Archive for the 'Brand Networks' Category

Burberry and Facebook make “Art of the Trench”

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Burberry’s Art of the Trench social media site is now live. When Burberry announced the site a few months ago, I discussed Burberry’s brand options in creating the site. Now we can examine the site close up. Initially, the site consists of hundreds of top quality fashion shots of models/people in Burberry trench coats. You click on the photos you like, register your approval, enter a comment, or share the photo with a friend. You can even submit your own Burberry trench photo for consideration—assuming it meets the very high standards of the site.

Burberry/Facebook collaboration

Art of the Trench appears to be a collaboration between Burberry and Facebook, with a Burberry front end and Facebook back end. Burberry defines the brand identity and manages the “content,” while Facebook (apparently) handles key parts of the social software side. It’s as if the Burberry brand has absorbed a large segment of Burberry’s existing Facebook page. Quite seamlessly, too.

As far as I can tell, you must be a Facebook member (and sign up with Facebook Connect) to comment or submit photos to Art of the Trench.

Burberry’s brand options

In my previous post on Art of the Trench I noted that Burberry could opt for a fan site, at the lowest level of social media, or could aim higher, toward an interactive brand platform geared toward collaboration and co-creation with Burberry customers. Fan sites are marketing and PR tools. Co-creation sites are innovation tools. With the latter approach, Burberry could explore the trench as a deeper part of culture, with an eye to creating new customers in new market spaces.

A fan site

It appears that Burberry has settled for a fan site. The site’s stated purpose is “to celebrate the Burberry trench coat” as “a living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it.” To my eye the site currently seems more of a “celebration” of Burberry rather than a discovery or exploration—where Burberry might lead its customers on a unique brand journey.

As a fan site, Art of the Trench works as a rolling ad/PR campaign, where Burberry provides photographs of attractive people in stylish Burberry trench coats. As noted above, fans can click on images they like, make comments, or share photos with others. Over time, the site may have value as a means of generating customer feedback. The highly visual layout would seem to work well with an international audience, which Burberry certainly has.

Low involvement

The Art of the Trench does not seem to encourage high levels of user interaction. I did not see the word “interactive” on the site. (I may have missed it.) Burberry states that it wants customers to be “involved,” but the level of involvement seems constrained. As a fan, one’s role is mostly to “celebrate” Burberry. Only positive clicks (“I like it”) are allowed. There doesn’t appear to be any mention that fans are part of any Burberry team.

Submit your own photo—but don’t expect too much

A key “social” feature of Art of the Trench is that users can submit their own photos. A photo must be portrait orientation, outdoor, with the submitter or a friend wearing a Burberry trench.  However, fans who submit photos should not set their hopes too high. From Burberry’s content guidelines:

We will use our absolute discretion when selecting photographs for inclusion on the Site. Please do not email us asking why your photograph has not been selected. You should expect only a very few photographs are likely to be selected. We hope you will not be disappointed if your photograph does not make it.

I’m assuming Burberry would reject unsuitable photos with a polite “thank you” note, as befits a classy company.

Burberry and the brand dilemma

Sooner or later every brand finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. It needs an iron fist to manage its brand identity, yet it also needs an open hand to join with its customers, since it has no future without them. Every brand vacillates, vibrates ping-pongs between these two poles. Some years back Burberry had its brand hijacked by Chavs, with devastating results, so it’s no surprise to see Burberry today in a mode of absolute and total control.

The questions: Is the “open hand” fan site of Art of the Trench sufficient to create and retain customers? Can Burberry get by with customers who are “involved,” but not really “interactive” with the brand?

The potential weakness of Burberry’s approach

The potential weakness of Burberry’s Art of the Trench approach is that it’s a brand stage, and not a brand platform. It can style and pose before its fans, but it cannot leverage them strategically. Burberry’s biggest threat is that a competitor will change the brand game and leverage its customers in ways that an iron-fisted Burberry cannot. The challenger doesn’t have to create a better (or more fashionable) trench coat to do this. It needs to create a different (and deeper) customer context of the trench. Social media, the open hand par excellence, may be the lever.

For brands, there’s also the possibility that sites like Art of the Trench may in fact look backward, rather than forward. The future may belong to personal brand applications, where the brand is a direct drive, with no need to be staged.


Burberry’s Twitter page (@Burberry) announces the Art of The Trench mission as, “A living celebration of the trench coat and the people who wear it.” That’s an all-inclusive statement that some might interpret as going beyond the Burberry brand proper. It could work wonderfully for Burberry, but I sense that the site is focused exclusively on the Burberry brand.


