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Living in many communities: real and virtual

india Updated: Aug 21, 2011 21:59 IST
Devendra Chawla
Devendra Chawla
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Man, the social animal, has always lived in communities, which crystallise and mobilise different aspects of his personality in an institutional manner. This is because communities are nothing but coming together of people with similar tastes, ideologies, beliefs, interests and lifestyles. They give us some sense of identity.

These communities are significantly important to marketers, primarily because they unearth a lot of consumer nuances, motivations and aspirations, which can go a long way in identifying opportunities, discovering innovations and fine-tuning offerings. There are unique codes, rituals and expressions of every community that brands can tap into, to be relevant to their consumers. Communities are the doorways through which marketers can peep into their consumers’ lives.

The ripple effect of being in a community overpowers the usual dilemma of should-I-or-should-I-not that we face individually. This gives brands the cushion to experiment.

Naturally, some communities represent the core of our identity while others represent the periphery. Every individual has a peripheral aspect that is subject to experimentation and change, like fashionable habits that an individual might pick up along the way and drop over time.

This way, there is a lot happening in terms of embellishments to an individual’s identity, adding different dimensions to it rather than looking at him in a myopic way — he’s only a doctor, a singer, a Bengali, a cricketer.

Another layer now getting added to existing communities we belong to is that of the virtual communities. A virtual community is a group of people who may or may not meet, who exchange ideas through technological platforms, social media and other such means. In these communities, like in real communities, people chat, argue, debate, discuss, trade, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, fall in love, find friends, lose friends, play games.

In these virtual communities, identities co-mingle agnostic of local time or location. New communication media mean that new social phenomena are going to arise that differ in significant ways from everything we've known. We are going to have to get used to the idea that the word "community" is going to have to stretch to include groups of people who communicate socially and work together cooperatively but may or may not meet in the real world.

Brands and marketers are slowly becoming more aware of this development and how it is shaping the consumer landscape. So brands who wrote off a certain audience will now have to rethink what communities can do to define their consideration set.

For instance, if we were looking at golf or polo enthusiasts, the earlier landscape was certainly very narrow and tightly defined. You could easily apply certain segmentation filters and define the community list as senior executives and people born into privileges. But now, with the advent of virtual communities, a golf or polo enthusiast may not necessarily be only a CEO or someone born into wealth. He could well be a middle level office executive or a self employed person who, although not physically involved with the game, appreciates and follows every major tournament, thanks to online communities.

This kind of access has made improbable audiences into probable ones, that too in varied capacities we never thought of before. The Manchester United Café is a classic example of the growing football club’s community across major cities in India. Otherwise, a few years back, who would think beyond cricket?

Social media and technology are reshaping the peripheral part of community. Thanks to their cheaper reach, people now have a chance to re-evaluate the communities they belong to.

This shift will see many new brands emerging and old ones adapting, since the number of communities one can belong to is increasing, giving multi-community identities to consumers.

The writer is President - Food & FMCG Category, Future Group