Archive for the 'Brand Collaboration' Category

This young woman is a brand of America

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Jessica Beinecke is a brand of America. She’s 24 and from Ohio and she speaks fluent Mandarin, and her captivating “OMG Meiyu” English slang education videos have become an online hit in China. Jessica’s wide eyes and buoyant delivery open a portal to American culture, to the America that’s down-to-earth, self-directed, can-do, engaging, funny, inventive and equal. Slang expressions have a way of bringing that out.

Brands deliver new forms of culture

I call Jessica “a brand of America” because in their own small way her 70+ videos do what every brand should do. They deliver new forms of culture that free people from the constraints of the old. Yes, brands are more culture than commerce. (That’s why they don’t grow on spreadsheets.) The brand is transformative charm, wit, wisdom, insight, inspiration, innovation, sheer creativity and often sheer gumption that blasts the senses with new ways of being and doing.

A brand of possibilities

What comes across in Jennifer’s videos is much more than a clued-in urban vocabulary for Chinese students of English. It’s an engaging context of culture that offers new ways to see the world. It’s a  brand of expression, and as such, a brand of possibilities.

Across all cultures

Cultures can be ruts, too, and videos like these can work across all cultures to liven things up. US students need to open their eyes to other cultures, and the simple style of Jessica’s work may inspire others overseas to target the US with similar videos. Certainly couldn’t hurt.


Brand strategy: Develop your brand as a joint venture with customers

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

In my view the best way to develop a brand is to create it as a joint venture between the company and its customers. In this strategy we shape the brand as a working relationship of equals in a shared context rather than a marketing relationship between separate “buyer” and “seller.” The result is a dramatic change in brand context, and greater opportunities for brands and customers alike.

Brand and customer on the same page, writing it together

In a joint venture the brand and the customer are on the same page, writing it together. Customers are not a passive “audience” for brand theater. The two are allies. They’re co-explorers. Sidekicks. They’re a team, solving mutual problems in a context of collaboration. The joint venture enables trust, feedback, idea flow, cooperation and co-creation. This stands to be a far more productive approach than the brand modeled as a “communication” between separate parties. In the latter case, brands are often reduced to a persuasion tool, a product wrapper, a pie-in-the-sky promise or campaigns to manipulate emotions.

The brand as a joint venture to create value

“OK,” you might say, “I can see where the brand might be structured as a joint venture, but what is it a joint venture of?  What’s the purpose?”

Good question. Simply stated, it’s a joint venture to create value, for both the customer and the company. As I’ve written previously, brands are a method to create value above and beyond the product proper, with the entire brand working as a customer-facing application, with all the focus, power and outcomes that applications can deliver. We shape the joint venture so that customers can add value back to the brand as they themselves advance to richer realms of living, and to new ways of being and doing. The customer is an active part of the application, too. The joint venture structure fits hand-in-glove with the brand-as-application strategy.

A context of getting things done

As a joint venture we place the brand in a context of getting things done. The brand is action-oriented, not persuasion-oriented. It’s not about “aligning” customers to the brand as if they were medieval serfs to be pumped with doctrine and kept in a static universe of perpetual dependence. (That’s what your competitors try to do, and that’s what makes their brands vulnerable.) As a joint venture, the brand can envision and create new market spaces where company and customer are both significantly better off. In a joint venture the brand agenda is one of creating new customer freedoms, not imposing another set of customer controls. The brand steps up with the vision, the path and the tools to get there, as set forth in the brand journey.

Strategic objectives of the brand as joint venture

What’s the strategic objective of this joint venture?  It is to use customer insight, initiative and innovation to advance customers beyond the reach of competitors. In essence, the brand and its customers get together to gang up on competitors, especially those who aim to capture, corral and control customers using the brand as a mental and emotional silo. There’s no future for customers in that kind of brand desert. As a joint venture the brand enables customers to transcend the limitations imposed by competitors, reshaping the market, or creating entirely new market spaces where customers are better off. A classic example is how the iPod teamed with music lovers to route around the expense and restrictions of the CD format, reinventing the music industry in the process.

The joint venture and brand experience

Customers today value brands by the totality of experience they provide: before, during and after the sale, and including the behavior of the brand itself as a responsible world citizen. When we construct the brand as a joint venture we “socialize” the nature of brand experience itself, making it participative and interactive. Brand experience becomes not what the brand “does” for customers, but what customers and the brand create jointly in pursuit of common goals. In short, we co-create brand experience, giving it two potent drivers instead of one.

