Recent marketing research has indicated the potential value of the social phenomena of communities to marketers. Specifically, there has been a focus on the ways in which communities operate within a consumer context (Muniz & O�Guinn, 2001: 412). Fostering community has been a particularly successful strategy for Australia�s major surfwear brands: for example, according to Bergin, Chinniah, Njuguna and Uren, the origins of Billabong�s strong growth lie in its establishment of �its brand credibility with the young surfing community as a designer and producer of quality surf apparel� (2004: 16). This core group of loyal consumers remained with these brands as surfwear became part of the mainstream apparel market (Bergin, 2004: 13). As apparel brands consider expanding into surfwear, they must consider whether they have a large enough community of loyal consumers that will support them through the process. Establishing the characteristics of such brand communities is the primary aim of the current research project.
The research will examine brand community as opposed to the more general concept of consumer community. Luedicke asserts that brand communities �have become powerful socio-economic phenomena and are as such of great interest for the study of marketplace cultures in consumer culture theory� (2006: 486).
The research objectives of this project warrant investigation (McAlexander, Kim & Roberts, 2003: 7; McAlexander, Schouten & Koenig, 2002: 51), as their successful completion through appropriate analysis will contribute significantly to marketing theory and practice, regarding both brand communities and relationship marketing more generally.