Can you measure how strong a brand’s community is?

Sid Lee developed a metric to try, and found that responding to how people already feel is more effective than trying to manufacture it.

Supporting communities has become a top priority for brands during the pandemic. But how do they know if their efforts are standing out and engaging a community’s members?

As part of “The Belong Project,” a research initiative conducted across Sid Lee’s global offices, the agency has not only identified the factors that build communities, but created a usable metric that measures how strong and engaged a brand’s community is.

After researching academic literature in sociology, anthropology and political science, the agency came up with a definition of “community,” identifying personal identity, social capital (interaction between community members), oneness (a central vision that people gather around) and mobilization (the actions people take) as the four characteristics of a strong community.

These pillars served as the foundation of the agency’s “Community Quotient,” a metric that measures the strength of attachment between a brand and its community, each ranked on a scale from one to 10, totalling a score of 40 between the four pillars.

Sid Lee found that communities could be organized around either a “community of people” (family, friends, ethnicity and/or religion), a “community of place” (where you live or come from, or go to school and work) or a “community of interest” (similar beliefs, values, lifestyle or entertainment interests).

Lastly, the agency analyzed other global brand rankings and applied its in-house brand expertise to whittle down a list of companies that organically attach to communities most relevant to Gen Z and Millennials. The agency also took into account a brand’s relevance to significant 2020 societal themes: political, racial justice and pandemic-related themes.

According to Dahye Jung, a strategy analyst at Sid Lee Montreal who worked on the project, the agency started deeply thinking about the meaning of belonging last year, but it has become even more prevalent this year, due to pandemic-related loneliness and isolation being on the rise, she says. She adds there’s a lot of buzz around “community marketing” in the industry, over-using the term “without having a specific way to really measure that through a coherent framework.”

“As an agency, in the DNA, all of the projects and just the way we work with clients is very human-centered,” she says. “It was just a natural fit for us to ask ourselves that question, ‘What does belonging mean today?’”

Looking at the brands with the strongest communities, it becomes clear that it goes beyond “giving back” campaigns that have become so prevalent in the last year. K-pop group BTS, social media platform TikTok and entertainment brand Disney were the top three brands on the CQ index and provided the greatest sense of belonging.

BTS received a score of 37/40, with online communities that go a step beyond fans of other groups by self-organizing to conduct various services for the band, like translating content and running social media activism efforts. Fans also use branded merchandise and “unique” fashion statements to establish their seating in the fan hierarchy of true fans, multi-fans or successful fans.

“Communities are complex. And it’s not only about a community of people, but it’s also about how people feel when they’re in that community,” Jung says. “I would really encourage folks working in the marketing sphere to really consciously make that mindset shift to realize that brands do not own nor create communities.”

Jung says Fenty Beauty by Rihanna is another brand that has done well with community marketing and creating belonging, as it has had significant growth in only three years “because of the fact they were really keen on listening to what women today think of beauty and what they want out of the products, rather than conforming their own beauty to be what the industry is saying as a standard.”