During the last fifteen years, there are many popular subjects: relationship marketing and brand building,etc.These hot subjects encourage interaction and speed up the incubation of new sources of disciplinary growth: Brand Relationship(the relationship between consumer and brand).In Brand Relationship theory sysytem,more scholars focus on the relationship between consumer and brand, but Muniz and O’Guinn(2001) did more research on the relationship among consumers, and put forward a new brand concept – Brand Community.
This concept comes from “consumption community”,which was first proposed by historian Daniel Boorstin(1974), ‘in the modern era of high mobility, people look not only to communality of consumption behavior but also to neighborhood as a basis for feelings of community.’ The same as consumption community, brand community is also initiative and drive of individuals’ co –operating at the beginning, after that, enterprise start to take advantage of the power of brand community to build brand loyalty and brand equity, therefore, brand community is becoming a new weapon of marketing.
In this essay, I make literature review surveys on scholarly articles, books relevant to brand community, providing a description, summary and critical evaluation of brand community. Firstly, discuss the origin and definition of brand community. Secondly, summary the research status and the dynamic natures of brand community which are different from consumption community, briefly introduce three main features of brand community. Thirdly, illustrate evolution of brand community model. Fourthly, case study, use case of Starbucks to explain the implications of brand community. Finally, conclusion and the prospect of research.
1 Demarcation of Brand community
1.1 Origin of Brand community
During the last few years, there is a trend that academic research on consumption activities moved away from considerations of individual to a focus on communal. The word ‘community’ was used frequently. ‘consumption community’ (Boorstin, 1973). ‘Subcultures of consumption’ (schouten and McAlexander, 1995). ‘Band community’ (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001; McAlexander et al., 2002).These communities are referred to as ‘social collectives’ (Greenwood, 1994). ‘Life-mode communities’ (Firat and Dholakia, 1998) and‘neo-tribes’ (Cova, 1997).
Brands provide the linking value to some individuals who wants to become member of these communities. These communities seize the idea that people have relations with other people and such relationships are constructed around a fulcrum acted by brands. Harley Owners group(HOG)is a good example of the brand providing such linking value(Fournier et al.,2001).There are more and more descriptive studies detailing the features of such communities: Star Wars fans (Brown et al.,2003); Sun’s Java Center community (Williams and Cothrel,2000) and Nutella(Cova and Pace, 2005).
In a word, communities are expected to provide benefits for the organisation: they affect brand equity and create a stable base of loyal, enthusiastic consumers (Muñiz and O’Guinn, 2001; McAlexander et al., 2001). Actually, it is not easy for a brand to establish a community.
Brand-centred communities may typify themselves to open up a utopian place in the contemporary world.Kozinets (2001) noted that ‘impossibility and dreamness together with deep motivational power and desire’ While utopianism enables customers to engage with reality rather than merely escape into fantasy (Geoghegan, 1987).Which means transform and subvert are the two abilities of utopian (Maclaran and Brown, 2001).Members and the relations among them compose a community. McAlexander and Koeing (2002) identify communities on the basis of identification among community members(a neighborhood, a leisure pursuit, an occupation and devotion to a brand).Brand community is a new type of community, different from traditional community, can form a strong image, a lengthy history around brands.Actually,it is a community established with brand-centric
1.2 Definition of Brand community
Because brand community is a new concept, there is nounified definition in academia, but we can define it from two parts: narrow and broad meanings. Narrow meaning is represented by Muniz and O’Guinn. Based on the research on some brands, such as Ford Bronco, etc.Muniz and 0’Guinn (2001) noted a brand community is a no-geographically bound and specialized community based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand. It highlight the point connection of brand community is brand not region, and brand community has three essential markers (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001).
