Marketers create branded communities that get limited patronage because those communities are transparent attempts to use community to further their brands, and will obviously only provide information/content beneficial to their brand.
Marketers are also willing to invest huge sums to sponsor programs and websites that are relevant to their category, names that people trust in that category, but names that obviously also have information on the marketer’s competitors.
What will never happen? Creating a forum that covers other brands than your own. Why would it be beneficial? People would see you as being more concerned about their needs than your sales and would be more likely to buy from you. Your forum could also prove a pre-eminent source of information on the category, lending extra credence to any information you might provide on it. Incredibly important- people interested in the category would seek your forum for information, and while they might not have gone to your website to consider you before, your branded presence on the forum means you’ve just put yourself in the consideration set for people who weren’t looking to consider you in the first place.
Why it will never happen? Marketers have a clear, yet artificial division in their minds between content created by them, and content created by others. Imagine asking Nike to put up a forum that allows discussion of Reebok and Converse shoes. Never gonna happen. Then imagine Nike sponsoring a leading forum that discusses cross-trainers. They’d consider it a must-have. When you really take a look at it, both a sponsored third party forum and a Nike-made forum would do the same thing. However, one would be essential and one unconscionable in the modern marketing atmosphere. Looking at it closely, the difference between the two begins to seem rather ridiculous, since both offer consumers the same information and both would be branded through and through. It’s the artificial boundary of who creates the content in marketers’ minds that makes the difference between the who. And if you did happen to create a branded forum that allowed honest discussion of other brands, and it did become a go-to source for info for consumers in your category, it could actually prove to be a revenue generating tool. Having your competitors pay you to advertise? It doesn’t get much better than that.