How Customer Communities Help Turn B2B Products Into Brands [Apple-Style]
Why is that Apple’s two-year-old iPhones are outselling the latest most geeked-out phone from Apple’s competitors? Two hints: It is not because Apple’s hardware is superior. It is not because the average soccer mom buying an iPhone can immediately tell the difference in the icon design between and iPhone and non-Apple smartphone.
It is because people want to be part of the Apple brand. They want to be part of the community of people who have an iPhone, can talk about their iPhone, and can share ideas for getting more out of their iPhone.
What is a brand? According to Brad VanAuken, at brand consulting firm The Brake Project, “A brand is a source of a promise to its customers. It promises relevant differentiated benefits.”
Apple’s brand does not just promise design and technology, it promises that you will be part of a community. You will be special. If you just figured out a cool new trick with your iPhone and want to tell someone who cares, chances are that you know someone with an iPhone. It is a positive experience for you both. And if you need help there is a community of people both online and offline that will support you because they want you to have a good experience with “their brand.” Why? If the shine comes off the Apple brand for you, they in turn feel a little less special.
How Can Your B2B Company Build a Brand like Apple Did?
The advantage that Apple had over the other phone makers is that is knew that building a brand is not about their products alone. To be fair to Apple product management team, Apple’s product design is brilliant. But, would the product design be as effective without the community of iPod, iPhone, and iPad users to rave about it or share tips and tricks with each other. Some say HTC’s Android phones may have better software and hardware, but nobody is talking about that. Very few people care about the details of technology. One of the biggest mistakes that executives make in trying to gain market share is thinking that their brand is about their products.
As a B2B company, your road to creating an “enchanting” brand (to steal language from Guy Kawasaki) is little more complicated. The good news is that you know who your customers are most of the time. The bad news is that, unlike Apple, your customers will probably not run into other customers of yours at the mall, on the bleachers at their kids’ baseball games, or at neighborhood barbecues. In the B2B arena, your company has to play a role in connecting members of the community – customers who use your products, employees who support and develop your products, and partners who extend your products. While your community should engage both online and offline, the most efficient place to build a foundation for customer community is online.
Online customer communities give companies the opportunity to make their brand about mapore than their products. By setting up a collaborative online environment that bring customers, employees, and partners together to focus on providing a good experience to your customers, you are taking the focus off of feature-to-feature comparisons and putting it on building your brand. You are investing in creating passionate advocates that feel special for being part of something bigger then themselves, like the over 200 million idevice users.