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“People Belong to Communities, Not Brands”: The Lowdown on Sid Lee’s ‘The Belong Effect’ Study


Andy Bateman, CEO of Sid Lee in the USA, speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about why the agency undertook the international study, its findings, and their implications for brands and agencies

“People Belong to Communities, Not Brands”: The Lowdown on Sid Lee’s ‘The Belong Effect’ Study

The Belong Effect is an ongoing research initiative by Sid Lee to unlock new business value from 'communities'. For its second year, Sid Lee collaborated with Angus Reid for an international survey to study 8,000 Gen Z and millennials across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and France to explore their intrinsic need for community and the opportunity for brand advocacy within groups. 

Among the study's finding were as follows: 

Gen Z and Millennials are constantly finding new communities that shape their sense of self

    - 45% say that their community defines them “a great deal”
    - 83% feel a sense of unity, or oneness, as a member of a community

Values groups provide inspiration and empowerment among Gen Z and Millennials that makes them mobilize by sharing content and recruiting outside of their community (94% of people say communities feed their emotions with entertainment, inspiration, and joy as the top emotional benefits

    - Values-based communities outperform all others for empowerment and motivation, over-indexing on less lonely and caring
    - Values-based communities have lower brand penetration and mobilize more people more often. Only 36% of Values-based communities have brands showing up
    - Values communities are most robust in the U.S., with 75% of members most likely to mobilize for their beliefs or to belong to Values-based hobby/leisure activities (86%), political (60%), and religious/spiritual (54%) communities

Brands should look beyond Interest-based communities, which includes sports groups, to reach the new generation of consumer advocates

    - Interest-based communities have the highest presence of brands showing up (54%), making them the most crowded community landscapes  
    - Sports groups are the highest of all to have a brand linked to their community (65%) 

To find out more about the inspiration behind the study, some more insights into the findings, and their implications for brands and agencies, LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Andy Bateman, CEO of Sid Lee in the USA.

LBB> Tell me about the foundations of The Belong Effect. Why did you initially decide to conduct this research? Was there a lightbulb moment or was it more a drawn-out thought?

Andy> We saw three big themes intersecting that have driven our thinking. Sometimes you don’t recognise what’s right in front of you because it’s so self-evident we tend to take it for granted, but there’s been a big shift in business in the last 15 years. The significance of platform-based companies is perhaps the biggest. Like Google, Amazon, and eBay, these businesses rely on the power of the crowd as fuel for their business. Bringing large communities together to learn, trade, exchange data, or whatever it is that interests them. The community brings more like-minded people together on the platform, and it grows - exponentially! These businesses now make up our largest global firms. The second was the growth of industrial-strength communities enabled by the internet. It’s allowed small interest groups to grow and expand their influence - creating social currency or capital. Finally, the loneliness phenomenon has been around for years, especially amongst younger more digitally connected groups. We were worried about how the pandemic had compounded this and so with all three of these pilots in mind we rather ambitiously wondered if we could understand it better. And if we could, we could help our clients see the opportunity to connect with communities more. 

LBB> From the outset, what would you say your main aims and ambitions were?

Andy> In short, we wanted to learn. For the longest time, marketing has been dominated by two types of marketing - mass marketing and 1:1, but we’re only just learning how to leverage and connect with communities. While communities have been around forever, digital platforms have given them scale and exposed them to us in ways we’re only just beginning to understand. Our global research project had three primary goals. First, to validate our insights about the key components and types of communities. Second, to understand the pandemic’s role and impact on communities. And third, to document how brands can and should best engage with and influence communities. Ultimately, we wanted to create a roadmap for how brands can be successful with the communities in which they participate.  

LBB> Why is learning about Gen Z and millennials' relationship with communities important for Sid Lee and your clients?

Andy> It’s simple, really. Gen Z and millennials, in particular, are shaping their sense of self, not through their families or local groups, but communities- primarily online. What’s more, these cohorts are generationally different and economically the most important and largest cohorts we’ve ever seen. Since they’re often more formative in their own development, it can be a potent place for brands to engage. And if they can do it well, our research has proven that high levels of brand advocacy are available to brands who get their approach right. We believe that when done right, participating in communities can unlock tremendous potential for brands at a lower cost than some more traditional marketing approaches and in ways that can create a more fulfilling two-way relationship between brands and consumers. 

LBB> Going into the research, did you have any expectations? If so, what?

