Online Brand Communities – where nostalgia is no longer a thing of the past
Whilst branding via online communities is a fairly recent phenomenon, this does not mean that the past does not have a role to play in building customer loyalty. A recent study of a Brazilian brand of bicycles dating back to the 1970s highlights the contribution that a sense of nostalgia amongst consumers can make towards strengthening a product in the present and preparing for the near future. The secret lies in the bonds formed between online community members and the brand in question.
Brands and online communities dovetail very neatly as they satisfy the inherent need of many people to feel a sense of belonging to a group. Whilst both are to varying degrees virtual they can still foster the requisite need to share experiences both past and present in order to build up a sense of identity within consumers – identity of the self within a web-based group and the ability to identify with a product. Consumers may associate with a particular brand for what it represents “in the now” or what it reminds them of their past experiences. Online communities subsequently enable consumers to perpetuate the connection they have established with the same brand over the years.
Such a modern-day phenomenon as online communities could be seen as purely forward-thinking and harking back to “the good old days” as anathema. Firms that successfully prolong the lifespan of their seemingly “old school” products via new technologies do not agree with this point of view.
Looking back while moving forwards
When Volkswagen decided to re-vamp its famous Beetle in the 2000s, it was done with all due respect for and recognition of the past success of the original design. In a similar vein, the Vespa lives on via a similar blend of nostalgia for the past whilst moving on in the present. The very different music industry has seen the glorious return of the vinyl in recent years under the banner “Back to Black”, which again underlines how a love of past formats can return with a vengeance, if marketed correctly and provided the required nostalgic yet “in the present” consumers remain loyal.
Social media have had an enormous part to play in prolonging the life of products, services and brands that may have been viewed as has-been. By offering the many advantages of modern technology (posting of links, videos, images, exchanges of opinion on good and bad practices) that enable real-time, global communication, social media have provided a forum to bring back to life brands that may otherwise have died a very unnecessary death. More than ever before, firms have the chance to build a brand image, raise awareness, co-create with consumers and show that past glories remain relevant today.
However, in our consumer-oriented age, the success of such online communities requires minimum intervention from official representatives of the brand, as any such contributions would be regarded as spin with purely marketing objectives. Loyal followers of a long-standing brand must be allowed to share their views freely. It is in this climate of nostalgic but forward-looking passion for a brand that marketeers can then delve into the content posted in order to gain an accurate social perspective on the products they are currently pushing and planning to launch in the future.
A case study – the Caloi 10
A recent investigation of the official Facebook page of the Brazilian Caloi 10 bicycle (race bicycle – first edition in 1972 and replaced in 1990) over the period April-October 2013 tracked the nature of the various contributors of content to the page and, via telephone interviews and use of the Dedoose software programme, made it possible to identify certain trends therein. The resultant DNA of social media contributions broke down into the following categories: identity and nostalgia, hierarchical structure, subculture ethos, and consumption habits.
Posts on the page in question displayed a clear tendency to hark back to childhood memories of the brand in its infancy as a bonding element of the online community, a community that was patently upheld by a series of beliefs about and in the brand and the product. Members also shared advice and tips regarding the brand and its potential rivals. However, the governing factor in terms of the level and nature of participation in the community was clearly the role played by each, from administrator to active poster of content through to the more passive mere readers and followers of user-generated content. It was explicitly the administrators that drove the community, encouraging other members to try to climb the virtual hierarchical structure in place.
Developing a brand from a social, nostalgic perspective
Membership of a community, real or virtual, inevitably involves different roles. What underpins the success of the Caloi 10 Facebook page is evidently the level of responsibility and therefore possibility to post and manage content, along with the strength of the nostalgic bond with the brand and product. Far from rendering the bicycle “passé”, this bond serves to extend its life into the present and also create a genuine communication space to see how to bring the product forwards in the near future.
This article draws inspiration from the paper Nostalgia in online brand communities, written by Clara Koetz and John Daniel Tankersley and published in The Journal of Business Strategy vol.37 n.3 (2016).
Clara Koetz is as an Assistant Professor at Rennes School of Business, France. Her research interests include online consumer behaviour, emotions and consumer information processing.
John Daniel Tankersley works as a Marketing Consultant in Cruz do Sul, Brazil.