OPINION2 June 2017

Small but mighty: the power of passion communities

Opinion Trends UK

Passion communities – groups of vocal and socially-connected consumers – hold power disproportionate to their size. It’s vital that brands engage with them, says Chime’s Crispin Beale.

The emergence of social media and anytime anywhere connectivity has empowered consumers to be far more vocal about their feelings towards a brand than ever before.

Online communities such as Twitter, Facebook and TripAdvisor allow consumers to share their opinions and exchange feedback on a particular product or service at the click of a button – putting pressure on brands and services to ‘get it right’.

With this increased need to meet consumer’s growing expectations in mind, Chime Insight & Engagement Group undertook research into UK customer engagement and opinion of the Financial Services (FS) sector to better understand what businesses need to do to win online audiences.

The study highlighted that trust and respect was most prevalent with the brands that do not simply promise the things they believe that customers want, but strive to be helpful in everyday situations and solve customer problems through efficient communications.

As anticipated, expectations are now higher than ever, with once passive, undiscerning consumers now only actively recommending brands that achieve full marks on the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

But perhaps most significantly, the research highlighted that among any brand audience there are small clusters of consumers whose opinions tend to be much stronger than the majority. Known as passion communities, these minority groups hold the key to invaluable insights about a company’s operations and their voices need to be heard.

With brands across all sectors feeling the strain of competing to win consumer opinion in a world where instant gratification and technological advances are pushing consumers to expect more, could these passion communities be the answer to winning over the entire audience?

The importance of passion communities

The study – which surveyed UK consumers on a variety of FS brands to ascertain the dynamics of today’s brand-consumer relationship – was divided into four separate categories: experience, engagement, ethics and evangelism.

The results revealed that passion communities tend to comprise the most vocal, enthusiastic, and socially connected members across all categories, and for the most part, base their opinions of a brand on different factors to the rest of the community.

Specifically, passion communities tend to rank criteria – such as attitudes towards innovation, ethics or a brand’s social presence – in the opposite way to the majority, while ranking these same criteria as much higher drivers for recommendation, trust or likeability.

For example, although being a long-standing brand appears to be the least important driver in general, passion communities are much more likely to award a higher NPS to these brands.

The power that passion communities hold is demonstrably disproportionate to their size, and therefore, it is important that community managers actively engage with all members – including passion communities – as these groups are likely to contain the most influential advocates or detractors of the brand.

How can brands positively engage with an ever-more demanding audience?

Passion communities are likely to be the bearers of both good and bad news, so it is important to listen to their feedback and understand why they are making particular assertions about a product or service.

The benefits for the brand are two-fold. Firstly, by engaging with brand advocates from passion communities, businesses can encourage further brand loyalty, mentions and recommendations from that member, while also reiterating the positive customer sentiment to the wider community.

Secondly, by responding to brand detractors and promising to act upon their observations or requests, brands not only improve the member’s overall experience and encourage more positive interactions in the future, but overtly demonstrate the ability to solve customer problems and confidence to diffuse a negative situation.

According to the study, brands that keep a low profile regardless of their company ethos do not score as highly as those who actively engage with their community members.

Ultimately, it is of little value how good a brand’s products or service may be, if perceptions of the company’s ethical values and standard of behaviour – both inward and outward – do not meet today’s consumer expectations.

Consumers like to tell stories that relate to a tangible experience with a brand, whether this relates to a particular product or recent interaction.

Passion communities, although small in number, can heavily influence the wider community and steer brand reputation, both positively or negatively. It is vital that businesses take steps to identify who they are, how they influence fellow community members, and why they are passionate about a brand.

Brands can then maximise engagement with these small but powerful segments of community to reach a far wider audience. So, for business managers on a quest to boost social mentions, and therefore positive brand associations, the power of passion communities and their influence over the brand perception should not be underestimated.

Engaging these small but vocal groups of consumers, brands will be taking an effective first step towards improving relationships, not only with these individuals, but also with the rest their audience as a whole.

Crispin Beale is CEO of Chime Insight & Engagement Group