The New York Times reviews the changing nature of brands in To Charge Up Customers, Put Customers in Charge. While the notion of “putting customers in charge” is a bit hyperbolic, it’s certainly true that brands are collaborations in context between companies and customers. It’s the company’s job to use the brand to lead customers onward and upward. Instead of dictating the brand to customers and then trying to sell it, it’s a far better practice to team with customers in building the brand.
The brand collaboration process
Companies have lots of leeway in how they set up and manage the brand collaboration process. Basically, you are leading the customer through a shared vision and context. Small companies will do this intuitively, as will companies driven by a particular passion.
In larger companies, structured brand platforms carry collaboration forward.
Collaboration is a form of brand interaction. How you organize the brand interface will determine how much productive input customers will provide. Ideally, you will structure this as a brand API.
Case study: John Fluevog Shoes
One of the companies discussed in the article is the John Fluevog Shoes boutique, which uses customer input in designing new styles:
To date, the company has chosen nearly 300 finalists from the flow of sketches into Vancouver — and introduced 10 shoes based on customer designs. On the day Mr. Fluevog visited Boston, the Newbury Street store was selling five of the most popular customer-inspired models, including the Urban Angel Traffic, a walking shoe (retail price, $179) designed by a customer in Moscow, and the Fellowship Hi Merrilee, a vintage-style pump ($189) designed by a customer in Provo, Utah.
“Some of the ideas from customers are striking, but impossible to make,” Mr. Fluevog said. What tends to work best, he explained, are intriguing twists on design themes that he and his colleagues are already exploring. “But even submissions we can’t make add to the stimulation,” he added. “Our customers get more involved, and we get insights into who they are and what they’re doing. It’s better for both of us.”
Collaboration helps create and grow customers
As the article notes, Fluevog shoes (see photo above) are a hot item among rock stars, fashion models and trend setters. When you actively create and grow your customers through your brand, they can reward your efforts many times over.