Crowd of people at a grass roots campaign

A community exists for a reason.

It is built around a core set of values and belief. Members are attracted to a community because they share that community’s core set of values and beliefs.

Brand based community programming is becoming more and more popular as brands seek to stay relevant at a local level in an otherwise noisy cluttered brand landscape.

What makes community-based brand initiatives so intoxicating is that communities have all of the values that a brand seeks to embody – meaning / values / loyalty / authenticity.

If done properly – brands can expect a substantial lift / equity rub from their support or membership of a community.

Add in the ability to amplify the results via social media and it can make for a very impactful combination.

It is possible to build a community that represents your brand at its core: vocal, loyal and committed. The key is to always serve the community, staying true to their values and beliefs. If built properly, this community and its goals should and will exist without the need for product or retail integration

Connect Like Minded Passionate People

NRG was tasked to build fitness communities in five key cities - San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Washington D.C.

The goal was to create a social training program where complete strangers, in this instance outdoor sports athletes, could come together to work for their personal goals, forming bonds and small core community. This would bring the brand together with the training lifestyle of their core sports demographic.

In two years, our communities of a few dozen people had become thousands.

Why? Even though they were different athletes in different cities, each member of the community was passionate about outdoor sports and had the common goal of training to improve in their sport.

Here is what we established as best practices.

The Boston Crew @ North Face Mountain Athletics Crew

First Provide Value
Then Provide Products

The key to building a sustainable and passionate community is to always be authentic. You want to take your brand out of retail and into the lives of your consumers, which means you have to provide more than products.

Your brand must BECOME part of the community. By providing value and serving the purpose of your community members, you develop life-long, loyal consumers.

Recognize that retail and product needs are independent of this community’s raison d'être. If they wanted a retail experience, they would go to retail. They primarily identify with the lifestyle and the community beliefs, not the product, so don’t rush it!

It Takes Time

Quite often brands expect specific results within a short period of time. This is a recipe for disappointment. There are tactics that can be employed to encourage accelerated development and growth, but just like life, community building takes time.

Create Leadership Loyalty & Bonding Opportunities

A community cannot grow and thrive if its members are not given opportunities to connect and bond. A community is not driven by the number of its members or the revenue it generates.

Community managers must be intentional about continually building up local leaders who can be delegated responsibility for their community. Their excitement will be infectious, and their greater sense of purpose will bring more members to the community. Leaders will earn the respect of community members, making them loyal to the community (and loyal to your brand!).

Not Everyone Is Equal

Within any community, members naturally take on different roles – leaders, administrators, promoters, etc. One of the keys to building a community is recognizing, incentivizing and rewarding the different positions. Rewards needs not be monetary – but can be recognition, peer respect, authority.

Determine Your
Community Purpose

In order to attract a community to your brand, you must understand the ‘Why?’ that drives your consumers. For example, we worked to determine why mountain athletes trained hours for a climb or rode miles for endurance. What gives them the fire to train morning or night, rain or shine? Once you know the story of your consumer, you can position and shape your brand story to better connect with your core.

Communication Is Key

More than any other aspect, you want to build a social program that makes it easy for your community to stay connected, share ideas and grow together.

With the Mountain Athletics social training program, we found outdoor athletes gained the most value from the community when they felt their abilities were (safely) being stretched; sharing ideas, learning together and building trust.

When athletes were pushed just outside of their comfort zone, they developed genuine connections, building physical and emotional support systems within the training program. These bonded community members can over time become ambassadors for your brand.

Training Session @ San Fransisco Mountain Athletics
Ritual Celebration @ Mountain Athletics Meet Ups

Identify Strengths, Needs & Aspirations

When working to serve the community, each city’s athletes had different strengths, needs and aspirations. When you are willing to identify what those strengths and needs are, you increase the value you bring to the community. The more they value the experience, the more likely members are to participate in the long-term.

Adapt, Protect & Serve

Once you know the needs of individual communities, you have to be willing to adapt your program to meet those needs and continue to serve that community. Having rigid rules and predictable activities can begin to feel less authentic over time. Want to keep your community engaged with your brand? Be flexible and protect your community’s purpose.

Let it evolve. Don’t overly constrain the community. You may be a driving force, but you are not the only one.

Be Responsive

Nothing is worse for the overall community experience than a lack of responsiveness. You want the community to always be engaging with your brand, which means community and brand managers must be ready and willing to engage in communication via social channels. Be willing to accept and answer community questions. This will help the brand feel like a necessary part of the community.

Optimize Results
Move Past Failures

If a community does not respond to aspects of your program, be willing to cut and move on. This understandably can be difficult to do, but building a branded community is a long-term strategy and requires persistence. If your goal is to have a loyal and vocal core, you will need to build meaningful relationships with consumers.

Give Back

Building a community is a constant give and take. Know that you must always be providing value to the community. You can do this directly through events and activities or indirectly by creating communication channels for the community to connect. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show your community you value them, and you will have some of the most devoted consumers in your industry.

Inspiration Boards @ New York Training Session
The Crew @ New York Mountain Athletics


You will have a motivated group of consumers communicating your brand experience to others. Experiential-driven communication generates 50-80% of word-of-mouth buying behavior [McKinsey, 2010]. Invest in building a loyal community, and they will invest in you.