Archive for the 'Brand APIs' Category

Brands as collaborations in context

Monday, June 19th, 2006

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.

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Blogs and the future of brands

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Jeff Jarvis has some interesting thoughts on the relationship between blogs and brands, using the media business as an example. That business was once characterized by a limited number of players whose dominant brands defined what was available at the corner magazine stand. In effect, those brands were publishing. They prospered within a limited brand space.

Internet innovations and network economies are now changing that traditional media model. In particular, blogs and their online brethren have mushroomed the world of publishing. The once sheltered brands at the corner magazine stand are now exposed to the elements. The new magazine stand is your mouse, controlled by you. Through the internet, its shelves are infinite. As Jeff says, there is now no scarcity of brand space. Brand opportunities exist all across this “distributed-to-the-edge internet,” with many of these opportunities being seized by new players, working from the bottom up.

Well, what’s true for brands in media markets is also true in other markets, with an even wider horizon. Blogs are one of the factors that are irreversibly transforming the once-limited “brand space” of the shelf or the channel into wide open spaces, where new rules apply. Brand value is being generated at the edge, by new players, and by customers. This can be a superior form of value to that promulgated by companies using conventional brand practices.

Companies shackled with legacy brands will view blogs as threats, and will react accordingly. Forward-facing companies will make the most of new opportunities. Virgin brand territories await.

As we say 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.”

We’ll write more on this in coming weeks. For now, here’s a rough listing of how blogs can help brands create customers:

  1. Break down barriers between company and customers
  2. Engage customers in fine-grained conversations
  3. Identify needs of lead customers and others
  4. Define new brand spaces
  5. Tap into customer initiative and intelligence
  6. Create new forms of product value/brand value
  7. Open new brand innovation avenues
  8. Spark new market initiatives
  9. Facilitate pilot programs and prototypes
  10. Form customer bonds that competitors can’t match
  11. Express your passion for what you do
  12. Build trust through openness
  13. Focus employees on customer results
  14. Extend brand building to the market edge
  15. Lead by example
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Brand APIs are where the action is

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

Companies are often a bit unsettled when I tell them that brands are mostly interfaces.

They prefer to think along traditional lines, with brands as a promise, a persona, identity or symbol, or even a company’s reputation.

No, I tell them, brands may possess all of those elements, but basically brands are interfaces. In fact, they’re interfaces along three distinct fronts:

  1. Company and customer
  2. Customer and customer
  3. Customer and customer’s future

In the big picture of things, brands help people interoperate with the universe. That is the Big Interface, and that’s where great brands shine. Why would your brand aspire to anything less?

A closer look at three brand interfaces

But for now, let’s look at these three, workaday brand interfaces.

Company and customer: your brand is the interface that helps you put more customer in your company. That pays dividends up and down the line. Instead of chasing customers, you join them.

Customer and customer: your brand is the interface that brings your customers together, creating that critical mass of you-in-them that rushes forward on customer initiative and imagination. Customers can help build your brand, if you let them.

Customer and customer’s future: this is the most important brand interface of all. This is where you create and grow your customers, connecting your customer with his or her potential. The customer you grow today will be the customer that desires your products of tomorrow, when he or she is further removed from commodity-land. If your interface is merely an ad campaign, or inventory dressed as a store, chances are your customers won’t go far.

And what about Brand APIs?

A Brand API is an application program interface that enables your brand to connect with customers, to involve them in their future and yours, and to deliver to them the freedoms they need to grow. It’s a set of tools, links and platforms that invite customers to join with your brand to grow.

Brands as applications

In days gone by, brand programs were largely considered to be communication programs. That led to legions of look-alike, do-nothing brands that were locked in their labels. In 2006 and beyond, with competition from every quarter, a brand has to function as an application program that helps customers get where they want to go. The brand does so within a company’s overall Brand Operating System (Brand OS). (See our New Brand Glossary for more details.) The Brand OS consists of Brand Platforms, and these contain the many brand programs that I call Brand Applications. The Brand API is the multi-function portal that opens all these applications to customer interaction.

The key benefit of a Brand API is that it enables access, teamwork, collaboration. It enables 360-degree initiative. It’s the hand you hold out to customers as you yell, “Grab on!”

If customers like where you’re going, they’ll fasten their grip.

For a more detailed discussion, see:  Interaction design: the new key to brands

Note: updated August 13, 2007
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