Bagozzi (2006) noted that brand community is consumption community with common enthusiasm for a certain brand or certain good social cognition (environmental protection), the members realize collective objective or express the common emotional and commitment through common action. Substantially，this is as the same as Muniz and O’Guinn’s definition，they both emphasize the expressions of emotion and action from a certain brand
McAlexander (2002) expended this concept，the broad meaning of brand community is a connection network with focal customer as centre, besides brand relationship, there are many other relationships. This concept emphasizes the Consumers’ all-round experience of brand. Upshaw and Taylor (2001) made a broad explanation to this concept，they documented that all the stakeholders who have relationship with the brand (including employee、customer、stockholder、supplier and strategic partnered) compose brand community.
2 Basic theory and concept 2.1 Research Status Brand community is becoming an increasing popular topic in brand management research; however, the short-lived time leads to its present research is preliminary, and mainly focused on the concept, features, origin, impact and modes, etc. For example,Muniz and O’Guinn(2001)claimed that brand community has three essential features of community: consciousness of kind, rituals and traditions and moral responsibility.
Schau and Muniz (2002)reported the value of brand community image is important to consumers identify centified;Schmitt , Rogers and Vrotsos (2003)described the performance of brand community in Jeep,BMW and many other vehicle brands;Hoeffler and Keller (2002)noted the improving consciousness of brand community is in favor of enhancing brand equity based on consumers; McAlexander , Kim and Roberts (2003)researched the relationship between brand community and consumers satisfaction, consumers loyalty, and claimed that consumers loyalty is not only affected by customer satisfaction, but also by brand community.
Belk and Tumbat noted that it is not easy for a brand to establish a community.(Schouten and McAlexander, 1995; Kozinets,2001;Muniz and Schau,2005).There are many scholars focusing on virtual community, documented the classify of community and marketing strategy (McWilliams , 2000 ; Monica , 2000 ; Wind , Mahajan and Gunther ,2003). All above research enrich the brand community theory, but there is a serious problem: research only stays on statical concept ,feature and primary implication phase.Muniz and O’Guinn said the future of research is to know how brand community change in different social situation.
2.2 Dynamic Natures Consumption community and brand community are different on several dimensions:firstly,Muniz and O’Guinn(2001)noted that brand community is non-geographically bounded, they may be either scattered(Boorstin,1974),or geographically concentrated (Holt,1995).Geographical concentration is the dimension of social context.
To be more exact, interactions within a brand community may be rich in social context. Communication may be predominantly face to face,nediated by electronic devices(Boorstin,1974).Members may have a number of information about each other(gender,age and background).There is little understanding of movement along this dimension. The temporal stability of a community can be asset to marketers in as much as legerity equates with a long-term, stable valuable market communities can share useful consumption experiences. (Arnould and Price, 1993).
2.3 Three main features 2.3.1 Consciousness of kind This feature includes two sides: legitimacy and oppositional brand loyalty.Muniz and O’Guinn noted that members feel an significant connection to the brand and toward each other, even they are strangers, members feel they know each other, “the link is more important than the thing ”(Cova,1997,p307).They also can distinguish who is the real member by judging whether he is familiar with and in favor of the brand, not just because of chasing fashion to use product of the brand.Sometimes,brand community members build community to share common experience and brand connotation to fight with other brands. That means community will become more solidarity when facing with threats (Muñiz and O’Guinn, 2001).
