Imagined Community


Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Humans are social creatures, and we identify with social groups in various ways. We also have the ability to identify with very large communities — countries, for example, or the fan base of a sports team or band, a Harry Potter fandom, or a global community of people who believe in zero-packaging grocery shopping. Brands have the ability to create this sort of large-scale community; in fact, sports teams, bands, and book franchises are brands which have done so very effectively. How can your brand create, or tap into, such a community of followers?

What is imagined community?

We share an affinity with large groups even if we don’t know every single person in the group; this affinity is called imagined community. Imagined community is a concept described in 1983 by the political scientist Benedict Anderson. Anderson was talking about nationhood, but the concept extends to any large-scale group that makes an individual feel a sense of belonging. The individual differences that mean a lot when you talk to people face-to-face may cease to matter when we’re united by something else. And we’re able to identify with other people from the same imagined community based on certain markers which could include a visual symbol like a flag or T-shirt, a common sense of values, a hashtag, a person, a way of speaking.

Making imagined community work for your brand

Which markers do your audiences identify with your brand and its community? Is there a strong value or approach you’re known for? Is there a tone that audiences immediately associate with you? Which aspects of what you’re communicating help to unite your audiences? And remember, the most ‘visible’ aspects of your brand — like corporate identity or logo — may not always be the things that resonate most among your audiences. When considering the sort of imagined communities your audiences belong to, and the type of community you’d like to create or grow for your brand, it will become easier to identify what unites them, and what brings them together, and what creates strong communities and relationships that help you to engage with them more effectively.