Sunday, August 16, 2009

Toward the Brand Community (Chapter 1/4)

The subject of brand communities has been very popular in marketing literature over the last few years. The landmark academic white paper that initiated all this discussion was titled, "Brand Community" and first appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research. Albert Muniz, Jr. and Thomas O'Guinn authored that piece in 2001 and I think it may be one of the most important studies I have read in quite a while. Albert Muniz is assistant professor of marketing at DePaul University and Thomas O'Guinn is professor of advertising, business administration and sociology at University of Illinois. Numerous marketing writers have certainly written about the subject since then, but I thought readers might find it interesting to know more about the subject as it was discussed in that original white paper. I will be writing much more about brand communities in future posts.

Muniz and O'Guinn define a brand community as "a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand." In researching the paper, the authors studied three strong brand communities associated with Jeep, Macintosh computers, and Ford's Bronco SUV.

There are "markers" or essential characteristics of any community and brand communities are no different. They are: "consciousness of kind," rituals/traditions and moral responsibility. These markers must exist in any community, brand community or otherwise.

The most important of these is "consciousness of kind," according to Muniz/O'Guinn, with members feeling a strong connection to others in that particular brand community. Interestingly, the brand relationship is not dyadic (consumer to brand), but triangular (consumer to brand to consumer), forming strong human relationships around the commercial entity.

Rituals and traditions generally revolve around shared brand consumption experiences, according to Muniz/O'Guinn and serve to maintain the culture of the community. One common tradition of a brand community is the celebration of the history of the brand. Another is the sharing of brand stories with others members.

The third characteristic of the brand community is moral responsibility, defined here as "a sense of duty to the community as a whole and to individual members of the community." Moral responsibility achieves two functions for any brand community: integrating/retaining members and ensuring the proper use of the brand.

Another way of looking at these markers is from a time perspective: past, present, future. (This concept is not from the Muniz/O'Guinn paper but my own observation.) "Consciousness of kind" is a present perspective: "I am (here and now) with this group who feels the same way I do about this product or service." The rituals/traditions is obviously a past perspective: "There is a history to this product/service that I relate to and want to be a part of." The third marker, moral responsibility, is all about a future perspective. Responsibility, by definition, is concerned with what you should be doing in the future: "What must I be doing in the days to come if I am to be a responsible member of this community?"

Brand: Past/Present/Future

I will be writing a lot more about brand communities as we go forward. How to recognize or build them, what role the brand organization can play, how marketing can encourage a brand community to form. Most important, however, is to recognize that there is what Muniz and O'Guinn call a "social nature" to brands. And the stronger the particular brand community, the greater the likelihood that the value of the brand will be perceived as strong in its competitive marketplace.

Let me know what brand communities you belong to, why they are important to you and if you can relate to Muniz/O'Guinn's characteristics of brand communities.

Thanks for reading! More to come.


  1. Last night we had the loom at cotton mill place grand opening. The buzz was all about how good it felt to have the mill back in action. I had not thought of it in terms of a brand coomunity but I believe I witnessed the reformation of

  2. Yes, I think the mill has a great opportunity for building a strong brand community, Tommy.