A brand community is a community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or brand. Recent developments in marketing and in research in consumer behavior result in stressing the connection between brand, individual identity and culture. Among the concepts developed to explain the behavior of consumers, the concept of a brand community focuses on the connections between consumers. A brand community can be defined as an enduring self-selected group of actors sharing a system of values, standards and representations (a culture) and recognizing bonds of membership with each other and with the whole. Brand communities are characterized by shared consciousness, rituals and traditions, and a sense of moral responsibility. Hence, brand community members can discern a collective identity to which they can identify. Thus, they do things together (rituals) and help one another when needed (moral responsibility).
The term "brand community" was first presented by Albert Muniz Jr. and Thomas C. O'Guinn in a 1995 paper for the Association for Consumer Research Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In a 2001 article titled "Brand community", published in the Journal of Consumer Research (SSCI), they defined the concept as "a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand". This 2001 paper has been acknowledged by Thomson Scientific & Healthcare to be one of the most cited papers in the field of economics and business.
In the advertising and marketing world, "brand community" has become a term used to encompass a brand's customers, fans and advocates. Having a strong and loyal brand community can turn a small brand into a success if it is nurtured and appreciated properly. Ad agency, Blade Creative Branding writes, "The people out in the marketplace who embrace the values of the brand, as customers and/or purchase influencers, are the brand's true "owners"." This philosophy has become especially popular with marketers creating and working on social media campaigns with easier interaction and more opportunities to tap into the brand community to leverage the brand.
In contrast to the notion that brand communities are a relatively new phenomenon that can only be enjoyed by major brands, some practitioners maintain that community is a fundamental aspect of any brand, large or small. This line of thinking is articulated in a video entitled "Faith", in which Blade Creative Branding principal and Chief Creative Officer Wayne S. Roberts says, "Brands have always been about the same thing... communities of like-minded people who share at least some of the same values, values that define the brand and enlist, and bind, the members of that community. Whether you're talking about politics, dog food, min-vans, or religion, the same perspective is relevant."
Many brands provide examples of brand communities. In computers and electronics: Apple Inc. (Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad), Holga and LOMO cameras, and Palm and Pocket PC Ultra-Mobile PCs. In vehicles: Ford Bronco, Jeep, Miata, Mini Cooper, Saab, Saturn and Subaru automobiles, and Royal Enfield and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In toys: Barbie and Lego.
Among critical perspectives to the notion of brand community, the contemporary discussion among marketing researchers concern the issue of how community not only can emerge among consumers in regards to one brand but several in combination. One example of how the brand community concept has become developed in line with this critique is the notion of community of style. In communities of style, brands are assembled and combined into different brand combinations that together support communal social action among community members.