A Society of Consumption Communities


An Excerpt from

Consumer Relationships with Brands: Loyalty, Romance, and Brand Tribes

Chapter 18, MYCBBook


Consumption communities are groups of people who share the consumption of a brand or product. Thus, Mac Computer users are a consumption community; and so are all the revelers at the Dave Mathews Band concert, and grunge dressers, and cross-dressers. Members of a consumption community come from a wide range of demographics. For example, a large consumption community has formed around plush toys such as Beanie Babies, and members of this community chat online. They are not all computer whiz kids; rather, they are homemakers, students, retirees, blue-collar workers, white-collar professionals, etc. In general, consumption community members are not homogeneous in demographics. Rather, it is the enthusiasm and emotion of using the brand or product that binds them.


There are two kinds of consumption communities: product or activity, and brand. The first kind is built around sharing a common product category. Examples are bikers, golfers, net surfers, roller-bladers, country music fans, and punk rockers. The second type is built around a specific brand; examples are Harley, Apple, Jeep, and Xbox.

     One approach to building a strong brand-based consumption community is organizing brandfests.


BRANDFESTS–Party Time for All Brand Lovers

Brandfests are events that bring consumers together in geo-temporally concentrated events and entail coordinated activities and brand happenings. Since here all four elements come together, brandfests are an excellent way to build a brand community. The Saturn owners who came to Spring Hill, Tennessee one recent summer were participating in a brandfest. Jeep organizes camps for its owners and fans, called Jeep Meet. Brandfests must meet all four criteria mentioned above for a consumption community to exist.

Geographically concentrated. Consumers from geographically diffused areas come together in one location.

Temporality. Members (interacting with the brand, with the marketer, and with other consumers) are all brought together in a compact timeframe.

Social Context. Members begin as strangers but develop deep acquaintance, even lasting friendships that endure and continue beyond the confines of the event.

Consciousness of KindThe very decision to attend and join a brandfest raises the consciousness of there being a community of brand users. Many do arrive with trepidation, anxious as to whether they will fit in, but—in no small part due to the socialization and nurturing effort of other brand veterans, devotees, advocates, and evangelists, as well as brand hosts (e.g., company personnel)—they slowly ease into a state of psychological comfort, of being seen as belonging to the group.

     Brandfests connect consumers with the rest of the community of consumers, of course; but they also deepen consumers’ relationships with the brand, and with the company.


Consumption Tribes

Because these groups of consumers show tribe-like behavior while consuming specific products, they are also called consumption tribes. Consumption tribes are consumption communities that consume a product in a public place, in some ritualistic setting. A tribe differs from an isolated consumer who maybe deeply involved in a specific product, such as a consumer who might only wear Nike clothing, or one who loves her Saab, or has a huge collection of Elvis music and paraphernalia. Contrarily, tribal consumption is consumption of brands and products that is public and there is some participation in planned events of the community.

     The most important feature of the consumption community is that it gives the consumer a sense of identity and belonging to some larger group. Such community linkage is especially important in modern societies where big cities are dubbed “lonely spaces” for an average consumer and he or she desperately needs something to hang on to—something to identify with.


What Can Marketers Do?

Consumption communities provide both a special target group of consumers and a special avenue of promoting the product. That is, the community becomes both the target customer segment and the channel. Here is how marketers can utilize this opportunity:

1.      Organize community events. Community members are always looking for opportunities for public consumption and for other pretexts of coming together. So for roller skaters, for example, a company could organize a big roller skating event. Brandfests are a prime example. Furthermore, a company could organize and sponsor an unrelated event (albeit an event that is of interest to members) such as a theatrical performance earmarked exclusively for the members of a brand community.

2.      Design and Market Brand Accessories. Since community members like to accessorize their products, smart marketers should create accessories and market them. The best source for ideas is to see what consumers have already improvised on their own, or anything else that would be functional. For example, a specially designed oversized water or drink bottle with a special logo might appeal to roller-bladers, especially if sold as part of color coordinated outfits.

      Often community members use special paraphernalia (e.g., outfits), along with their core consumption. Marketers of these accessories could add branding appeal for these paraphernalia by licensing the brand name. For example, adding a designer name like Calvin Klein or a celebrity name like Tiger Woods.

3.      Product Extensions. These products expand the market and the communities–i.e., easier to use products for the timid or not so bold or not so skilled whereas more high performance product versions for diehards.

     Keep one point in mind: If there are sub-communities, as there usually are, then the marketer should conduct the marketing program in such a way as to not annoy one sub-community just to please another one. This is a particular challenge for Harley Davidson whose consumption communities and individual consumers are very divergent in their tastes and lifestyles. The best option is to use a campaign vague enough so that each sub-community may interpret it favorably.


Ban Mittal, MYCBBook, pages 542-548 (www.mycbbook.com)

© 2008