What is it that you are really selling to your customers? Author Tom Peters has included a telling example in one of his books that comes from a Harley-Davidson executive. This executive talked about how riding a Harley is more than a form of transportation; is a statement about the identity of the person who buys it. “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns, and have people be afraid of him.”
This playful quote gets the core of what Harley-Davidson offers their devotees. It’s a sense of belonging to a community. For some Harley fans, it’s about the open road and the freedom to travel. For others, HD offers a little bit of outlaw culture and the way to be a part of a unique community.
Do you have a favorite sports team? Sports teams offer instant entry into a community that often spans the globe. A hat with your favorite team’s logo or custom vinyl stickers on your car identifies you as part of that tribe. If you review the lists of the most watched television broadcasts from different countries around the world, you’ll find sporting events like the World Cup, the Olympics and the Super Bowl make up a majority of the entries.
The economic value of the communities built around these teams is immense. Manchester United, the English Premier League soccer team, was valued by Forbes magazine as the most valuable franchise in the world in 2011 at $1.86 billion and they currently have over 26 million Facebook “likes” on their official page. Right behind Manchester United on the list is the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys at $1.81 billion and 4.9 million Facebook “likes.”
Another interesting way to identify the powerful sense of community that sports fans feel are the pronouns they use to describe a victory or defeat. Devoted fans will often use “we” when describing a recent game when all they really did was watch the efforts of the athletes on the field.
One of the small but powerful things that Apple did in 2001 to build community with launch of the iPod was the choice of the white color for the earbud headphones that came with the MP3 player. This choice made iPod users stand out in the sea of black headphones that were common at the time. Sports teams are another great example in this area as well. A jacket with your favorite team’s logo is more than just protection from cold weather. It tells the world about who you are. What kind of a badge can you create for your community to wear?
Spending some of your marketing efforts on building community around your brand will help your story cut through the storm of mass media messages the average consumer is bombarded with each day. When I am part of your community, I will tell my friends about your products and services for you. And when I do this for you, it won’t feel like advertising. Instead, I’ll be making a recommendation to make my friends’ lives more enjoyable or productive. I’ll get the benefit of feeling good about my endorsement and you’ll get the new business because you’ve welcomed me as part of your tribe.