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Enhancing Relationships With Customers Through Online Brand Communities

Online brand communities can bring customers closer to a brand, generate "buzz" and enhance brand loyalty. Yet, important as online brand communities are to consumer markets, little is known about the role they play in consumer decision-making. Although the popularity of online brand communities as a means of gathering pre- and post-purchase information continues to grow, knowledge about how to effectively manage those conversations remains scant. To learn more about online brand communities, the authors studied the active discussion boards of two competing makers of a product. After members read replies to their posts, the authors measured several outcomes, including forum members' confidence in the company, their perceptions of the customer-brand relationship (consisting of relationship satisfaction, trust and commitment), and the members' self-reported purchase behavior. Based on their study, the authors found that online brand communities are powerful mechanisms for bringing customers together to enhance brand enthusiasm. Sometimes they even create brand champions who dispense helpful advice and purchase recommendations to scores of potential buyers. However, the authors' research also showed that the mere existence of a forum or message board is not enough to strengthen relationships and drive sales. Rather, it is the exchange of high-quality information on these sites that drives a strong customer response. Providing that quality is an important challenge "Ò and opportunity for businesses.

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