In part 2 of this blog series, we’ll be continuing the conversation about creating communities that stick. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, make sure to do that first!
The do’s and don’ts of building a sticky community (cont’d):
Go deep with your story and purpose
As pushback to the soulless corporations of yore, the brand story pendulum has swung in the other direction. Now, people want to engage with circles and movements that have a well-developed story and purpose behind their existence.
Cult brand Aimé Leon Dore, a New York menswear label, is a fabulous case in point. Born and bred in 1990’s Queens, founder Teddy Santis grew up in a Greek family that ran a neighbourhood diner. The ethos of his label was born of the interplay between his neighbourhood (Queens), his heritage (Greek), his era (the ‘90s), and the predominant culture during this specific moment in time (hip-hop).
This narrative is repeated and interwoven into everything ALD does. The brand’s intentionally threadbare “About Us” page links to Nas’s Illmatic album for further explanation; its Nolita flagship doubles as a café slinging Greek coffee and snacks; the brand name itself is derived from the French word for “love,” Santis’s father’s name (Leon), and his own full name (Theodore).
The same can be said about other zeitgeist-defining brands. Think Virgil Abloh’s cultural powerhouse Off-White and car-company-turned-cult-of-personality Tesla. People fall harder for brands and communities that have compelling people and stories to back them up, so make sure to share yours proudly.
Always be asking
How can a brand or marketer expect to curate an online movement from a distance? If you’re observing the members of your community at arm’s length, you’re missing out on make-or-break input. It’s not you at the top, making the decisions, with them falling into step — you should be just as much a member of your own community as anyone else who’s jumped on board. Leaders have a responsibility to keep the lines of communication open between themselves and their fanbase, particularly when it comes to asking the right questions.
Billion-dollar beauty empire Glossier could teach a masterclass about community crowdsourcing. Leveraging its nascent skincare blog Into the Gloss, the company is refreshingly candid and inviting about fan feedback when developing their now-cult products. “Help Us Develop The Glossier Candle,” they suggest politely, and more than 700 voices chime in. “What’s Your Perfect Heavy-Duty Moisturizer?” they ask, and over 1,000 skincare enthusiasts share their holy grail products.
Listen, observe, and learn about the types of features and benefits your members want to see. Then, mold the community in their image — because in the end, isn’t that who all of this is for?
Enable micro-communities to form
In a piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, a duo of PhD researchers explained this concept best: “Just like Russian Matryoshka dolls, communities often sit within other communities. For example, in a neighborhood — a community in and of itself — there may be ethnic or racial communities, communities based on people of different ages and with different needs, and communities based on common economic interests.”
To underscore the profound value of these microcosms, let’s run with another geography-based analogy. In the US, people tend to identify with their home state, region, or city: before declaring themselves an “American,” they’ll call themselves a Texan, or a Bostonian, or a Yinzer. They’ll defend their Chicago deep-dish against the NYC slice any day, because that’s what really hits home.
Often, the closer we get to our individual identity (versus a far-reaching common identity), the more a concept will resonate with us. So, if people are initially drawn to a community, imagine how much deeper their connection can run if they hone in on an even more specific subculture or sub-interest within that space.
Bring it into the analog world with merch
The last few decades of fashion have been a love-hate rollercoaster with branded clothing. Logomania was on a tear from the ’80s all the way up to the late ’00s, until the ’08 recession pulled the rug out from underneath it and discreet minimalism took the reins.
Now, a new appreciation for branded merchandise has emerged, albeit less logo-centric than before. Once the exclusive domain of couture houses like Louis Vuitton or enigmatic streetwear brands like Supreme, the space is now occupied by everyone from popular YouTubers and podcasters to the Arby’s fast food chain.
So, why does seemingly every brand under the sun have its own line of merch these days? Because people love rocking their “belonging” on their sleeve. They want to show that they’re part of the tribe — a real-life “IYKYK.” Even if your community is small, consider rolling out a few key pieces. A sweatshirt, a hat, a laptop sticker. Design it well and it will sell — particularly if the design has a streetwear bent.
For more do’s and don’ts, head back to part 1.
To dig into how NFTs can be a powerful lever for community building, move on to part 3.
Written by: Steph Ullman