Fighting Against The Tide Is Tough (a case study)

I recently made a prediction that the new community launched by Athleta will struggle (and probably fail).

It’s (very) possible I’ll be proven wrong in the near future, but it’s worth reflecting upon the trends it’s up against nonetheless.

In short, Athleta (which creates versatile premium performance apparel), has launched a new community for women to chat about mental health, body positivity, and related topics. The goal of the community is to increase loyalty and attract new customers to its loyalty program.

In a big launch, the community acquired 2500+ members (likely through promotion to its loyalty card members) and attracted a handful of posts per day.

From a strategy perspective, we would’ve advised against this kind of community for a few reasons:

1) Member Needs. Do women want a place to talk about health and wellbeing? Almost certainly. Do they want to do it with strangers? Maybe. Do they want to do it in a forum-based community run by a for profit brand? I’m not so sure. I’d suspect the research would suggest the audience is more eager to read and learn about the topic from people they trust rather than openly discuss it with each other. Generating new organic activity will prove challenging.

2) Competition. There is a proliferation of places for women to discuss mental health and wellness today. Many of these are in the flow of the tools people use every day. The community doesn’t seem to have strong enough positioning to pull people to a new platform regularly to participate.

3) Acquisition. A community needs a steady source of new members. The high placement of the community and the loyalty program might provide that. However, I don’t believe it will attract much search traffic – which represents 80%+ of the audience in many brand communities.

4) Value. The current goals (increase loyalty and acquire new people to the loyalty program) are generally not ideal for brand communities. Communities can increase loyalty but it’s almost impossible to separate cause and effect. It’s far more likely only the most loyal customers will participate in this community. This means the community is always going to be a prime candidate to have its budget cut.

However, the one big ‘x’ factor here is whether Athleta can leverage its celebrity sponsorships with people like Simone Biles in powerful ways to drive people to participate in the community. This might drive a surge of activity in the community.

This community serves as a useful test case of whether brand communities should offer members a sense of belonging with loyalty or should satisfy information needs.

My prediction might turn out to be very wrong. So, if anyone wants to play along, we know the median no. posts in similar communities is 166 per day. Let’s check in on August 2nd, 2022 and see how we’re doing

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