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What if user communities create their own brands? That question is explored in an intriguing recent working paper by Johann Füller and Eric von Hippel, an open innovation expert at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Their findings suggest that traditional brands would be wise to pay attention to this emerging arena.
The researchers surveyed members of Outdoorseiten.Net (ODS), a community of German, Austrian and Swiss hikers, about their brand preferences — and found that ODS members showed significant interest in buying hiking products with the community’s ODS logo. For example, when community members were asked whether they would prefer to buy a backpack from their favorite commercial manufacturer or one that was of equal quality and price but instead had the ODS logo, slightly more than one-third preferred the ODS product, and an additional 17.7% viewed the two brands as equally attractive.
From these and related findings, the authors conclude that user communities have the potential to create strong brands at low cost. Such user-generated brands, they suggest, can represent potential competition for traditional brands — but they may also present opportunities for co-branding and collaboration.