Community Based Marketing: Lessons from Harley Davidson and Zipcar)

Lara Lee, principal at Jump Associates, led one of the best panels of Sustainable Brands 2010.  During the session, Lee divulged how to build successful community based environmental marketing initiatives and new product adoption.

Five rules to speed adoption

Lee noted five things to speed adoption of a new green product, service, or idea:

  1. Relative advantage: Discuss benefits to me, not the planet.  Zipcar famously changed its advertising from “green-focused” to “people-focused” to much success.
  2. Compatibility: Relate green to familiar values, not sacrifice.  No one wants to sacrifice to be environmentally friendly.  Zipcar refers to the freedom it provides.
  3. Complexity: Simplify green decision-making through shared narratives.  In Zipcar’s example, it related the service to a gym service, which people understood readily.
  4. Trialability: Engage people to give green a try.  Zipcar offers trial memberships.
  5. Observability:  Increase visibility of the product or service by sharing it in shared spaces.  In Zipcar’s example, you see Zipcar all over, making it appear to have reached critical mass.

Seven rules for creating brand communities

Lee related ways to build communities around a brand, based on her experience doing exactly that at Harley Davidson.

  1. No silos: Every brand community must be part of a business strategy not just a marketing strategy.
  2. Serve the people: A brand community exists to serve the people in the community, not the business.
  3. Community builds brand: Not the other way around – engineer the community and the brand will be strong.
  4. Conflict is constructive: Smart companies embrace the conflicts that make their communities thrive.
  5. Everyone plays a role: Communities are strongest when everyone plays a role. Everyone has to give value and get value from the community.  This is what makes it sticky.
  6. The tool is not the strategy: Online networks are a tool, not a community strategy.
  7. Lose control: Communities must be of and by the people; they will defy managerial control.

How else have you been able to speed adoption through brand communities?

Amie runs Cobblestone Solutions, LLC, a consultancy focusing on business development, marketing, communications and strategy for mission driven companies. Previously, Amie served as Director of Business Development for Viv (a Bay Area environmental start-up), Program Manager for Social Venture Technology Group (a boutique consulting firm focused on measuring social and environmental impact), and Associate Consultant at Bain & Co (a global management consulting firm). She is particularly interested in innovations that reduce waste, altering consumer behavior for good, and leveraging the power of business to solve the climate crisis. You can read more from her on her blog, on, and on JustMeans.