In the sixth part of the Trust in Me series, Ellie Thompson examines the concept of brand communities, or ‘tribes’, which are associated not only with increased profits, but also higher levels of consumer involvement, fierce loyalty, and self-identification with brands. But how can this knowledge help the charity sector?

Communities based on consumption are not a new phenomenon. Groups of people with “feelings of shared well-being, shared risks, common interests and common concerns”, according to historian Daniel Boostein, have always been at the epicentre of consumption. More recently these communities have been labelled as consumer ‘tribes’ (Bernard Cova and Daniele Dalli), ‘brand clubs’ (Judith Langer) and ‘brand communities’ (Albert Muniz and Thomas O’Guinn). These communities have been associated with not only increased profits but also higher levels of consumer involvement, fierce loyalty and self-identification with brands. Little literature exists, however, around low-value or non-profit brand communities.

In the context of non-profit brands, such as those within the charity sector, the little literature that does exist suggests that communities formed from low-value consumption are more complex. For charities, this is because the product being consumed is actually an ‘act’ of giving time or money, according to Sharon Guy and Richard Patton. As such, Muniz and O’Guinn identify a brand community for charities as being developed and maintained around three antecedents: ‘Consciousness of kind’, relating to the bonds between the individuals in the brand’s community; ‘Shared rituals and traditions’, being the participatory involvement from individuals that generates group norms and values, defining the culture of the community; and ‘moral responsibility’, the shared obligation that defines and governs group behaviour catalysing collective action.

In line with this framework, successful creation of a charity brand community will result in increased participation from donors and volunteers. Only in this instance can the charity brand community then be a vehicle for adding meaning to an individual’s life, because “part of an individual’s self-concept… is derived from his knowledge of membership of a social group together with the emotional significance attached to that membership”, according to Henri Tajfel.


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