Andy> Well, we knew communities mattered, but we didn’t really know if brands were welcome or the extent to which communities were driving change in those who made up those communities. It isn’t new, but we thought we had an original way to look at community structure and types. We went in with eyes and hearts open to see if our hypothesis was correct - is community at the centre of belonging for Gen Z and millennials? We thought Oneness and Mobilisation - two of our four community pillars - might be the shallower end of the community pool, but it proved to be otherwise. What we've learned about group cohesion and the willingness for people to mobilise for brands was a surprise and very encouraging for our work.

LBB> Tell me about the findings. What did you discover? Which discoveries were particularly surprising and why?

Andy> The results from the international study reveal fascinating insights into the emotional landscape of younger generations. One of the most poignant is the fluidity of community involvement. Gen Z and millennials are constantly finding new communities that shape their sense of self. Intersectionality becomes more crucial than ever in this case. Brands have to be inclusive. There are also nuances in people’s identities that have always existed. Still, when you take people out of a market segment and consider them in a community context, you understand them and their emotional needs more deeply - they’re like a raw nerve! Another surprising finding is that most people (76%) feel like they have a voice and influence or ‘social capital’ within their community, and almost everyone (83%) feels a sense of unity as a community member. While we knew this number could be high, we did not anticipate such a resounding number of people feeling this connected to communities. 

LBB> In the findings you mentioned the following: "Values groups provide inspiration and empowerment among Gen Z and millennials that makes them mobilise by sharing content and recruiting outside of their community.” What does that mean for brands?

Andy> There is a huge opportunity to engage ‘Values’ communities authentically, but you need to align with their cause. It emphasises the importance of a brand’s role in amplifying a group’s voice and giving them the tools to grow and thrive. Values-based communities are incredibly influential in the US, with 75% of Gen Z and millennial members most likely to mobilise for their beliefs. Not only that, if companies want to build brand loyalty and, over time, foster brand advocacy, tapping into Values-based communities to help them create impact is the way to do it. 

LBB> You also say that "Brands should look beyond Interest-based communities". Can you define these communities and why brands should look beyond them? Which spaces are more fruitful for brands and why?

Andy> Interest-based communities are groups where people have a shared hobby or activity. They are more likely to be about entertainment and instant gratification. Sports groups and fans are one of the most popular types of interest-based communities. While these groups have been good for entertaining us and bringing more joy during the pandemic, we learned that the emotional benefits stop there. Compare that to Values-based groups, which rank high for inspiration and motivation to action. Those types of communities tend to make us feel better for longer - and connect on a deeper, more emotional level.

From a brand perspective, we learned that 54% of Interest-based communities already have some type of brand present, the highest of all community types but the least likely group to mobilise or take action. So you’ve got a crowded landscape for brands and less potential to see network effects. In comparison, Values-based communities provide profound emotional benefits to their members and have the lowest brand penetration at 36%, while they have the highest mobilisation levels. That’s an invitation to participate in Values Communities. But you can’t fake values. You have to show courage and conviction, which might mean alienating groups that don’t align with those values. It’s a high-stakes environment, and if you participate, you have to mean it.

LBB> By definition, communities are tight-knit - a group of people with similar mindsets that can be hard to integrate into. How does that impact brands in their endeavours to get into specific communities? What are the main things they need to consider?

Andy> One of the first things to know is that people belong to communities, not brands. It is never ‘your’ community, even if they engage on a brand platform. Brands must tread carefully and ask themselves three questions. First, who are the communities naturally attracted to your business, sector, or brand - and what do they need from you? It is about identifying, understanding, and listening. Second, what communities could an organisation attach to, and what value might you provide if you show up? Delving into the business’s potential opportunities is a way to determine which communities a company should engage with and evaluate why and how the brand will be a relevant participant in those communities. Finally, how would the company’s brand, platform, products, and services better serve a community’s needs - how can you genuinely lift a community or give it greater agency? By enabling the community, leaders may have the chance to build advocacy for their brand but remember, it’s based on authentic participation.

LBB> Any parting thoughts?

Andy> We need to understand communities and their role in helping to shape the lives, identities, and day-to-day activities of Gen Z and millennial groups. Be prepared to engage and learn with humility - dispensing with concepts like control, ownership, and property in favour of collaboration, co-creation, and participation. Prioritising community at the centre of a marketing strategy makes a company more attuned to consumers’ deeper needs, offers more powerful ways to connect, and creates affinity and advocacy, critical to longstanding growth. 

View an infographic on The Belong Effect here and visit the study's dedicated website here.

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Sid Lee LA, Mon, 01 Nov 2021 15:29:12 GMT