Brand Community Analysis As the development of communication technology and global market, the concept of Brand Community was fist defined as ‘a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand’ by two social scientists, Albert M. Muniz, JR and Thomas C. O’Guinn (2001). This essay will firstly give a brief overview of brand community, and then point out three main characteristics and further discuss these features of brand community based on the article by Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) using the supporters of Manchester United Football Club as an example.
Brand community is a customer-customer-brand triad. It reflects on a collection of brand-centric social group stressing the use of brand and the relationship formed by emotion between consumers (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). Furthermore, McAlexander, Schouten and Koenig (2002) have extended this model to the extent that brand community is actually a customer-centric network and aim to provide customer special brand-related consumption experience. They have also emphasized the concept of brand experience in a community.
Any brand experience comes from the interaction among members, and at the same time customers also construct the meaning of the brand in the process of interaction and experience. Subsequently, by the research in the abandoned Apple Newton, Muniz and Schau (2005) found brand community can be regarded to a kind of religious affiliation. Manchester United Football Club (MUFC) is a famous professional football team founded in 1878 in England. It is the best supported in Europe (Rice, 2009) and probably the most popular football club in the world.
According to the article by Cass (2007) from Daily Mail, the number of worldwide MUFC supporters was closed to 333 million in 2007. In this case, I assume the fans of MUFC all are the members of the club community and they principally consume match tickets and club-related products. Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) raised 3 basic characteristics for brand community, like other traditional communities, which respectively were a shared consciousness, rituals and traditions and a sense of moral responsibility. The most important shared consciousness is group awareness.
It means there is an implicit relationship between community members and members can be distinct from others. Rituals and traditions is a vital social process. Brand and the meaning of brand community with their history, culture and consciousness can be duplicated and passed on through ritual and traditions. Moral responsibility indicates that community members are responsible for each other. These 3 characteristics show the nature of brand community. For the sense of consciousness, members feel a great relation toward one another is more important than the connection to the brand (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001).
That is why two main organisations for MUFC supporters in the UK, Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) and Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), were established to let like-minded people join together and formed local communities. IMUSA has even set up a committee to better represent the interest and voice of supports. Supporters from all around the world can also just easily use web-based communication tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and forums like MUFC fansforum (http://community. manutd. com/forums/) to share updated news and maintain connections.
On the other hand, members, ‘also set them apart from others and makes them similar to one another’ Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) claimed, especially try to distinct them from the main competitive brand in the market. This regards to oppositional brand loyalty. In this MUFC case, the oppositional brand is its main rivalry in the Premier league located in the same city – Manchester City Football Club (MCFC). Fans from MUFC always differentiate them against MCFC supporters. Members usually said MCFC is built by money, just an upstart and a noisy neighbour.
Most of the community members despise this kind of team because they think MUFC has the glories that MCFC lack of and embodies the passion and excitement of the world’s most popular sport (Hill and Vincent, 2006). Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) indicated rituals and traditions focus on sharing consumption experience with the brand. Supporters sing several specific songs during the match regarding to different circumstances to encourage and cheer the team. Those songs have already become a kind of spiritual symbol of the MUFC brand, and therefore will be passed on each time they are sung in matches.
Celebrating the history of the brand is crucial for maintaining community and reproducing culture (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). For the MUFC community, the most vital history is the trophies they gained. After MUFC won their 19th English top league title last season, the Barclays Premiership Trophy Cup was being demonstrated around the world for the whole summer in 2011. This tour is not only presenting the precious trophy cup to supporters but also a promotion of the great history of MUFC to further raise reputation and attract new members.
Sharing brand stories is another important means of maintaining and creating community (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). MUFC fans always mention either face to face or on internet about the classic victory of the champion league final in 1999 in Munich. This can be related to viral marketing by which positive image and consciousness of the brand and community can be delivered through word of mouth or improved by the internet network effects. ‘The sense of moral responsibility is what produces collective action and contributes to group cohesion’ Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) said.
There are two traditional shared missions: intergrading and retaining members and assisting members in the proper use of the brand. Firstly, it is crucial to retain existing members and obtain new ones. The fundamental way for MUFC to save and fascinate supporters is to keep winning. Getting consistent good record and reputation will really help the brand to attract and retain members. MUFC also gives discount to the existing official members to renew their membership and buy season tickets in the following year. Thus members can gain benefit from their loyalty.
Secondly, moral responsibility also provides assistant normally in problem solving and shares brand-related information. For instance, members share transport information in away games on fansforum. In conclusion, the notion of brand community has been extended in recent years and become a usual marketing phenomenon. The three key characteristics represent the essence of brand community and each of them has its own manifestation. Due to the improvement of communication way, members of brand community are more convenient to communicate and the brand is also easier to build connection with customers and create brand communities.
Looking to the future, I believe brand community will become a crucial and staple marketing strategy. Reference: Cass, Bob (2007). “United moving down south as fanbase reaches 333 million”. Daily Mail (London: Associated Newspapers); 15 December 2007. Manchester United official fansforum: http://community. manutd. com/forums/t/84281. aspx Manchester United Membership benefit: http://www. manutd. com/en/One-United/Member-Benefits. aspx McAlexander, J H, Schouten , J W, and Koenig , H F. Building brand community[J ] . Journal of Marketing; Jan 2002; 66, 1; ABI/INFORM Global p. 8 Muniz Albert M. Jr. and Thomas C. O’Guinn (2001), Brand Community, Journal of Consumer Research; March 2001; 27, 4; ABI/INFORM Global p. 412 Muniz Albert M. Jr. and Schau, H J. (2005), Religiosity in the Abandoned Apple Newton Brand Community, Journal of Consumer Research; Mar 2005; 31, 4; ABI/INFORM Global p. 737 Rice, Simon (6 November 2009). “Manchester United top of the 25 best supported clubs in Europe”. The Independent (London: Independent Print). Vincent, John, Hill, John S. (2006) Globalisation and sports branding: the case of Manchester United.
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