Are brand community members the new influencers?

Social media, influencer marketing, owned content...just when you thought you had all marketing bases covered, it appears there's another model on the horizon that experts are claiming could lead the way when it comes to building loyalty, engagement and sales in 2020. 

Enter 'brand communities', whereby a business can tap into the voice of top consumers to uncover insights they can use to develop new products and build loyalty. 

This might not sound groundbreaking, after all brands have been using Facebook groups and forums for this exact purpose for years. But the increased need for, and subsequent innovation around brand communities, has increased ten fold in the last year. 

Take Sephora. Not many people are aware that behind the scenes the company is connecting with an entire network of consumers via its online community, Beauty Talk – a huge forum where customers ask questions and share ideas with other beauty enthusiasts. The retailer's Beauty Board also allows further engagement, giving members the opportunity to upload pictures of themselves wearing Sephora products.

In this case, the customer instantly becomes a brand ambassador and the retailer's buying and marketing teams can use the forums to find out which products are resonating the most.

Elsewhere, new platforms such as Zypher are helping brands to build communities. The start-up's software can identify a brand's top 1% of fans who are then invited to join a private community by downloading the Zypher app. Via this technology, the brand can then engage in conversations, create content challenges, host focus groups and reward fans with exclusive experiences.

"Consumers are looking to engage with authentic people whose authentic product recommendations they can trust," Zypher CEO Amber Atherton told Forbes earlier this month. "What we’re seeing is today’s consumers, particularly Gen Zers, gravitating toward more grassroots communities, where people share information and original content about the brands and products they love with others they have a close relationship and something in common with."

As moderating and ensuring quality content on social media is a challenge, combined with the fact that those platforms are packed-full of ads and influencer content, commentators believe that dedicated custom community platforms for managing long-term consumer relationships will forge the way in 2020. 

Potion Marketing reports that 80 per cent of consumers say authenticity motivates them to follow a brand, so it appears that building an interactive community can offer a veritable gold mine of material and opportunities for brands.