community. Set up by Carolyn McMurray and seven other founding members, the community of copywriters exists for GEN-Z copywriters. Word Tonic aren’t afraid to be explicit about who they’re not for (Anyone who's NOT GEN-Z (millennial, boomer, gen-x we love you but this is a safe space just for us.) A brand, being clear about who they’re for? We love to see it Word Tonic’s ident is bright! It’s chaotic! There are Kermit memes. Britney memes. Memes I don’t even understand. Are there brand guidelines? Does it even matter? It’s obviously working for them. The lesson: When you know what your community stands for, expression follows naturally.
Twitch. Twitch is a live streaming platform for gamers. With over 2M broadcasters monthly, 140M monthly unique viewers, 15M daily active users and 241 billion minutes of gaming content streamed - it’s an engaged platform. How do you brand a product that is effectively a 16:9 box that creators fill? You put your creators front and center. Twitch’s rebrand embraced creators, emotes, and what I’d call ‘internet language’. The lesson: When you’re working with a highly engaged community, don’t reinvent the wheel: take notes from what’s already there.
Rapha Cycling Club. Rapha’s mission is to make cycling the most popular sport in the world. Rapha changed all that by repositioning cycling as exclusive and hardcore. Their motto: Ex Duris Gloria, ‘from suffering, glory. Rapha launched RCC with 600 members in 2014. Members get access to weekly member rides, high end road bike rentals, free coffees and exclusive gear. The identity is premium. It’s giving secret society. It’s giving hardcore athlete. It feels like you made the cut of an elite university cycling team…and you want everyone to know it (without saying a word). The lesson: To grow your community, make it attractive to identify yourself as a member.
3 lessons to love & learn from
Build with, not for. Co-create the brand you’re building with the community. Facebook groups, meme pages, Reddit threads, and interviews are a great starting point for finding people with shared interests. Listen to them. When you’re building a brand for a community, the community is your client. Tactical play: choose something you’re willing to change based on the input from the community - could be a logo, color, programming. Then (and this is the trick) actually implement the community’s feedback.
Hand over the brand to the community. Find your most engaged community members. These are the people that are commenting on everything. They might be your biggest detractors. Test what you’re building with these people. Tactical play: Invite community members to guest post, moderate a community, or organize an event.
Use brand identity to signal who belongs in your community. I call these badges of belonging. Make it easy for your community to identify themselves (hello, Word Tonic tone of voice!) and identify & connect with others (Rapha pink!), whether it’s online or in real life. Tactical play: Create a badge of belonging & allow new members to opt in to receive it. The stronger your brand, the more likely they’ll want to actually wear it.
Building brands for communities is tough. You don’t have one client - you have hundreds. Or thousands. If your brand is truly representative of a community, you gotta reflect them in your brand - which requires a huge shift in how you think about brand.
If you read to this point, mind telling me what you want to read more about? 👇
Til next time 👋
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