0aaEric Heinemann Roundpeg

“I want to build a brand community like Peloton.” We’re hearing this more and more from clients.

Tapping into a community makes sense. The conventional belief that consumers make purchase decisions in isolation, assessing the value of products or services in a vacuum, is inaccurate. Consumer culture theory recognizes the importance of consumer connectivity — the influence connections have on our purchases and brand decisions, and the impact consumption communities have upstream as co-creators, not just consumers, of value.

Before engaging in community building, we encourage all marketers to ask themselves the following:

1. Are you truly trying to build a brand community?

Brand communities are just one kind of consumption community. A true brand community is based on the shared use of a given product or service, an experience that connects members. Peloton is a prime example of a true brand community. Member relationships are based on the shared usage experience of Peloton exercise bikes and classes.

Aspiring community-builders must take stock of their brand, assessing whether it has the consumer commitment and passion to be a brand community’s focal point. Given the increasing indifference consumers feel toward brands, most marketers will conclude that a brand community is unrealistic.

Many marketers who aspire to build brand communities are actually looking to tap into another kindof consumption community, a consumer tribe— or passion community. In passion communities, members connect over a shared experience or ambition. Whether they’re built around the shared experience of being a teenage girl (BeingGirl) or the desire to be outdoors (REI and Canadian outdoor retailer MEC), passion communities are not the exclusive domain of a single brand, product or service.

Unlike brand communities, which are built by marketers, passion communities already exist, albeit often in informal ways. There was a maker community long before Make provided a forum for sharing ideas and staged its first Maker Faire. While Make didn’t create the maker movement, it certainly turbo-charged it.

For those with brands that are not worship-worthy, we recommend tapping into and facilitating a passion community.

2. Does the community’s passion align with that of your organization?

If your brand were a person, would it be a member of this passion community? If the answer is “yes,” then it’s a community worth joining. As a community member, your brand doesn’t own, run or serve as the focal point of the community, but offers its time, energy and name.

If you’re not inclined to personify your brand, start by identifying its values and purpose. Your brand’s purpose is the articulation of your passion, and should align with the passion of any community you’d want to join.

Communities we belong to and activities we undertake in their name say a lot about who we are. So, before standing up for potentially controversial issues your organization believes in, make sure they’re consistent with your values and purpose and reflect those of the broader community.

When community members tell you what they care about most — and when that aligns with…