How do you permeate your brand's image into the lives of its target consumers? By working it into one of humankind's most basic needs: the need for community. Hindustan Unilever Ltd's (HUL) Sunsilk has done it very successfully with Sunsilk GoG (Gang-of-Girls). And French Connection UK, or FCUK, has used it as an entry strategy into India.
The concept of creating brand communities was restricted to the Western markets till Sunsilk possibly took the first Indian initiative. The term was first presented during a consumer research conference in the US in 1995. In 2001, an article titled 'Brand Community', published in the 'Journal of Consumer Research' defined it as a specialised, non-geographically-bound community based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand.
So today, you have online communities, 'by invitation only' communities and that ubiquitous community that carries a piece of plastic, the loyalty card, which gives you bonus points when you shop at the store that's provided it.
International brands such as Apple, Jeep, Lego, Mini Cooper, Harley Davidson and Royal Enfield motorcycles have been using the brand community concept quite successfully.
Now the concept is picking up speed in India. Premium apparel brand FCUK, which recently launched its brand community—FCUK Fashion Police—in India, wanted to create a strong connect with the Indian consumer through an interactive and young platform.
"The programme had to encapsulate all aspects of lifestyle and fashion and our consumer studies showed that this would be a powerful medium to build a community that is individualistic, attitudinal, edgy and fashion forward, just like the attitude our brand promotes," Dhiresh Sharma, business head – India, FCUK, says.
This 'by invitation only' forum requires a nomination and invitation by an existing Fashion Police member, or an online registration and a membership invitation after successfully answering some questions.
HUL is happy to share figures for GoG – a total membership of six lakh, with over 35,000 gangs; hits in excess of 200 million, with average time spent on the site being 15 minutes; and 9,500 bloggers who use this site regularly. "The idea was to offer girls in India a platform to share, learn and have fun while interacting with each other, on a medium and in a language they were very comfortable with. The user was the starting point for us," N Rajaram, GM & category head, hair care, HUL says.
He adds that the brand objective was to make Sunsilk re-connect with the young Indian woman on a medium that helps the brand engage with her and makes it part of her life.
"The website is tool of consumer immersion, which gives us dynamic insights into her life and helps us understand how Sunsilk can make a real difference to her life."