Case Study — Building a Community Framework
How we built a research-backed framework for community-building by studying established communities across the world.
This framework was created with the help of independent researchers Mugdha K, Joel Jacob and Renan George, in conjunction with BCKDRP.
By studying patterns of community formation and behavior, through six months of deep research and discovery, we created an actionable blueprint for community-building — one that is universally applicable.
Context and Problem Statement
An Influencer Marketing Agency approached BCKDRP to create a community-building framework for brands. Here, “brand community” refers to a group of customers that are non-geographically bound, and who share a commonality: they are emotionally invested in the brand.
Brand communities are far more than just purchasers of a product — they’re connected by something deeper, that supports and enables the brand to flourish.
As defined in this research, “[a brand community] refers to a community formed based on attachment to a product or brand and built upon shared values, common interest, and connections.”
If a brand were to have a thriving community, customers would not only buy the products, but also consume their content, talk about the product with friends and family, share their passion for the product on social media, block calendars to attend their events, and so on. These individuals would not be passive consumers of a product but take an active role in activities surrounding it. The brand on its part also engages with this community, letting members know they are valued as much as they value the product/brand.
On average, internal and external communities generate 6,469% ROI for organizations.
ROI follows this trend as communities age:
At 2 years: 1,352%
At 4 years: 6,295%
At 7 years: 7,593%
At 10 years: 10,158%”
Heather McNair, Chief Community Officer at Higher Logic has this to say —
“When you create a thriving community, a powerful transformation takes place: The collective knowledge of the group is unlocked, and everyone grows as a result…And people who were once everyday users grow into your brand heroes.”
Despite this, it’s hard to find businesses and startups that really recognize the power of community-building from the very beginning. Most founders focus single-mindedly on building product and optimizing for growth using traditional engagement strategies. Startups look at product-market fit and user acquisition before anything else. Naturally, community-building takes on an arbitrary and distant role in day-to-day operations — at best, supplementing marketing functions.
Some are also misguided in believing that sustaining a community simply means incentivizing product preference via freebies, discounts and a general attitude of burning cash for growth upticks.
This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Recognizing the power that a strong community can wield, and the role it plays in ensuring stability for the brand (not just in the ‘long run’, but even at early stages of growth), can very well be the competitive advantage to succeed.
Community-building is a business function. An important one.
For a brand community to yield maximum results, it must be given a place in high-level strategy for business growth and the many other benefits:
Keeping this in mind, we condensed our problem statement to the following — develop a relevant, holistic, clearly defined framework that is flexible enough to be adapted practically to a variety of brands, industries and demographics.
The key components of this framework had to be:
- Relevance, i.e., keeping in mind the pandemic, dominance of digital communication and what that means for community-building;
- Flexibility, i.e., usable by completely different brands with the same level of impact; and
- Practicality, i.e., highly actionable — steps were to be clear and implementable after being introduced to the framework.
During our research phase, we used the Double Diamond design thinking process. It is a framework for innovation that helps designers and non-designers across the world tackle some of the most complex social, economic and environmental problems.
There were two things that came into play here: research and experience. We knew we had enough of the latter to shape our understanding of building a community — through the knowledge we had gained building two loyal communities: LVNG and the sxene.
With community being at the heart of both these brands, we knew first-hand about the impact a loyal group of people could have when bound by a common vision. People become emotionally invested, not just because of a product, but the connection (with other people) that the product enables.
Within months of starting both LVNG and the sxene, we had superfans. In the build-up to the event, we had people changing their profile picture to our brand logo, people telling their friends about our new events, artists making posters for us, photographers sending in images, and so on.
Passion is infectious, but passion comes with a genuine connection. If brands can’t foster this, they’re clearly missing out.
These first-hand experiences with community-building influenced our research. We, however, realized that community-building centred around music differed from communities around other themes and values. We needed to get to the heart of how to bring people together in a prolonged and sustainable fashion, regardless of genre.
For this study, we broke the process down into 3 sections: a) the 4-step design thinking process we followed, b) the emerging patterns of communities we observed, and c) the framework itself.
