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)

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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.

Most people think about the tactical items, but what they often miss is how those items will relate to the brand.

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.

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!

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!