The New Next: The Stars of the Story
From the time they realized that people evaluate brands based on their behavior rather than on calendars and units of time, marketers have placed "creating experiences" on the top of their priority lists. This is nothing new: From the branded utility craze a few years ago to the buzz surrounding Web 2.0, brands have scrambled to build relationships with people. Building connections, like anything else, must be insightfully relevant, and oftentimes marketers make the mistake of thinking that if they build it - all Field of Dreams-like - people will come.
To really understand and begin connecting with consumers, brands need to recognize their passions and enable them to create their own experiences and interact with each other. Brands that invite consumer-generated content usually aim for this, but their efforts often fall flat because their content lacks relevance to people's lives. But giving consumers a blank slate truly empowers them: It allows us, as marketers, to see where they go with the brand and the types of experiences they create for themselves, rather than expecting something specific as an end result. It's understandably intimidating to consider giving up control of your brand, but two examples follow of brands that have smartly and strategically succeeded as enablers.
>> Sunsilk Gang of Girls: When Sunsilk aimed to connect with young women in India a few years ago, it opted to facilitate engagement rather than create traditional advertising. Once the company learned that girls bond with each other through shared experiences, it became clear that impersonal one-way mass messages would not get very far. It created sunsilkgangofgirls.com to act as a meeting place and enabler of shared experiences between girls. Features included blogs, message boards, events and a partnership with monster.com (allowing for interactive job hunting), and promoted girls' interactions with each other and with Sunsilk. Gang of Girls subsequently became the world's largest group of girls on the Internet.
>> Google Friend Connect: Google recently launched a tool that allows Web developers to add social features to their sites with simple embeddable codes. For example, someone running a photography Web site can choose from a series of gadgets to embed in it and customize it. As a result, readers would be able to interact with each other by posting their own photographs, discussing equipment and comparing tips and tricks. Because Google Friend Connect will let people pull from their existing social networks on these sites, friends could discover they share common interests that they may have not known about otherwise. By understanding the dynamics of groups and interrelationships, Google can facilitate high levels of interaction around shared passions.
By adopting a "choose your own adventure" strategy instead of writing the story for them, brands have the opportunity to capture consumers' imaginations and help them connect to others they can identify with. Creating relevant tools that facilitate meaningful relationships can result in strong communities of consumers who will later thank you.
Written by Johanna Beyenbach, curated by Paul Woolmington, partner, Naked Communications. (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)