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Brand fan communities create different types of value depending on how they’re designed and managed. And with rapid leap forward in digital everything with the pandemic, they’re more common than ever before.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of seven common types of communities and outline how plant-based brands can use them to create new value.

We’ll be exploring all of these in more detail and helping plant-based food brands develop their own community strategies in our upcoming fall 2021 Brand Accelerator Lab.

Here’s what plant-based food brands can do with their brand fans:

1. Build a community that produces user-generated marketing content

With so many people already invested in creating and sharing content online, it’s a natural fit for brands to centre their communities around the twin passions of plant-based foods and content creation.

A plant-based food brand could get original recipes, photos of their foods ‘in the wild,’ testimonials about the adoption of food in otherwise meat-centric households, and all sorts of videos. Community members can share and reshare the content on their personal social channels and your brand suddenly has a consistent stream of user-vetted content for all sorts of marketing activities.

2. Get product feedback, ideas and insights in a consumer research community

The new product failure rate for food products is a debatable number but most estimates put it considerably above 50%, often in the 70-80% range. This can be driven by many factors, including shelf space at retail and outsized advertising costs, but perhaps the single biggest challenge is consumer indifference. If your buyers don’t like your product, if they don’t seek it out when it’s hard to find in-store, or ultimately just consign it to the ‘can-take-it-or-leave-it’ bin, you’re leaving money on the table, or you’re on the path to a product or company failure.

You can de-risk your products with a consumer community based on product feedback. You’ll get insights on the food itself, how it’s marketed, its packaging, and how it compares to your competitors. Imagine an engaged group of fans who test and provide feedback on your food. How much could you learn and how many better decisions could you make with several hundred (or more) consumers acting as your ongoing advisory council? And all this is before the unexpected insights you’ll get and the opportunities you’ll have to understand your buyers better.

One benefit of this type of community is its cost-effectiveness vs. traditional forms of research. You can get statistically valid quantifiable data and rich qualitative assessments for, often, a fraction of the price of traditional research spending.

3. Create your products of the future with an innovation & co-creation community

If you’re ready to move to a more advanced and open stage of R&D, a co-creation community may be the right fit. This type of community effectively brings a (usually) small group of your most insightful and passionate super-fans into your laboratory to help you co-create products. You guide their actions and you set the agenda for the community, but they are significant contributors to the process.

This type of collaboration requires a willingness to experiment with work that is traditionally done in-house. The benefit is, of course, that you will get ideas for new products, product lines (and very likely marketing and promotional campaigns) you never would have considered. These communities can vastly expand your product development capability without vastly expanding your product development budget. This is particularly interesting for food brands as the world opens back up and we’re increasingly able to gather in person to share food together.

4. Assemble an army of your fans in a brand advocacy community

By now, we all know that consumers trust their inner circles more than they trust marketing messages and brand promises. In fact, they are up to 92% more likely to trust their peers over advertising or other forms of promotion.

They’re also becoming increasingly wary of big-name influencers whose promotional powers are undercut by the fact they’re being paid to hold a belief about a product. Can they be trusted? Maybe not.

Here’s an alternative approach: find 50 or 100 (or 500 or 1000) true fans of your product and make them your brand advocacy team. Their networks will trust and listen to them, especially if they’re truly passionate about your products. You can build your community of these ‘nano-influencers’ in a single city where you want to expand brand awareness for your products or across multiple markets.

Your brand advocacy team can share your content, distribute referral links to their friends or simply testify on their social channels about your brand and why they love it. This is a great tool for food brands especially when launching a new product across major retail chains. You can get those products out of stores and into homes faster with your fans helping to promote them to their friends via peer-to-peer advertising.

5. Build consumer loyalty by offering a community with rewards and perks

While most of the community types we’ve mentioned so far are focused on a collaborative working relationship between brand and brand fan to produce a specific kind of value creation (content, external advocacy, product ideas, research) there’s a more traditional type of community focused around creating consumer brand loyalty by offering perks, advice, discounts, bonus content and, yes, a place for likeminded fans to gather and talk with each other online.

This type of community can actually be the seed for a richer future collaboration, but it offers value in and of itself. By giving consumers a dedicated digital space (often it’s an offshoot of your website) to visit to get unique experiences and offers they can’t get at retail, you connect them more deeply to your brand. In return, you can build a mailing list, survey them for their thoughts on specific topics and test drive promotional ideas and programs. It’s a simple way to dip your toes into community building. And for plant-based brands, it takes advantage of the fact that food is such a communal experience that there are already thousands of these conversations happening online. Why not create a space for those conversations to happen – on social channels, in forums and on your website?

6. Create a purpose-driven community focused on your brand’s values, not just products

In the 2020s, brands that are brave enough to lead with their purpose – not just their products – could create a major competitive advantage. This is the tectonic shift in the market. It’s no longer good enough to do no harm. Now you have to do good. In fact, we know that ‘Next Gens’ (under 30s) expect brands to have a genuine and clear sustainability focus and a brand purpose beyond profit. 44% of them strongly agree they try to support companies and brands that have a purpose and 60% want our economy restructured to deal with inequality and climate change, post-COVID. All this according to the BBMG/GlobeScan Radically Better Future Report.

This is (ahem) low hanging fruit for plant-based food brands. They have the potential to build a community around their environmental, health or animal welfare benefits. There are already lively active communities online concerned about all of these things.

A brand that steps up and says, “our company exists because of the values we share with you, our consumers and fans” has an authentic overlap of interests that many brands would kill for. And the benefit – buying and consuming a brand’s products becomes an avatar of that shared value set.

7. Do it all with a community that incorporates elements of all of the above

We like to share this blog about the brand value curve and the way community outputs often shift over time, adding more value as the community matures.

The truth is you’re not limited to one of the community types above. And your consumers and fans will have so much more to offer than just one thing. And so as you consider a community strategy, or how to take those first steps towards deeper consumer engagement, keep in mind that you’re building relationships that will mature and grow and deepen over time.

Join our fall 2021 Brand Accelerator Lab for Plant-Based Food Brands

Want to learn more? Ready to get started?

Check out our upcoming Brand Accelerator Lab.

It’s six weeks of interactive learning, community strategy development, brand experiments and more. 

IOVIA is a proud member of the Plant Based Foods Association.