Why we long to be part of something bigger than ourselves
Feeling special yet? The entrance to Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.Photo by Joseph Serwach.
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — At Ocean Enclave, the Grand Strand’s tallest building, staffers tell owners: “Welcome Home.”
Hilton Grand Vacation owners get a unique wrist band (different than guests), helping everyone know they are “in the club.”
Such small recognitions make you “feel rich,” part of something bigger than yourself. A growing body of marketing and psychology research shows the need to fit in and “belong” moves people to join — and buy.
The greatest communities — and organizations — often act like clubs. From Costco and Sam’s to Facebook to Peloton to the “frequent traveler” organizations, the “in the club” people are made to feel smart (the buyers who snatched up the best values), “chosen,” and even elite.
“Life’s better with company. Everyone needs a co-pilot,’’ George Clooney explained in 2009's “frequent traveler club,” oriented film, “Up in the Air.”
During the isolated lockdowns of the pandemic and the 2020 protests and riots that followed, the hunger for a meaningful community (joining with like-minded people) grew even more intense. Now it appears in marketing:
- Six blocks north of Ocean Enclave, owners visiting Myrtle Beach’s Ocean 22, at Ocean Boulevard and 22nd Avenue North, get a new navy blue bracelet with a message, “Thank you for being an HGV owner.” As Ocean 22 upgrades its pool, members can swim at other nearby HGV properties, earning another recognition bracelet.
- Listen to this recent Tommy Hilfiger ad, with people stating the virtues of community, comments like “Community means everything to me,” and, “Community changed my life.”
The “You Only Live Once” community?
Welcome to the YOLO Economy (You Only Live Once), The New York Times recently declared, citing the rising number of Millennials who decided it was time to “break out” and travel, go places, start their own businesses, do things.
Attorney Brett Williams, who is 33, had his own epiphany after working endless days staring at Zoom. He left his partnership in a big law firm to partner with a neighbor in Orlando, Florida, so he would be able to enjoy his life more and spend more time with his family and community.
“I realized I was sitting at my kitchen counter 10 hours a day feeling miserable,” Williams told the Times. “I haven’t been this excited to go to work in a long time.”
YOLO also has roots in modern music and culture, referencing a popular Drake song from a decade earlier. Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart grew his California ranch around the YOLO name going back to 1996.
Peloton soared with the “club to community” concept in 2020
More than a year since many have gone to their gyms, Peloton exploded during the lockdowns, bringing cycling clubs to homes. Joining this “club” has entry costs anywhere from $1,900 to more than $2,300, with classes (streamed online) costing $2,400 to $3,000.
From January to September 2020, Peloton added another 620,000 paying subscribers, growing to 1 million subscribers plus 2 million using the app offering exercise classes.
Sounds like a religion? One class is called “Sundays with Love,” offering various Christian messages (the Word while you workout). The Church, of course, is all about community and the power of communion, one Bread, one Body, connected to the Vine.
Corporations building communities? Facebook did the exact opposite
Feeling special? Like they belong to a cause or place bigger than themselves? Few recall Facebook started as an exclusive “club” before it became a community.
When Facebook first started in 2004, you had to be a student at Harvard University to join. Then, they expanded it to a few more universities. Finally, all universities. You needed an email address that ended in “Edu,’’ instead of “.com.” Not just anyone could join, adding to the sense of belonging.
Over time, Facebook added high school students and, finally, everyone. It was more exclusive.
Similarly, supporters of Donald Trump who found themselves locked out of their social media accounts are rushing to join or form new communities of their own. Mike Lindell, the My Pillow developer, is promising a new community while a Trump advisor says the former president may start his own platform over the next few months.
“It’s going to be built completely from scratch, from the ground up, and that’s going to give him the opportunity to control not only the distribution of it but also who participates in it,” Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski said in an interview.
Other corporate clubs focused on growing their own community
The first communities, dating back thousands of years, centered around the idea of protection and safety in numbers, a fortress where you go to be safe and welcome.
A quick review of your bills will show several corporations focused on growing their own communities by making you feel like a special part of their elite club:
- Apple grew around the goal of building a self-enclosed community (safe from the wild internet) where you needed Mac products to more easily connect with the rest of the Mac universe. PCs grew around a more “open” design.
- Health clubs and athletic clubs have long had different tiers of memberships to “be a member.” What made me stop going to my health club? Fears of a virus? No, the closing of locker rooms, saunas, and hot tubs, which made me feel slightly rich, important, and comforted. Those amenities are now finally reopening.
- Jax Kar Wash was slowed by the pandemic but continued to grow its “Unlimited Club” by continuing to offer special “automated member lanes,” and cleaning products that “kill Covid” as your car interior is sanitized. Something about getting to the head of a line and special treatment makes you feel like a VIP.
- Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu all operate on a community model, charging membership fees, showing you what’s trending, what people like you will like.
- SiriusXM is similarly built around monthly dues with channels as communities, segmenting music and talk into every possible niche group.
- Even groceries and cheap sandwiches involve clubs. Ever go to Subway to “earn” that “free” sub? Ever look at the long lines at Costco that grew even bigger during the pandemic as members lined up to get their exclusive Kirkland benefits?
- County clubs and golf courses (there are 100 in and around Myrtle Beach) pioneered the club model, which has been embraced by the travel industry, offering growing member-focused timeshare communities.
Hilton Grand Vacation saw its stock price crash as low as $8 at the peak of the pandemic. One year later, HGV has since quintupled to as high as $44.17.
Last month, HGV agreed to buy Diamond Resorts International for $1.4 billion, creating a well-known global brand with 154 resorts and 720,000 property owners. They are growing their: “club” and sense of community.
HGV estimates the merger will build a new industry-leading brand that will give members a 140 percent jump in “drive to” resorts. Currently, HGV has three resorts in Myrtle Beach, all within walking distance of each other, plus properties down the South Carolina coast in Charleston and Hilton Head Island.
When completed this summer, the new merger adds new Myrtle Beach options, including Dunes Village Resort and Hotel Blue, both in Myrtle Beach and the Ellington at Wachesaw Plantation in nearby Murrells Inlet, plus Peppertree Ocean Club in North Myrtle Beach.