Don’t Neglect Brand Fans
Albert M. Muñiz Jr. and Thomas C. O’Guinn, “Brand Community,” Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, March 2001 www.journals.uchicago.edu/JCR/journal/
Marketers have long known that many consumers are loyal to particular brands because it makes them feel part of a larger community. “This intersection of brand — a defining entity of consumer culture — and community — a core sociological notion — is an important one,” write Albert Muñiz, a DePaul University marketing professor, and Thomas O’Guinn, an advertising professor at the University of Illinois.
Marketers commonly exploit this phenomenon by associating brands with celebrities. As Andy Warhol, the consummate exploiter of consumer attraction to fame, observed, “You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the president drinks Coke. Liz Taylor drinks Coke and, just think, you can drink Coke too.”
But many consumers are far more active in their relationship with brands. They form what the authors call “brand communities,” informal social clubs that revolve around a common bond to a particular brand.
The authors conducted interviews in a medium-sized city in the Midwestern United States and looked at several hundred Web sites to explore the way that owners of Saabs, Ford Broncos, and Macintosh computers interact with those brands. Among the behaviors they found:
- Brand Snobbery. Many brand communities form in opposition to another brand. Saab owners are fiercely opposed to Volvos, bragging that Saab makes jets while Volvo makes tractors. Some longtime Saab owners sneered at yuppies who were first-time owners of new models. They called these individuals “SNAABS,” people who buy a Saab because it is trendy, without understanding the brand’s traditions, such as the commitment to keep the car for many years. Macintosh owners denounced PC users, in general, and Bill Gates, in particular. Bronco owners derided owners of “smaller Japanese faux-SUVs,” believing these cars were less powerful than tough American Broncos.
- Bonding with Owners. Often, Saab drivers honk or flash their lights at other Saabs they pass, and they will stop when they see another Saab driver on the side of the road who appears to need help. Mac users reported frequently helping other users restart crashed computers, and said they will alert others as to the best place to repair a Mac or buy software.
- Celebrating Traditions. Brand communities rejoice in the long and rich histories of their brands. Saab owners say they love to tell how their company was founded as an aircraft manufacturer, which, after World War II, diversified first into boats (which the company abandoned after no one bought them) and then cars.
Marketers, the authors argue, can use brand communities to their advantage to spread news about positive new developments. But marketers should also realize that strong brand communities respond to negative campaigns, too. Competitors may use these communities to spread false rumors, or raise doubts about their rivals.
Brand snobbery can have a dampening effect on market growth. In the case of Broncos and Saabs, the study revealed a small group of loyalists who were vocal in their desire to keep out of their community people whom they considered “infidels” (people buying their brand of car for the “wrong reasons”). In this case, the authors say, “brand community members may define success quite differently than the marketers.”
Either way, Professors Muñiz and O’Guinn argue, companies must deal directly with brand communities as part of their relationship marketing programs, since communities clearly “exert pressure on members to remain loyal to the collective and the brand.”
Mexico: NAFTA’s Success Story
Mary E. Burfisher, Sherman Robinson, and Karen Thierfelder, “The Impact of NAFTA on the United States,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, Winter 2001 www.aeaweb.org/jep/