Burberry to launch social networking site

Monday, September 21st, 2009


The Financial Times reports that Burberry will soon launch its own social networking site, to be called Art of the Trench. This is a major step that all brands will be watching, because the future of brands will be written with personal platforms and social media. A Burberry social network could be a pioneering and potent force in advancing the Burberry brand, and its customers.

Brand strategy and social media

In this post I’ll take a quick look at the brand strategy and social media options available to Burberry in its new initiative. In large part, at least as I see it, the challenge for Burberry goes far beyond social media proper. It’s a challenge of brand innovation. Does Burberry intend to pour old marketing wine into this new social media bottle, or will it use social media to reinvent its brand to create new customer value? That’s the big question.

Pre-launch site and Burberry context

Here is Burberry’s pre-launch site, to give you a flavor. From reports, the new network is intended to make Burberry more attractive to customers by providing a Burberry-themed platform for social communication and interaction. Burberry already has 660,000 “friends” on Facebook to draw from.

For some Burberry context, watch the 9/16/09 “Customer of the future” Financial Times video interview with Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts here. (Actually, watch the entire set; it’s illuminating.)

Burberry customers and the site

Burberry intends the site to be a form of online brand experience for customers.

“These might not even be customers yet. Or they may be a customer for a bottle of fragrance or for eyewear. But these are the customers who need the brand experience, who need to feel the brand. That word-of-mouth spreads through their social networks and continues to be a positive conversation [about Burberry] . . . that is so powerful.”

Source:  the FT article above.

Post pictures of yourself in your Burberry trench

At this point we don’t know the full extent of Burberry’s “social networking site.” Will it operate like a slimmed-down, brand-focused Facebook, or will it be more of a (conventional) fan site. Initial reports say the Burberry network will enable Burberry customers to post photographs of themselves in their Burberry trench coats. That seems more like fan site territory, the low end of social media. (The high end is collaboration and value co-creation.)

Potential downsides of a fan site approach

To the extent that Art of the Trench becomes a fan site, (not that it would) what are the brand downsides? The biggest downside is the opportunity cost for missing the possible brand advances through a real social network, especially one focused on value creation. Beyond that, fan sites can be brand limiting unless customers themselves are allowed to show their creative modifications to brands, or brand uses. Is Burberry open to customer mods?

The brand is more than the clothing

If Art of the Trench focuses on pictures of customers in Burberry coats, one might then ask, “What’s the sustaining attraction?” The clothes are the same. And how will all those blurry amateur pics represent Burberry’s chic fashion sense, not to mention its exacting quality? Loopy pics might damage the brand. Finally, how deep is the customer “brand experience” in seeing photos of others in Burberry outfits? Might this undercut the Burberry identity so ably set forth in exquisite photos and videos of Burberry-adorned models?



Twitter and brand strategy

Thursday, May 7th, 2009


For brand builders, the current media frenzy about Twitter can only mean one thing: either it’s the last stage of massive fad fever before Twitter implodes, like Oprah’s latest diet, or Twitter actually enables people to enrich their lives in new dimensions–in which case brands better pay attention.

My bet is that it’s more of the latter than the former. There are revolutionary brand platforms waiting to be be built on Twitter—but only if brands take a strategic approach to Twitter, one predicated on creating customers through innovation and value delivered. This means moving beyond the routine marketing and PR uses of Twitter that make up most brand uses at the moment.

Twitter is an innovation challenge for brands

Twitter is a form of networked communications that’s fast, direct and highly granular, with the power to link individuals and groups through their immediate experiences. As such, Twitter stands as an innovation challenge for brands, which have typically been built on non-collaborative broadcast models. To leverage Twitter’s potential we’ll need to create new structures of brand interaction, new forms of brand value, new brand relationships and new Twitterized brand platforms. All this will require new brand strategies to incorporate Twitter’s unique strengths.

Don’t pour old wine into this new bottle

For brands, the last thing we want to do is to pour old wine into the new Twitter bottle. That would cripple its potential. Approaching Twitter as just another marketing, advertising and PR outlet, as a linear descendant of direct mail, email and blogs,  is poor brand strategy— as we’ll discuss below.

Twitter changes the context of brands

Twitter is important because it can change the context of brands, from one-sided inducement and persuasion (in the classic model) to a two-way street of shared experience, shared values and shared discovery. In the big picture of things, brands are collaborations in context. Twitter enables brands to create more collaboration, and more context.

Structurally, Twitter has the potential to turn brands inside out, transforming brands from symbols and icons to a seedbed of customer innovation, where what customers co-create with the brand returns more value than the purchase price. In this process, Twitter can grow customer value in a non-linear dance, which is much more agile and adaptive than regimented brand campaigns from the top.