Strategic advantages from the brand as a joint venture

As a joint venture the brand delivers the following strategic advantages to company and customers alike:

  1. It unites them—creatively and pragmatically—in a common context, with a common goal. Each gains a market ally.
  2. It replaces “buyer-seller” (and brand as persuasion) with team effort—and brand as mutual enabler.
  3. It creates new avenues and opportunities to circumvent (or disrupt) incumbent brands.
  4. It’s a team of equals where the end product (a customer who’s strategically better off) helps advance the brand to market spaces where competitors can’t follow.
  5. It’s a full-blooded, and full-bodied, collaboration in context, content and in value. It facilitates brand innovation, especially non-linear brand breakthroughs.
  6. The joint venture is not confined to today’s products. It’s geared to an arc (or narrative) of customer development. The brand isn’t selling a product. It’s developing a customer. (Personally I’d say it’s “creating a customer,” but let’s give Steve Blank proper credit.)
  7. The joint venture not fence customers in. It’s a platform (or innovation engine) to develop new brand frontiers.

Further reading

As further reading on developing the brand as a joint venture with customers:





Brands as collaborative strategies

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

By their very nature brands are collaborative strategies. They’re the products of companies and their customers, a joint effort. Being “strategic”  they are more than stylized sales stimulants, a matter of mere messaging. Their aim is to change the game by changing the customer. At a minimum brands are collaborations in context and collaborations in productivity.

Brands as collaborations in context

As collaborations in context the brand and its customers work from a shared platform of vision and values. Their mutual goal is to enrich their shared context, extend it, make it more resilient, make it more creative, and ultimately make it more relevant and satisfying. The brand may lead, but it needs customer interaction and collaboration to compete the context. The brand becomes relevant when it makes its customers relevant.

Brands as collaborations in productivity

Brands are also collaborations in productivity, where the brand aims to make itself more productive by enabling its customers to be more productive themselves. The brand advances its customers beyond the reach of competitors, and as it does it relies on customer insight,  initiative, and innovation to add value back to the brand, advancing the brand in new directions. Customers benefit by no longer being held back by the constraints of mediocre companies and brands.

Historical framework

How did brands arrive at the point of collaboration? They didn’t start that way. I’ve set forth an historical framework on the evolution of brands to the current phase of brands as enablers, where collaboration strategies are paramount. You can read it in Brand evolution: from mark, to media to means.

Creating customers as a collaborative strategy

Brands create customers using collaborative strategies. Or, I should say, “Brands create the strongest and most dynamic customers using collaborative strategies.” The goal in creating customers is to:

  1. Create the customers to drive the business forward
  2. Create customers beyond the reach of competitors
  3. Create customers who add value back to the brand

That last item requires deep collaboration between a company and its customers. A brand runs on customer feet, and customers can take a brand into fertile new territories the brand would never have discovered on its own.

You can read more about strategies for creating customers here and here.

The brand as customer-focused application

In my view, the best way to build the collaborative strength of a brand is to develop the brand as a customer focused application. In this approach the brand is not a campaign nor a “communication.” It’s a set of concepts, tools and processes that help customers do what they need to do to become more proactive and more productive in the world. I’ve described this approach in detail here and here.

Brand engagement as collaboration

Brand engagement is another form of strategic collaboration. While “brand engagement” is often defined as a means of getting the customer’s attention, or persuading the customer to buy, usually in some aspect of “messaging,” that approach is hardly strategic. It usually reduces the brand to a brand of advertising, and “messaging” leaves little room for collaboration.

In a more strategic approach the brand would engage customers to move them forward, beyond the confines of the status quo, to a market space where customers could be more proactive, and more enabled to add value back to the brand. For more details on the strategic approach to brand engagement see How to define “brand engagement.

A “belief system” isn’t that collaborative

Brands can attempt to define and propagate “belief systems,” as if the brand were a kind of secular religion, with customers as mesmerized “believers” who blindly buy the brand. Unfortunately, this approach easily becomes a one-way form of propaganda, where doctrine and belief are the rule, and customers told what to think. There is little collaboration in this scenario. It is mostly a dead-end enterprise. I have written about the downsides of this approach in Some brands go medieval on their customers.