How does MySpace do it? Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo are green with envy at the skyrocketing membership numbers MySpace is putting up. Last I looked it was 67,000,000 and counting, zooming along at 250,000 new members a day. Even if these growth numbers include a healthy dose of puff, they’re figures any online business would die for.
And MySpace is only three years old.
Question: How does MySpace create all those customers?
What’s the secret?
Answer: They don’t use conventional stoke ‘n smoke marketing. They let customers create themselves. It’s as simple as that. MySpace gives members the tools to express their individuality and to connect with friends, and then gets out of the way.
MySpace is a prime example of less is more: less marketing presence means more room for customers to grow—and more customers. Given the right tools and freedoms, customers are far more creative than any marketing plan.
When customers are the product, the product itself becomes endlessly inventive across an infinite array of value domains.
A brand from the bottom up
MySpace does much more than simply unleash the inner customer (although that in itself is an achievement). It sets a standard for “brands from the bottom up.” It doesn’t impose a top-down brand uniformity (like Gap), control customers without their knowledge (like Sony), or lend customers a tethered toy (like GM). It simply fuels the dynamic passions of its customers, and hops on for the ride.
As we’ve noted elsewhere: “Brands of the future will not be top-down monoliths. They will be a thousand agile initiatives, loosely coupled, rich in customer texture, often sparked by customers themselves.”
When you read Danah Boyd’s now classic report on the attractions of MySpace, you can see why this particular site has developed so rapidly. It doesn’t try to mesmerize customers as an all-powerful brand icon. Its design cachet is far from world class, being that of a dizzy teenager’s bedroom. It doesn’t need to waste resources on these elements because it is close to the bone.
That’s where every brand belongs.
Can MySpace endure?
Two issues seem paramount: 1) the internal MySpace dynamics as a hangout for fickle teens and twenty-somethings, and 2) how MySpace management tries to leverage more revenue from the brand. There are no hard answers at this time. MySpace is traveling in unexplored territory.
Danah Boyd addresses the first question in a follow-up piece, where she contrasts a fast-growing MySpace with the now-declining Friendster. She seems guardedly optimistic, and gives the advantage to MySpace.
An NYT report (sub required) examines how MySpace’s new corporate owners plan to generate more revenue from the site, and integrate it into a broader media package. The danger here is that MySpace is not your typical “media property.” Any ham-handed attempts to “monetize” MySpace customers would backfire. In the MySpace world, overt marketing is worse than lame. It sucks.
Since the site cannot be simply “reprogrammed” for the benefit of traditional advertising, new and more inventive means of facilitating transactions must be found, consistent with the brand. (Brands and ads approach the customer from totally different directions: ads motivate, while brands animate from within.)
Whether MySpace survives as is, or morphs into something (or things) different, it has the inherent brand advantage of being customer driven. That gives it a foothold in reality that’s hard to displace.