In high school I used to wave at strangers all the time. No, not because I was awkward at meeting girls (OK, maybe I was), but because they (and I) happened to be driving the same particular brand of car. Can you guess it? Here’s a hint: “It’s a ____ thing, you wouldn’t understand“, reads a common decal that its owners like to place on their windshields.

That’s right… Jeep. Let me explain. Jeep owners love their Jeeps. Even more, they love talking to other Jeep owners. Why is why there’s an unpublished rule that when you’re driving a Jeep and you see another Jeep, you wave. And if you’re stopped next to another Jeep at a stop light, you might say something profound to the other driver, like “Hey, nice Jeep!”. At which point, the other driving will reply with something equally thought-provoking, like “You too, bro!”

Owning a Jeep means being part of something special, a community of owners who share similar passions. There are even Jeep Jamborees all over the country for those who want to pay money to drag their cars over rocks and meet other people doing the same thing.

The strong owner community is one of that Willys/Kaiser-Jeep/Chrysler (and now Fiat) has been able to produce and sell essentially the same vehicle for almost 70 years, with the open-top CJ that became available for consumers in the 1940s that turned into the modern Wrangler. That’s despite the fact that these cars consistently get poor reviews from Consumer Reports. Of course I have zero scientific evidence to substantiate this, but that’s one of the perils of reading my blog over The New England Journal of Medicine.

But look – when you by a Ford Explorer, you become a car owner. When you buy a Jeep, you become part of a club. For many, that’s reason enough to choose the Jeep brand over another. I consider this a competitive advantage for Jeep. It’s just not something most car manufacturers can claim they have. 

Unfortunately, strong customer communities are rare for brands, but here are 5 brands more brands that do a great job of bringing people together:

Airstream

I didn’t know that Airstreams were a thing until my relatives bought one. But going on “rallies” with other Airstream owners is a big event, and another reason to buy an Airstream over a less expensive brand. The largest Airstream club Wally Byam Caravan Club International, has over 14,000 members.

Minecraft

While many “social games” have strong communities of players, Minecraft is one of the few where you actually play with other people, simultaneously. In case you’ve never played, the game is basically Legos meets World of Warcraft. Its players have built some amazing things together, like this stunning recreation of Game of Thrones. And I thought I spent too much time on video games!

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Harley Davidson

Does this really need an explanation? A Harley does the exact same thing as a Honda Goldwing, but you don’t exactly see droves of Goldwing owners banded together on a highway. Buying a Harley is the price of entry for joining any variety of riding clubs, ranging from those catering to suburban offices workers wanting to look a little badass to full blown outlaws.

CrossFit

Go to your run-of-the-mill gym, and chances are you barely talk to a soul while you’re there. If you do, it’s probably the buddy you brought with you. But join a CrossFit, and if you haven’t met at least a few people after a couple classes, you’re doing it wrong. The group orientation of the classes and the high  intensity they encourage really fosters a sense of camaraderie. And that’s a big part of what keeps members coming back.

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Linux

A computer operating system built on the “free and open source” model, Linux has seen over 8,000 developers contribute to its code base since it was released in 1991. You may not run it on your machine, but more than 95% of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers run some variant of Linux. It’s used widely by developers, with many cities hosting Linux User Groups to allow software engineers to learn from each other and share their appreciation for the operating system.

Know of any other brands that thrive on their strong customer communities? Let me know!