Four Winning Approaches to Building Communities in the New Brand Space

Four Winning Approaches to Building Communities in the Direct Brand World

In the direct brand economy, companies are increasingly viewing their sales holistically through their communities. They do this by prioritizing their customers’ interests while strengthening their bond with the company and their community. There are many success stories of digitally native brand growth for a variety of products and services, with a common denominator being that they strive to create a seamless loop that extends out into their communities and back to their presence on the web.

Here are some inspiring examples of companies doing great community building with four distinct and effective approaches, each of which is designed to build stronger brand affinity and engagement for both new and repeat customers.

1. Serve Someone Else’s Community

You can do this when a brand is just starting, or at any point during their growth cycle. Men’s essentials brand Mack Weldon made its first foray into an existing community at Equinox gyms where they started selling their performance underwear to men at the gym who are all clearly living an active lifestyle. Not only were the products something they wanted, but they were also something they needed, because underwear and socks are the two things that gym-goers forget the most.

Mack Weldon has gone on to form other partnerships, including with established brick and mortal retailer J. Crew. They initially starting selling their line in J. Crew stores, and seeing how the community of regular shoppers took to their brand as part of the curated content the retailer offers, expanded the partnership to develop a line of underwear exclusive to J. Crew.

To be successful, both brands have to feel that attitudinally and psychologically, the brands marry up well together. If they do, then it is a win-win for sales for both partners, while also strengthening their offline communities.

2. Create Class (Instead of Mass) Experiences

Legacy brands often try to build communities through sponsorships of large events like concert tours. But what they often miss out on is being able to create a brand experience unique to them within those events. Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands take the opposite approach, creating smaller experiences designed to have a bigger impact.

Curated dog treat brand BarkBox opened BarkPark in Nashville last year. The brand describes BarkPark as “an outdoor clubhouse for dogs and their people, brought to you by the makers of BarkBox.” It was designed to be both a fun dog park and a hip human hangout, offering free wifi, coffee, and comfy seats. And, of course, you can try and buy BarkBox brand toys and treats too, which makes it the perfect sampling sales experience; and one that people actually pay to attend.

In a similar vein, Casper has created The Dreamery, a nap bar in New York City where sleep-deprived city dwellers can book a nap on one of Casper’s cutting-edge mattresses. The experience comes with the use of high quality pajamas, a sleep mask, earplugs, makeup wipes, and a book to fall asleep to, and costs 25 dollars. Healthy snacks, a cup of cold brew coffee and a goody bag of luxury skincare samples are included. Think of the average (and not very personal) mattress experience, and then think about this complete lifestyle experience which also answers a need.

3. Direct Customers into the Real World

The Solé Bicycle brand was created by a group of friends while attending the University of Southern California, to serve the campus and the surrounding community. The brand has grown significantly online, but still has their original bike shop on campus where students can hang out, maintain their bikes, and buy new ones.

For the last five years the company has held an annual all day ride and party called The Jaunt, and according to company CEO Jimmy Standley, “Last year we rode our bikes about four miles to a park, took it over, and literally shut down the Pacific Coast Highway because there were so many riders on it.”

Solé knows that the heart of their brand community is their love for riding, so they came up with what they call Fixtapes, which are mix tapes made to be enjoyed on bike rides. The tapes are put together by popular DJs and consist of what they would like to listen to on a long ride. Solé now has 66 different Fixtapes, all available for free, which have been downloaded and enjoyed on thousands of bike rides.

4. Let the Community Speak for You

For years, brands have done all the talking, and it has been a one way conversation. People have grown immune to brand-speak, and tend to trust “real” voices. What has happened is that ordinary people, enabled by their computers and mobile devices, have become avid (and voluntary) content creators. Publishers, marketers, and brands are increasingly taking notice of the User Generated Content (UGC) trend and putting it to work to build and strengthen their communities.

Brooklinen, a DTC bedding company, leverages UGC across their site to build their community and promote brand loyalty. They invite consumers to leave reviews, incentivizing them with coupons and upsell opportunities. They also comment back on reviews to create a two-way conversation.

Some DTC brands are capitalizing on the strength of their community by using UGC images in their advertising. Blenders, a DTC eyewear company, uses their UGC as cost-efficient creative for Facebook ads that retarget shoppers with the power of social proof. According to Chase Fisher, the founder of Blenders Eyewear, they “immediately saw the impact of UGC on consumer engagement, community and conversion.” (Source: Yotpo.)

These are just a few initial steps brands can take to build communities. IAB has a host of resources to consult for direct brands, including the new IAB UGC for Marketing & Advertising Purposes Buyer’s Guide. In it you will find a variety of ways to incorporate UGC in marketing to build communities and drive engagement online and off.

Brands and creative/media agencies are invited to attend the IAB Influencer/UGC Marketing Day on July 22 in NYC.  This can’t miss, free-to-attend, event will highlight opportunities and challenges with influencer and UGC marketing.  The FTC will present to discuss the important topic of disclosure .  Request a pass here!



Susan Borst
Head of Social and Content Marketing Solutions
at IAB