Discovering, Defining, Designing and Delivering.
Through our discovery process, we found and shortlisted select brand communities to study: Red Bull, OnePlus, Lululemon, LEGO, Pampers, and California Baby, and WeWork. We looked at their histories, how they came together, what they were based on, who managed them, deeply studying every aspect of their existence.
We also spoke to heads of community and marketing at various companies, learning about their pain points, motivations, challenges, and more. Through this, we could organize our research into clusters, bringing out the core principles that stayed constant across communities.
Identifying Community Formation Patterns
One of the trends that emerged was that of “The Superfan Theory”.
The idea of brands rewarding their most loyal and engaged customers. As exemplified by Sephora and Lego, superfans get more opportunities to be involved, as well as more responsibility.
They moderate online forums, answer questions and offer advice, act as first-testers of new products, are active with referral programs, are readily available for interviews and surveys, and much more. They eventually prove themselves to be indispensable assets for the brand.
Because of the potential with strategies that involve superfans, there now even exists a SaaS tool for this purpose.
On further analysis, we found three more key principles that were imperative to building any community. Each has several methods and examples that fit within the overarching principle.
- The Superfan Theory: Its practical expression includes things like having a unique onboarding experience, gamifying the community experience, getting input in product development, launching loyalty programs, and giving access to intimate events.
- Experiences (online & offline): Having an experiential store, exclusive community events, challenges and giveaways, and creating content that is shareable.
- Community Discussion: Creating a safe space for members to organically converse through online forums, Discord, WhatsApp, and so on. It’s used to discover new competitive products, foster positive brand opinion, gamify engagement and conversations.
- Beyond Product: This involves having core values and a vision, wherein the community first serves the people, then the business, creating belonging and in-group identity, emphasizing the broader goal rather than the product itself.
With the research complete, the data clear, and the focus in place, it was time to develop and deliver solutions.
The Solution — What Brands Need
Our community framework, is divided into three core principles that, when put into practice, become the three stages of community-building. These are linear, for the most part, but could also have elements that are cyclical.
Through observing various communities that were formed, we realized that while it was possible to build a community without all three stages, they weren’t necessarily productive communities.
Many brands, in fact, take the quick route, conducting sporadic community events in a burst of energy, only to die out later on. Those efforts are only short-termed and don’t allow brands to reap the long-term benefits of a loyal, engaged group of people.
Well-formed, active communities are built using all three stages:
This is the why of the community. While these may seem repetitive and unimportant — “isn’t the why of my community, the same as the why of my brand” — the answer is, even if it is, it needs to be spelt out. It’s important to understand the community's identity, its purpose and the problem it solves. More often than not, the community’s foundational principles differ from that of the product’s and the brand’s.
Once the principles of a community are set in place, the next step is to create systems through which members are engaging. It must be consistent and valuable. This includes having an acquisition plan, a superfan strategy, a content strategy, community guidelines and so on.
At this stage, while everything may look good, it’s imperative to build structures that make sure this engagement is sustained, that it’s not simply short bursts of energy that will die down. That’s the biggest failure of any community. This stage includes having leadership and management in place, a growth plan, financially sustainable systems, and knowledge-transfers for successful succession.
This is a brief overview of the community framework — spelling out what this looks like for different kinds of communities specifically is a process in itself.
While the ideas within each of these stages are necessary, they should not be limiting. This framework is the groundwork — there is a lot more that can be achieved once the brand really starts treating community-building as the business function that it is.
Akin to an MVP, the lowest hanging fruit for any community is called an “MVC” — a minimum viable community, the most basic setup that brands should start with to build their community foundations.
It’s a short version of the same overarching framework principles, communicating the core elements. With community-building, starting is most important. An MVC allows for testing products, new launches, and getting feedback on everything brand-related. All without losing the loyalty that comes with an authentic community.
Check out how to create yours here.
We’re optimistic about the future of community-building, not just for enabling brands to flourish, but also for the benefits that individuals gain from it.
Get in touch with us for access to the framework, our community case studies on Lego, LuluLemon, and OnePlus, among others, or to chat about how to build an MVC for your brand.