Brand communities have been touted as means to increase customer loyalty and enhance sales. As a result, more companies are dedicating marketing resources to encourage customers to join and participate in such communities. However, there is a lack of research that directly connects brand community membership to actual purchase behavior. In this study, the authors examine the various ways brand community membership can influence the likelihood that customers will adopt a new product. In addition, the study identifies strategies that marketing managers can use to enhance the impact of their brand community while blunting the impact of competitor’s brand communities.
Proponents of brand communities have cited two ways these communities can influence adoption behavior. First, brand communities have been found to foster a greater sense of loyalty toward the target brand. Proponents argue that this loyalty may, in turn, increase the likelihood that community members will adopt new products from the brand. In addition, brand communities have been credited with generating “oppositional loyalty” against competing brands. This oppositional loyalty may benefit companies by reducing the likelihood that community members will adopt new products from competitors.
To explore the relationship between brand community membership and new product adoption, the authors collected data on the participation behavior, membership duration, and adoption behavior of 7506 members spanning four brand communities in two product categories: microprocessors and computer video cards. The results show that higher levels of participation and longer-term membership in a brand community increase the likelihood that a customer will adopt a new product from that brand. Furthermore, higher participation and longer membership duration reduce the likelihood of adopting a new product from a competing brand. Therefore, by encouraging customers to join and participate in their brand community, companies may increase the willingness of customers to adopt their new products while creating a buffer against competitors.
However, the study also finds that oppositional loyalty only occurs when there is a comparable product offered by the consumer’s preferred brand. In the absence of a comparable product, brand community membership does not reduce the likelihood of adopting a new product from competing brands. Thus, a company may negate the oppositional loyalty created by competitors’ brand communities by being first to market with a new product. Furthermore, when consumers join multiple brand communities dedicated to competing products, oppositional loyalty disappears. In the presence of such overlapping memberships, higher participation in one brand’s community paradoxically leads to a greater likelihood of adopting new products from competing brands. These results suggest that marketing managers should selectively dedicate marketing resources to encouraging participation by members who do not possess overlapping memberships. In addition, managers may undermine the benefits of rival’s brand communities by encouraging the rival brand’s members to join and participate in competing brand communities.
Scott A. Thompson is a doctoral student in Marketing in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. His research interests include word-of-mouth behavior, new product adoption, brand communities, and the role of consumer identities.
Rajiv K. Sinha is Associate Professor of Marketing in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. He received his PhD in Marketing from Pennsylvania State University. His current research focuses on modeling piracy of digital products, time-inconsistent behavior in the context of addiction, and innovation diffusion. His articles on these and related topics have appeared in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, and other leading journals in management and engineering.
Journal of Marketing, Volume 72, Number 6, November 2008
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