Monday, August 18, 2008

The networked world can make brands more relevant than ever

Brands risk losing relevance in a networked world - if they continue to apply broadcast, one-size-fits-all thinking to it.
But, by listening, responding and adapting to its group-forming nature, brands can become more relevant than ever.

Chuffed to say the following slidedeck was selected to be featured on the slideshare homepage on Aug 19.

What the network (the internet) is for:
The internet is for forming groups.
The fact that people can use it to organise themselves around shared interests, passions and aims (communities of purpose) at next-to-no-cost, disrupts everything.
People can organise themselves to achieve what they want on a niched global scale.
This has world-changing implications for all forms of mediation - branding and brand messages included.

Three key disruptions:
  1. Who gets to create content (control messages)? Any and everyone.
  2. Who gets to distribute content (share messages)? Any and everyone
  3. Who gets to control the user experience? The user is the destination now. They control their own A-where-ever journey.
You can't target every community of purpose. They can.

This 10-slide deck explains how allowing messages to evolve is the most efficient way of transmission in the networked world - and the only way of reaching into the increasingly long tail. It is the right response to life in a complex adaptive system.

Without this reach your ability to achieve scale in the networked world relies wholly on one-size-fits-all quality. That's fine in broadcast mediums. But the network is not a broadcast medium. In networks, where communities of purpose form, relevance wins every time.

The timescale:
The great disruption of the internet has only just begun.
It is only with the arrival of social networks that the majority of users have been offered an easy-to-use interface for accessing the power of the network; group forming (with purpose) on a global scale. When an interface becomes ubiquitous, then significant change occurs. Cite: The telephone.

It is only three years since myspace first clocked more page impressions than google. It is only three years since YouTube started changing the way we think about television.
The great disruption of the internet started just three years ago. You ain't seen nothing yet!

Key Lessons

1. Listen:

Brands are what their users say they are.
Noah Brier's Brand Tags illustrates this in a so-funny-it-hurts (and not in a good) way. Check out your brand now at There is a UK version too, but data is currently a little patchy. Make it richer, here.

Users tweet about coke, british airways, o2, macdonalds, or anything else you care to name. Search using your own terms at (twitter search)

Their conversations tell you not only what they think about your brands, but also how, where and when they use them and who they are using them with. They use them as the content that sparks their conversations.

The conversations are happening with or without your consent, on or off your own mediated forums, branded social networks and chat rooms, in every connection between every node. Where people are, they talk. And where they talk, they talk about you.

Some brands are making great use of the new social mediums. Zappos (an online shoe retailer in the US), for example. And David Armano at Logic + Emotion offers a useful reminder of how brands should approach social media (using twitter as his example).

You can't build communities or control the conversation. You can enable. Join them around their campfires. Be prepared to listen, then serve them with things that are useful - things they they will think are cool enough to pass on to others, who they think will think its cool, too. They are best placed to judge this. Not you.

You've got to be joking?
Look on the funny side. Think how jokes are adapted to be passed on. How do you select which gag to tell which person or gathering. How do you adapt it to suit. That adaption = adoption by the next community of purpose.

The business case
Since approximately 70% of purchase decisions are made based on friend's recommendations (according to Forrester) - you have to seriously consider focusing more of your spend on connecting where the conversations are happening and placing higher value on the conversations and the results of those conversations.

Radian6 among other sentiment trackers, can reveal how your brands are being talked about. That's the information gathering phase... But there is a tangible connection between trust and responsiveness, as Jeff Sonstein says.

2. Respond
In the networked world marketing isn't done to them, it's done by them. Think less about where the eyeballs are and more where the mouths and ears are. And think about joining their conversations in real time.

Real time captures the moment of inspiration. "I want to buy X". It is the essence of two of my more simple concepts, the Intention Economy. and Lean-To-Marketing.

Responses that work:

Widgets with personal outcomes.
Widgets that allow users to adapt them to better suit them to the community with whom they choose to share them next, are a brilliant fit with the networked world.

There are numerous examples. One of my favourites was Pampers US campaign last Christmas. It lowered technical barriers to allow any and everyone to mash up pictures of their own kids with a beautiful video and Silent Night message of Christmas peace. And that made it a widget with a personal outcome. Anyone who did it would want to share it with their close relatives, at least. And each of the receipients may like the idea sufficiently to adapt it to include their own children, and pass it on to the next adhoc community... and on it goes. Unfortunately it is no longer available here.

Others include the (can you see what they'd done there?) which turns your mugshot into a Simpsons version of yourself, to coincide with the movie release. That does live on, in association with BurgerKing.

In each case we create a version for ourselves to take on our journey with us. And in the process it becomes our message to share with our communities.

Mark Earls (author of Herd) suggests "give them something to do together".

The Cadbury's Gorilla's manifold reinterpretations on YouTube illustrate the power of this idea. And here's an important lesson, whether or not Cadbury wanted the network to take its idea and play with it and share it or not, that's exactly what happened. (hint, they aren't in control of the message. They never were).

You can tap into this.
There are three conditions required for a successful widget.
1. A willingness to relinquish control.
2. Toolkits users can play with.
3. Creative users.

We've clearly got creative users. We can make their lives easier by lowering the technical barriers (as Pampers did) and providing tool-kits to make co-creation easier (just as NiN have by providing tools on their website to allow fans to easily remix their work and share the results).

And since that which we create, we embrace, we're more likely to take on the role of marketer on behalf of what we have created, selecting the right communities of purpose to share the outcomes with.

