Stronger Together: Why community branding is here to stay.

If you go to your usual newsstand today and open any design or marketing magazine, one of the first words you will notice is “community”. The term comes from the Latin communitas, literally “quality of common, group of people who live together, who have the same interests or who live under the same rules”. You will surely find it conjugated with other words such as sustainability, inclusivity, or cooperation. With such a multitude of applications, it’s no wonder executives interested in keeping up with contemporary trends find themselves confused. That’s why at 0120 we ask ourselves: what exactly does community mean in the 2020s and what value does it bring to a business’ brand strategy?

 

In ancient Rome – where the term was coined – the notion of community was strongly limited to geography. A person’s community circle was relatively small and included family, members of the same social class, municipal governors and, sometimes, work colleagues. Members of higher organisation units – like the Emperor, Senators, etc. – weren’t part of a people’s community  since Romans did not interact with them other than on specific occasions such as celebrations or sanctions. Much has changed since the time of the Caesars. Communities have expanded with each advance in communications and can now cross the geographical limits that originally constrained them. Nowadays it is possible for a person born in the United Kingdom to belong to the Japanese Otaku community simply by participating in a Reddit thread. Interests have gone global, and the world has shrunk.

Communities have expanded with each advance in communications and can now cross the geographical limits that originally constrained them.

The classic definition of community is, therefore, a social grouping with which a person interacts on a daily basis. The glue that holds it together is a mix of habit and validation. Only through habit do we form the perception that something is reliable and, ultimately, safe. We use communities to make sense of a world we believe to be uncertain and dangerous. The way we select who is part of our community is validation. We form relationships with certain people because we feel that they represent or empathize with our morals, ideologies, or tastes. We choose what we think is best for us based on our core beliefs and discard what is not useful to us. Thus, communities go beyond the physical dimension and become tools for identity building. Communities are created through us rather than existing independently of us.

 

More often than not, the geographic community and the identity community overlap. Where we live impacts who we are; who we are determines where we live.

 

The hospitality industry should not go ignore this two-way relationship. With the rise of remote work, the climate crisis, the mental health pandemic, and global economic and political uncertainty, customers long for a sense of community and security more than ever. In recent years we have witnessed the migration of workers from offices to hotel lobbies, cafes, and even public spaces. Those projects with the community at their heart and a strong sense of place have thrived after the pandemic. Looking at this phenomenon, one can’t help but wonder, what exactly are guests looking for in the community and how can I become part of it?

Mental health and sustainability at the centre of change.

According to the British Office for National Statistics, loneliness affected one in seven adults between the ages of 45 and 54 before the coronavirus pandemic. According to the WHO, Covid has triggered anxiety and depression around the world by 25%. Fear of precariousness and disillusionment with traditional sources of security such as governments are the main reasons behind the current mental crisis. In general, we feel that we are caught between a regrettable past and a hopeless future. 

 

People have compensated for this fear through perpetual work. Over the past two years we’ve been working longer hours, consuming more screen time, and blurring the line between personal and professional life to the point where it’s almost invisible. We live in a permanent state of “busyness” induced by daily demands to act and consume that we swallow through the funnel of social networks.

 

What this frenetic culture generates is an intense yearning for the state of rest it denies us, a kind of platonic break from responsibility that we crave but cannot tolerate. We find ourselves stuck at the old crossroads of choosing between what we want and what we need, with the difference that now we don’t know which is which. Our mind tells us to pause, but our junkie bodies crave restlessness. As a society we have reached general burnout.

 

Communities can help us disentangle this mess we put ourselves into. First, communities address the problem of loneliness in a sensitive way. Scientific research shows that when we perceive that our actions have a positive impact on our environment, the brain releases serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormones, thus making it more likely that we want to continue helping others. In other words, if we see our regular grocer opening a second store, we feel happier and more willing to buy from him again. This predisposition to collaborate is even more intense when we like the person in question or have things in common with them. Psychologists claim that familiar face-to-face interactions reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and aid recovery from mental illnesses.

 

The return to community has also been posed as the best solution to the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change, economic uncertainty and social disenchantment with governments. Shortening the distance between buyers and suppliers reduces pollution, guarantees supply in times of crisis, and makes it easier to detect and fix failures in the supply chain. All these advantages are of special interest to the new generations of consumers (Millennials and Gen X) since they are generally more concerned than their predecessors for the conservation of the planet and their own well-being.

 

Hotels should incorporate these insights holistically if they want to stay relevant. Community emerges from a company’s culture and cuts across all dimensions of the business, from the way staff treat one another to the selection of wines served to customers. It’s about increasing profits by increasing brand value rather than, or at least at the same time as, keeping your costs to a minimum. Hoteliers and restaurateurs should look for close collaborations that share their brand values and reinforce word-of-mouth recommendations, since these tend to be stronger and more immediate than digital ones. Sustainable practices and products that are recycled and upcycled locally should also be a priority. Smart strategies include spaces to promote social interaction, design with textures and colours that enhance mental health, natural elements (the sound of running water and natural light have been shown to have calming qualities), a calendar of events rich in community-building activities, including regular staff events, an F&B offer with seasonal and local ingredients, and emotional storytelling that really engages with the concerns and interests of the target audience.

 

We build a community life by giving each member – guest, employee, supplier, manager – a visible role in collective prosperity. Our values and promise must be perceived as honest: what we are in private, we are also in public. We are not a facade of hospitality that treats its own family and home badly, but rather a source of reliability, inclusion and understanding that reinforces the feeling of belonging and security of the guest.

We build a community life by giving each member - guest, employee, supplier, manager - a visible role in collective prosperity.

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