2.3.2 Shared rituals and traditions The main point of this feature is shared consumption experience. It consists of celebrating the history of the brand and sharing brand stories. The transmission of brand community is life-affirming to establish its culture. At the same time, brand history is brand community’s cultural equity. Sharing brand stories playing a significant role in brand building and maintaining. It strengthens consciousness of kind among brand members and contributes to imagined community. It also reinforces members ‘identity to the brand and help members learn more about communities’ value. Ads play a significant role in brand community rituals and traditions. Members are concerned with ads as they display the brand to those outside of the community, and themselves (Muñiz and O’Guinn, 2001). 2.3.3 Moral Responsibility
Its definition is “a sense of duty to the community as a whole and to individual members of the community” (Muñiz and O’Guinn, 2001).There are at least two traditional communal missions: the first one is integrating and retaining members, there is the presence of a social moral consciousness in traditional communities, they recognize the bounds of what is appropriate and inappropriate, right and wrong. Another is assisting in the use of the brand. Assistance is to help community members, both known and unknown, repair the product or solve problems. Assisting is one of the places in which computer-mediated communication offers a great deal of information (Muñiz and O’Guinn, 2001).According to the primary nature of the relationship, the assistance offered between individuals sharing a communal bond is specialized (Wellman, 1990; Wellman and Wortley, 1990)
3 Evolution of Brand Community model
3.1 Traditional Brand community Model Boorstin emphasized the relationship between product (brand) and customer in consumption community model (figure 1).Customers look brand as the promise enterprise made for the products function value and image. Enhancing brand means the contract between enterprise and customer. To satisfy different needs from different target market, different brands need different brand positioning, even the same brand, with the changing of customers’ need, also need change brand positioning. Therefore, Boorstin took the perspective that consumption community is customer-centric, the development of brand should stick to customers’ need as the guide.
3.2. Triangle Brand community model Muniz and O’Guinn ,who are the initiator of the theory of brand community, enrich the relationship model of “customer-brand”, emphasized brand as intermediary (figure 2).With the development of social economy, customers are not confined to need for product (material level), they are not only concentrating on the function value of products own, more concentrating on consuming the product can give them symbolic significance and emotion interests.
The similar experience and shared emotion among community members give them more emotion value than product function value. Brand community Triad Model break through the single dimensionality in traditional “customer-brand”, concentrate on the relationship among “customer-customer”. Weakness is that the brand will be influenced not only by customers belong to itself, but also by customers belong to other brands. For example,Many customers will interview the website and forum before purchasing products, they can find information about many other brand customers.
3.3. Brand stakeholder relations model Upshaw and Taylor came up with a new Masterbrand Community model based on Brand community Triad Model. Their opinion is all the stakeholders with brand should include employee,customer,stockholder,supplier and strategic partnered.compose brand community(figure 3).A good brand image is the base of community, while these stakeholders play an significant role in maintaining brand image and reputation, only be kind to these stakeholders ,can brand have attraction. It is the motivation of brand community.
This model organizes many factors which can influence brand to build and maintain the harmonious relationship between them. Although this model emphasizes that many kinds of stakeholders are important to brand building, it involves too many complicated relationships which is not easy for analysis and research. Besides, this model strengthens brand’s core position, neglect customers playing an important role in brand building.
3.4. Focal customer model Based on Muniz and O’Guinn’s brand community theory (2001), McAlexander，Schouten and Koening (2002) put forward Focal Customer Model. This model emphasizes brand, product, customer and marketer are important factors to compose brand community, and bring four relationships into brand community: customer and enterprise, customer and product, customer and brand, customer and customer. This model’s feature is highlighting the focal customer playing linking role in brand community. Besides Muniz’s “relationship among customers”, they added product, brand and marketer. Although this structure is more comprehensive, it has drifted “brand community” raised by Muniz, which studied the relationship among customers.
McAlexander’s opinion actually is another closely related topic-brand relationship. A research specialist in brand relationship field, Fourier (2001), expended the relationship between brand and customer to four relations as McAlexander’s model. Based on new product diffusion theory, focal customer is playing an opinion leader during product diffusion process, they are the base of enterprise. So, when enterprices want to attract new customers, also should pay more attention to focal customers’ satisfaction and loyalty.