Non-strategic brand uses of Twitter

To date, most brands have used Twitter for standard marketing, sales, promotion and publicity purposes. For the most part, this really has been putting old wine in new bottles.

  1. Companies can” listen in” to Twitter via keyword scanning tools to monitor how their brands are being mentioned. Simple enough. Most companies already monitor the Internet for this purpose.
  2. Brands can monitor Twitter to discover customer problems, and can respond promptly and directly, as needed. A quick, useful response can also help personalize the brand, faster than email or blogs. However, reactively chasing random Tweets across the Twitterverse is not exactly a brand building strategy. Some examples and caveats here.
  3. Brands can try to generate “followers” on Twitter, stringing them along via short messages. It isn’t clear yet how such a following ever becomes a brand community. (A key question: what are “followers” actually following? And why have followers when you could have co-creators?)
  4. Some brands use their Twitter connections to send out marketing and sales messages, as if Twitter were just another form of direct mail, or spam. This is counterproductive.
  5. Some brands may be tempted to use fake Twitter personas to gin up publicity. This tosses Twitter authenticity out the window. Some attempts in this direction have been egregiously lame.

Twitter’s “celebrity mode” certainly won’t last long.  Nielsen reports high rates of Twitter defection after initial celeb-fueled excitement. Twitter’s value lies deeper than the glitterati.

For an overview of standard marketing and PR uses of Twitter, see two Mashable posts here and here.



Customers advance the iPhone brand

Monday, August 13th, 2007

The best way to build your brand is to send it forth on the shoulders of customers. They can invent new brand value, and new brand applications, moving you into markets you never imagined.

Want your company logo to activate an iPhone button? Steven Frank has done it. (Unofficially, of course.)

Partners in the iPhone brand

Apple runs a tight brand ship, but Apple’s iPhone customers know where they want the iPhone to go—and they’re not waiting for Apple. They see themselves as partners in the iPhone brand, building it out in areas not yet implemented by Apple itself. For Apple, this is an immense (if sometimes dicey) brand strength. Dell, HP, Sony or Nokia can’t even come close—at least for now.

Reining in customer enthusiasm may at times become a brand problem. There’s an art to it—enough control, but not too much. The consolation is that when it is your problem, you’ve been doing something right. To minimize the downside, you have to know your customers, and give them the right innovation context in which to beaver away.

The iPhone Dev Wiki

iPhone customers who want to innovate ahead of Apple can consult the iPhone Dev Wiki, which is chock full of development tips. It says: “This is a place for people who want to make iPhone even more awesome than it is already out of the box.”


This website is dedicated to finding additional uses for the iPhone by (legitimately) enabling its potential capabilities, and is a place for the community to share ideas, discoveries and solutions.

There are legal and warranty issues here, and iPhone customers are walking a fine line by pushing the brand ahead of the company. That they would assume these risks speaks to the value of the brand, to the high-performance customers it creates, and to the innovation platform that the brand represents.

The brand exponential

In previous posts I’ve said that a good way to define brand innovation is product potential X customer potential. Think of your customer as the exponential power of your brand—your brand to the nth power. Instead of merely “selling” to customers, you join with them to advance the product, and the brand. The customer exponent can create tremendous brand leverage.

A brand powered by Apple is formidable. A brand powered by Apple and its customers may be unstoppable.

Photo: ~stevenf


Social sites change the game for brands

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

A few months ago I proposed that the best way to change the game in any industry is to change the customer. We can now see this process of changing the customer unfolding at a meta level in leading social network sites, such as Facebook. As these sites offer broader and deeper communities for their members, they’re creating a new community-based “social customer” whose needs may not be met by traditional brands. Yes, new social sites are changing the customer and changing the game for brands themselves.

MySpace, LinkedIn, Mebo and Facebook are prominent social sites, but today I’ll focus on Facebook because it’s making big news with its innovative Facebook Platform. What sets Facebook apart (for the moment, anyway) is that its new platform allows third parties to develop software applications to run inside Facebook itself. It’s as if Facebook took the classic “closed portal” model and turned it inside out, giving members virtually unlimited choice of applications they might use.

Facebook as a platform of opportunity

Facebook thus becomes a platform of opportunity for three beneficiaries:

  1. For Facebook members — as a richer platform for connecting with each other and sharing experiences
  2. For application developers — as a potential market for innovative apps
  3. For brands — as a new way to connect with customers, and to reshape brand identity.

Brands stand to benefit from Facebook’s platform approach, but they can’t fall back on “messaging” and brands-as-usual.

