Don’t build a brand, build a community

Brand is in the hands of the consumer

Over time brand evolved from being a simple promise to the customer to becoming a two-way relationship. More recently, brand has focused on the consumer experience. Today, we’re seeing the latest evolution where brand management becomes community-driven. It is built around like-minded groups, including consumers and fans, as well as employees and influencers.

At its best, this can result in people-centric, empathetic, open and connected communities with purpose. But it can make traditional brand managers nervous, not least because it demands the question: who really owns a brand?

Community-first, business second

Technology allows people to come together and organize communities easily. Increasingly they’re grouping around niche subjects, including brands. Forward-thinking businesses are recognizing this as an opportunity to engage their audiences, and even improve their products and services.

In China, Volkswagen was facing increased competition. The car manufacturer responded to the challenge by launching the ‘People’s Car Project’, asking Chinese consumers directly what kind of cars they want to see built. The approach was authentic and audience-focused, and more than 33 million people visited the website while live, submitting more than 119,000 ideas.


We also see brands forming out of communities. Make-up brand Glossier started as a blog for cosmetics-lovers. It quickly built up a committed following and developed into a marketplace, selling the products the members wanted. CEO and founder Emily Weiss never set out to create a beauty company, but the blog’s popularity and collective knowledge of the community meant it made sense to pivot.

Glossier packaging

Branded communities boost sales by 20 percent, according to a study from the University of Michigan. However, true community involves giving up some control and you can never be sure where that will lead you. The Natural Environment Research Council’s campaign, which asked the UK public to name its new research vessel, demonstrates that risk perfectly: the overwhelming winner was “Boaty McBoatface”.

Landor’s brand take-outs:

Brand management needs a new playbook for success that will help you create communities like Glossier, and not be left with a Boatface. Here are our three key take-outs for brands looking to build a community of their own:

1. Build communities you can trust

Giving up control is an unfamiliar place for brands to find themselves. The winners will be those that can trust the communities they gather—this requires time, investment and, importantly, authenticity.

2. Creating a community means asking people to ‘opt-in’, which requires businesses to adopt a different mindset

Differentiation remains important, as does relevance. To attract advocates and create a true community, brands need to stand out and stand for something, creating a genuine sense of belonging to members.

3. Building, nurturing and sustaining communities will become the decisive force in brand management

Businesses face a hypercompetitive, rapidly evolving marketplace—brands must be flexible and willing to change in response to their changing audiences and consumers, and true community engagement will put brands at an advantage in this new world.