3.5 conclusions The premise of research on brand community is better understanding of brand community models. From the focus of the study,Muniz’s and McAleXander’s models focus on customer, while Upshaw’s model focus on brand, the difference is that former model studied the role customer playing in brand building, the later studied all the factors can influence brand. From the range of the study, Upshaw’s mode is very comprehensive, but too complex; it is difficult to consider all types of relations in one study at the same time. That is the reason why it is seldom used.Muniz’s and McAlexander’s models are more useful, but from the logicality of study, their models did not distinguish the importance of all types of relations, that is to say, they did not tell us which relation playing an important role in brand community. 4 Case study: The success and failure of Starbucks
Founded in 1971, Starbucks has the fastest growth rate of any company in the history of retailing. (George and Pierce, 2007)Starbucks sells mainly coffee, and even were it the best coffee in the world it would still only be coffee. The question spontaneously arises, however, why is Starbucks today a brand to be counted among the elite of mythical brands? What has made the consumer pay a premium price for something they would normally have paid significantly less for? The answer can be found in the fact that Starbucks’ marketing approach goes far beyond the tangible component of the product by infusing coffee with new symbolic values and brand community. A high quality of coffee, widespread locations and commercial partnership agreements have undoubtedly contributed to the company’s growth, but these elements are not sufficient to make a brand a global myth, an authentic icon of postmodern society.
An exchange from the movie Duplex illustrates the bohemian image Starbucks has acquired as a place where writers and other intellectuals are welcomed as part of a specific community. In the film, a young wife, played by Drew Barrymore, turns to her writer husband and says ”Well, what if you got out of the house for a little while and went to write at, like a Starbucks or something? ” ”It would be nice not to have to write at Starbucks with all the other novelists,” replies the young man, played by Ben Stiller.It is precisely this which is the true essence of Starbucks: a place which evokes symbolic values and brand community values which go beyond coffee and the products sold and which makes a sign a metropolitan legend. It is feeling part of a community like that of the writers looking for success quoted in the film, and many morebesides,which makes consumers identify with a place where, when it really comes down to it, what you mostly do is just drinking coffee.
A person who habitually goes a sort of community to do so not just to drink a cup of coffee but to access a sort of community where they find values, models and behaviors which they tend to recognize themselves in. While Starbucks continued to enrich its context with new meanings and values, other competitors continued to simply sell coffee (Shu-pei Tsai, 2005), Starbucks’s performance demonstrates how, by enhancing the atmosphere and making the place of consumption a space linked to trendsetters and not the minority fringe of the population, by creating a sense of belonging and community, it is possible to achieve success even when satisfying routine needs.
As Volli says, Starbucks “is together closed and secret but also open and public, it shows and hides at the same time, it simultaneously exercises modesty and seduction, the secret and the recall”(Volli,1998).Starbucks has known how to invest a new way of communication ,strongly centered on the communicative processes among members of its brand community and between its members and the outside world.
There is no perfect in the world,with the development of society,economy and many other aspects,Starbucks also should face with some shortage and challenge.The greater standardization of the “structures” has slowly made them lose the bohemian charm which the first points of sale had, and that aroma of coffee which represented the heart of the brand community offering in Starbucks has progressively weakened. The sensory connotation which immediately hits you when you enter a Starbucks and which creates around it a relaxing atmosphere similar to that felt in a club of people who share the passion for coffee, is gradually getting weaker.
But the problem is not limited to reduced olfactory involvement, if anything it involves the fact that the chain is losing its soul of the past, becoming more and more like a conventional chain and losing that atmosphere which was so dear to its founder of a small neighborhood ship, whose emotive warmth can generate particularly intense experiences. We could say that this is one of the risks which companies which have been able to build real communities around their brands find them having to face. When the brand becomes as developed as Starbucks, its audience widens and new consumers, with characters different from those of the community’s original members, take possession, thus reducing the initial followers’ feeling of belonging.
Infact, belonging to a community satisfies the desire of individuals to share common aspects with other individuals and in that way express their distinctiveness from other social groups. When those very people they are trying to distinguish themselves from try to become part of the community, it is necessary to know how to manage this process by trying to preserve the symbolic consistency of the brand rather than adapting it to the new context. This is a natural process: the company does not live so as to remain in the ghetto of the niche; it is in development a growth that we find the preservation of its vital functions, but the process must be handled with extreme care, avoiding compromising the good and the unique that has been built.