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Create love by building a community

Charlie Cookson

Strategy Director

Landor South East Asia




In Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Harvard commencement address, he focused much of his speech on the importance of fostering and building communities to create shared purpose.


"Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.”


In today’s content-saturated era, consumers increasingly seek brands that connect with them on this more emotional level. Like when we choose our friends, we choose our brands based on the values we share. Harley Davidson realized this when they centralized their strategy on building and nurturing communities of like-minded riders – all looking for that sense of personal freedom only a Harley can provide.


This new sphere of existence presents a series of challenges for brands who still live in the world of command and control marketing. Using the brand book to create consistency is no longer enough to guarantee consumer love. Brands today are managed by communities of people who interact with one another in complex, non-linear ways.


Communities by nature are people-centric, democratic, purpose-driven entities which thrive on the ideas of empathy and openness. Smart marketers will be successful in creating love by involving staff and consumers alike to create a shared sense of purpose and ownership.


­­­Shift from the “what” to the “why”


The first change we need to make is to put the why of the brand before what you do. Co-operative outdoor brand REI famously believe that a life outdoors is a life well-lived. They have built a community of over 6 million like-minded individuals who value fresh air, taking care of their land and their communities, and getting a deal on the gear that allows them to enjoy these pursuits. For REI, it’s people and the outdoors first, and product second.


Make assets more accessible


The second change we must make is to involve more people in building a brand. Ohio State University has a lot of fans, and not just for the football team. Students, alumni, and communities all rally behind the university, a large, multifaceted institution with countless touchpoints. To make the OSU experience a seamless one, the university has made it easy for anyone to access brand elements. Through a comprehensive website, anyone can download brand assets, see correct usage, or request templates or approval. By giving the many different members of the OSU community access to the branding, OSU ensures that regardless of where you encounter them, Ohio State always appears as “One University”.


Celebrate superfans


Another significant change is for marketers to think about how to corral the power of superfans. These individuals are key in building brands focused around a shared sense of purpose. Passionate fans of the Ziploc brand create and post videos to YouTube about clever uses for the iconic bags. To keep the conversations going, Ziploc teams engage with these superfans by reaching out to them, commenting on their posts, and sending free samples of the products to encourage goodwill and ongoing dialogue.


Lego has gone as far as to create “Lego Certified Professionals” – a community-based program made up of adult Lego hobbyists selected for their building proficiency, enthusiasm, and professionalism. Sean Kenney is an artist who works exclusively with Lego bricks. His “Nature Connects” work is a recent award-winning, record-breaking exhibition, created with over 2 million LEGO pieces, and featuring over 100 sculptures.


Use ‘open-source’ assignments for brand-building activities


When Mozilla decided to update the branding for Firefox – they invited consumers to contribute to the process. In a completely “open-source” initiative – the public can upload their ideas, and the end product will be a community-created brand identity, which will be available through Creative Commons. This way of giving consumers access to an activity previously considered suitable only for expert design and marketing teams will help build a greater sense of trust and affinity.


These examples of how brands are embracing communities to foster a sense of shared purpose are just some of the ways to start bringing people on board to manage your brand with you. By making some small changes in the way we involve people in brand management, we have an opportunity to open up a whole new world of ways to create a communal sense of purpose and, ultimately, love.