When most people think about brands they think about logos, but logos are only the surface level “identity” of a brand. On a broad scale I like to define brand as “what people say about you to other people” This is my poor man’s take on net promoter system. When it comes to a community’s brand it is no less important than when thinking about how to brand a company, product or service. A lot of people just make their community a sub-set of their corporate brand, and that is fine if your community membership and visitors are an exact copy of the companies. But as we talked about in my last blog post, you have to create user personas to understand who your community members are and what they need. In my experience community membership typically is a slice of the overall customers but doesn’t usually capture all of them (or at the same levels)
The above graphic is from Hugh Macleod from Gaping Void, one of my favorite artists who loves to poke fun at corporate culture. But there is a lot of truth in this graphic. Companies often think if they “tell” their customers what they are that it, in itself, will establish the brand. We all know that is not true. Just because McDonald’s advertises a “healthy line” doesn’t mean we as consumers believe it.
What Makes Up a Community Brand?
When I start working on developing a brand for a new community these are some of the things I research and plan.
- The Tactical Items
- What should the name be?
- What should the URL be?
- What should the tagline be?
- What should the logo be?
- What colors should it be?
- The Emotional Items
- What are my site users feeling before they get to my community?
- What do I want them to feel once they arrive/when they leave?
- What tone do I want to take?
- The Bottom Line
- What is the mission of my community?
- What is the vision of my community?
- What are the guiding principles I want my community to follow?
Most people think about the tactical items, but what they often miss is how those items will relate to the brand.
- Name: There are three ways to go here. Basic (Forrest’s Community), Descriptive (Forrest’s Community of Social Blogging) or Creative (The Woodlands). Each have merit and the deciding factor will always be whats right for your members. If your company already has a strong brand, go basic. If people REALLY need you go descriptive so they can find you. If your all about innovation and fun, go creative.
- URL: Simple, easy to remember and descriptive
- Tagline: Sum up what your community is in one line, less then ten words. That’s your tagline.
- Logo: This is a tough one. I recommend seeking out an expert here as you will be with this for a while and I have seen many small companies turned large who have crappy ones.
- Colors: Color has meaning and this ties a lot into what your users are feeling when they arrive. If they’re pissed you don’t want you community to be red. If your trying to excite them you don’t want it to be light blue and gray. Take a look here for the meanings of colors and how they relate to emotion.
People rarely ever think about emotions when establishing their preliminary brands. But brand is all about feelings. It really boils down to what people think about you. What people think about is the sum of their experiences with you (direct and indirect). What you are attempting to do with your community brand is make sure that first impression and the ongoing interactions align in the way you want them to with what you want your community members to think about you. The reality is, however, that the worst thing you can do it set a user up with a brand message and then fail to execute. Execution is essential.
- What are they feeling: You are trying to solve for something with your Community. Whatever it is people feel something towards it. If it’s a problem they may be frustrated. If its a product they may be excited (like buying a new car or getting a gadget) if it’s to make documentation it may be they are feeling generous or smart. Either way you want to figure out what they are normally feeling and then meet them with the appropriate response.
- What you want them to feel: What will make a frustrated person satisfied? What will make an excited person more excited? What will make a writer want to document for you? This is the emotional conversion you wish to achieve.
- Tone: Tone is the underlying emotional factor in a brand. Do you want your community to be fun? professional? technical? relaxed? bold? Tone can play a part in all of the tactical decisions but is more important in your content development. Tone plays a big deal with brand because you do not want to meet an emotion with the wrong tone. If a person is frustrated you don’t want to come off condescending. If a person is excited you don’t want to bore them.
The bottom line here is you have to deeply understand your members, what they want and couple that with your strategy…what you want from them, what you want to empower them to do and make sure that your brand hits the target. All of the below should be made public to your community and you should stick to it!
- Mission: Why is your community here?
- Vision: In a perfect world, what in your wildest dreams do you want your community to become?
- Guiding Principles: What are the promises you make to your community members to make them want to invest in you? On a personal note my number one guiding principle whenever I build a new community is that any and all decisions will be made in what is in the best interest for the community member with their involvement. This is often tough to do but thinking this way will drive some serious engagement.
Remember… Brand is what people say to other people about you. While you sometimes can control it, most of the time you don’t own your brand…but thinking it through, setting expectations and then living up to those expectations is a sure-fire way to build a successful community.
In my next blog post we’re going to talk about community health metrics and what you need to be looking at and planning for from day one. Feedback always appreciated!