Community-based strategies in action: building and sustaining a product differentiation advantage
An important reason why individuals join groups or communities is to satisfy their needs for identity. Firms might exploit this societal tendency to gain a competitive advantage. Using the strategic approach adopted by Kiehl’s, a U.S. cosmetic producer and retailer, as a source of inspiration and illustration, this paper develops a novel theoretical framework to investigate how firms interact with communities to access privileged customers’ information, from which they can build a product differentiation advantage. We argue that by adhering and supporting a well-defined set of values, Kiehl’s both achieves community membership and strengthens the sense of identity that its target communities provide to their members. These investments prompt reciprocal community member behaviors, which the company channels into its customer knowledge development process. Finally, this article describes how firm–community interactions can protect the differentiation advantage by turning products into symbols of the communities to which its customers belong.
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