Brand communities describe people who interact with each other to express their love for a brand. What makes brand communities of particular interest to marketers is that members of these communities are fiercely brand loyal, supporting fellow brand lovers while defending against those who criticise their brand.
One of the best places to study such communities is within the Australian automotive sector.
For decades, the loyalty of Australian motorists has been split between two brands: Ford and Holden. While rivalry between Ford and Holden supporters has been around since at least the 1960s, the way in which this rivalry is expressed has begun to shift in recent years owing to changes in communication technology.
‘With the advent of social media,’ explains Professor Mike Ewing from the Deakin Business School, ‘rivalry between Ford and Holden supporters is now just as likely to play out on Facebook, Twitter, and car enthusiast forums as it is in passionate debates around the BBQ.’
From the BBQ to your smartphone
In the pre-internet age, the only way people could easily communicate with each other was in person.
With the rise of online communication, especially those built around social media, this geographical barrier to communication has been removed. Now, it doesn’t matter whether you live in Perth or Penrith, you can find people who share your love for the most obscure brand, band, collectible, or TV series.
Little wonder then that whole legions of brand loyalists have created car-based fan empires using social and online media.
What remained unclear was how these brand communities interacted with each other, especially in situations where there was a long-standing rivalry between these communities. Professor Ewing and his colleagues therefore explored how social media has allowed members of the Ford and Holden brand communities to interact with each other.
From passionate drivers to online fans
The research findings, which have been published in the Journal of Business Research, showed that the rivalry between Ford and Holden supporters has thrived on social media. Humorous, vitriolic and practical online exchanges between Ford and Holden supporters are common, perpetuating the rivalry that exists between these communities.
Online forums discuss each brand with sports-like competitiveness: ‘Holes Oil Leaks Dents and Engine Noise’ says one discussion post from a Ford supporter; ‘Fast Only Rolling Downhill’ replies a post from a Holden supporter. These aren’t flippant comments from armchair motorsport enthusiasts; these online commentators know the ins and outs of their beloved vehicles as well as most mechanics.
The findings also show that the frequency and intensity of comments tends to spike around times significant to either brand, like new product launches or the divisive Bathurst 1000 car race.
One issue that remains unresolved is why the brand communities that have emerged around the Ford and Holden brands has eluded other car manufacturers.
The Toyota Corolla was actually Australia’s biggest selling new car in 2014, yet it comes without a cult-like following of merchandise-wearing, forum fighting brand advocates. No one talks about their Toyota Corolla at the footy or during a weekend BBQ. There are no bumper stickers, no fake tattoos, no merchandise range in Kmart or Big W.
‘Most companies can only dream of developing a community of fans that promotes their brand and products,’ Professor Ewing says.
Professor Ewing goes on to note that ‘brand communities, particularly those that exist online, have emerged as some of the most influential methods of brand management over the past decade.’
‘Considering the longevity of the Ford vs. Holden rivalry, and its ability to keep a brand present in the minds of consumers, it’s no surprise that marketing scholars are keen to learn more about how these communities are created and perpetuated.’
Find out more about this study here.