2 & 3 are relatively easy. It's number 1 many struggle with. But without it you're left trying to control a message - trying to dictate where and when and how it will be delivered. And you're not very good at that - at least you're nowhere near as good as the people living in those communities.

This post How We Are Made Great discusses how individually we cannot hope to be in control of turning the flock, how important it is to take a human social approach to changing opinion or behaviour.

In this world even the role of links is challenged (as I discussed in Portability is the new Linkworthy)
They did a great job at discovering people through content.
But we're entering a world in which content is discovered through people.
Here being pointed at is less important than being taken with. Widgets are consumate taken-with enablers.

Going on the journey all brands must make if they are to adapt to survive in the networked world goes more than skin deep. It requires cultural shift, a cultural shift that makes the brand itself a better fit with the networked world. We are in transition - so broadcast models still have great value - but the speed of the transition becomes faster by the day.

Great examples of brands listening to and adapting to the networked world:
Zappos understand that customer service (human interaction) is everyone's responsibility.
Pampers makes your kids the stars Christmas campaign.
NiN make mash-ups easy and shareable.
Where are the Joneses takes Ford to new places.
The Simpsons/Burger King (their user-chooses-the-ad model leverages the social graph in a brilliantly simple way).
Spinvox for listening and responding. (and that reminds me of qik's lean-too marketing)
Carphone Warehouse listens... (example of inevitable two-speed culture in a giant?)

Your further examples welcome. Post links in the comments below and I'll add them to the list as they come in.


  1. trying to understand your point ...

    branding is a way to sell something for more based on perception

    networks level perception, plus provide news of options

    therefore, branding is over as a strategy ...

    but you are saying the opposite, hmm...

    and there is a need to distinguish between service and product brand ... zappos as a service is a brand, perhaps an example of the leveling of shoe brands via the network.

    dunno, the industry is in for a fight, for sure.

  2. I think branding is even more important in a networked age. We have access to soooo much more information that the shorthand a brand can offer can make life a lot easier.

    But this is a culture shift for brands. They're used to one-way flow of information and although these conversations about brands, products and services, have always gone on, it's only now that they're visible and people can find each other based on such conversations - and in negative situations pool together to get something changed or in positive situations, help to spread the word.

    The take I have on this is that the people working for you have to intrinsically understand your brand and brand values without being told. They live and breathe the brand without thinking about it and are able to respond and join in these conversations very naturally as a result. If you hide behind your PR or worse still, don't respond, then the potential for negative reaction is even greater.

    The trouble is, most companies either don't give their employees the leeway to have those open conversations or the employees don't have the confidence to have them. And there are soooo many conversations going on that you can't (and probably shouldn't) take part in all of them. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.

    Good marketing begins and ends with good product or service. If you have good product or service you can build a brand on top of it. But no longer can you build a glossy brand on top of an average or poor product or service simply because you have loads of money to invest in TV advertising and hefty PR. This transparency is something that companies are only just beginning to get their heads round.

    It's taken us decades to get to grips with the subtleties of good advertising and branding. And now it's not so much that the rules have changed on the playing field but we've actually moved on to a different playing field where there are principles in play but not necessarily hard and fast rules.

    Btw, I think Spinvox gets this stuff right and larger companies such as O2, Carphone Warehouse and Vodafone are attempting it in baby steps. But changing how your staff behave is never going to happen overnight. And when the ROI is not a hard and fast figure (yet) it's hard to justify the investment in the culture change that is probably required.

  3. Amen TK. Thank you for such a thoughtful contribution. Do you have a particular link or links that supports adding Spinvox etc to our list of excellence? cheers dc

  4. You're welcome David. It's all to easy to focus on the technology and it's the change in human behaviour and attitude that is going to effect the web 2.0 service culture changes we're after.

    This post is an example of Spinvox 'listening' at work

    And I picked up on Ian Delaney's Carphone Warehouse / o2 billshock story recently and explain my thoughts on the culture change I'm talking about. There is a social media happy ending with this one too if you follow the links.

  5. Love this idea of the 'audience' as was being sat round a campfire...

    You can't build communities or control the conversation. You can enable. Join them around their campfires. Be prepared to listen, then serve them with things that are useful - things they they will think are cool enough to pass on to others, who they think will think its cool, too. They are best placed to judge this. Not you.

    Something we've touched on before; the web as a place of warmth and welcome...

    What's spot-on is the line about serving them things that they will think are useful... and are cool to pass on...

    Because as a content creator rather than a brand developer, I wonder whether the two aren't now examined in the same light by our campfire 'jury' - is this story useful to my conversation? Yes, I'll pass it on..

    Is this drink/film/car useful to my conversation? Yes, I'll pass it on...

    And woe-betide either the content creator or the brand developer who interrupts that conversation; adds a jarring note; a bar to the flow.

    Bring a bag of marshmellows to the party and politely hand them round; perhaps even offer to sharpen the odd stick... but don't break the circle, perhaps that's not our place anymore.

    Best example for me was a YouTube spoof of Eddie Izzard's Darth Vader in the Death Star cafeteria sketch... a Lego ad man's dream; something that was simply cool to pass on... it gave my campfire a chuckle..

  6. Hi Rick, I know the eddie izzard example well.
    Posted about it here: You might enjoy:

  7. Be interested to know how we'd all see future brand awareness fitting into this... the new media eco-system of Whoville, now minus the Whoville Bugle...

    And, in particular, the food-chain proposed by WorkingReporter... on who's side would you be on? The content creator, aggregator, user, etc... And at what point in that chain does your brand get best value? Where do you step in?


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?