How Facebook is changing brands

With its new platform approach, Facebook is changing brands in three important aspects:

  1. Facebook is creating a strong community context that can challenge the marketplace context where brands have traditionally flourished. In the Facebook context, the individual and his/her community are the focus of meaning; they’re at the center of the universe. Given this social centrality, traditional marketplace brands can appear as outsiders, as less authentic, and can fall to a second-tier.
  2. Facebook enables a new mode of brands as personal applications, elevating brands from the static and symbolic to the functional, with new avenues to create customers. Brands can experience rapid, viral growth through Facebook communities when they’re a means of getting things done.
  3. Facebook’s new platform raises Facebook itself to a unique brand presence as a network of expression, a happening “place,” and a true “relevance engine” based on users themselves. This raises the bar for brands. Brands without an innovative digital strategy (and deliverables) may simply go the way of these guys.

The Facebook Platform

As noted above, the Facebook Platform is important because it opens Facebook to third-party software applications, greatly expanding Facebook’s capability to serve member needs. A brand that provides value can gain a significant (free) presence on the Facebook platform in the form of a widget (a concise application) that enables members to do something gloriously useful and unique—in some context of the brand. Applications are integrated into Facebook’s look and feel, are intended to be shared, and can access (with permission) user data across Facebook’s 38 million members. See here and here, and especially Mark Andreessen’s comments here.

The challenge to conventional brands

To a large degree, Facebook and other social sites are in the connection business. The more they enable members to connect to (and shape) their personal networks, the more they thrive. In this process, a member’s group identity, support and social connections may ultimately take precedence over product and company connections that brands try to establish. One’s social network becomes an all-encompassing filter. In a context of strong social connections, where the individual is nourished by personal affiliations, exterior brand connections may be harder to establish, and sustain.

Let’s now explore the three game-changing areas where Facebook impacts brands. Other social sites may have similar impacts, as well.


Multi-threaded brands—and why we need them

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Multi-threaded brands will soon be poised to succeed traditional monolithic brands, those top-down, top-heavy icons designed to radiate a company’s “essence.” Multi-threaded brands can out-perform monolithic brands because they multiply the ways that brands can connect with customers, and they greatly multiply the forms of value that a brand can deliver.

What is a multi-threaded brand?

A multi-threaded brand is a brand that’s been “microchunked”* into multiple value streams, which are then customized and delivered to strategic customer segments, with the aim of creating value networks and communities. It is a brand that’s been decentralized, distributed and democratized, becoming the context of a “value net” or a “creation net.” ** Its purpose is to grow customers from the inside out, not to hang over their heads.

Multi-threaded brands are more “social,” and less “corporate.”



Brands and the human network

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Brands create value networks within the vast and rich human networks that make up everyday life. Over the last decade, the Internet and its applications have totally transformed the nature of human networks, making them greater, and more intimate, at the same time. That’s one reason why brands are fast followers of Net innovations.

Internet-enabled human networks

The Human Network site has a useful series of definitions on just what an Internet-enabled “human network” involves: it’s dimensions, collaborative contours, content and connections. It’s worth a read, especially for brand builders.

A sample from Mike Arrington:

The human network has evolved from the clan to the Internet. We are all part of a flat, mega-connected hierarchy, allowing social interaction in its purest form, from the simplest emotional gasps to the most complicated intellectual debates. The human network is humanity in its purest and most beautiful form.

Brands animate networks from within

Whatever your brand, you will need a similar perspective on the network value that your brand delivers. For your brand to succeed, it will have to animate human networks from within, connecting people to new forms of value—and to other people—through the brand. Brands that can’t make this transition risk being left behind.


Managing the brand agenda for customer growth

Friday, September 29th, 2006

One of the first questions brand builders address when they sit down to structure a brand is: What’s the brand agenda? This is a critical issue. What, exactly, will the brand do to advance the customer?

Contain the customer or liberate the customer?

When we’re at this agenda planning point, we can call up the two brand agenda polarities for a horizon-to-horizon perspective. On a practical basis, our agenda will fall somewhere between these two theoretical end-points:

  1. Contain the customer
  2. Liberate the customer

There’s obviously a lot of brand agenda working room between these two. You may also find that it’s the rate of customer advance that has the greatest impact on your brand strategy. Innovative companies can sustain high rates of customer advance, progressively raising their customers to higher levels of accomplishment through their brands, in sync with new products coming to market.

On the other hand, companies that innovate with difficulty will tend to slow things down and build a brand cocoon around the customer, in hopes he/she won’t fly away given the slow pace of improvement. While such containment strategies are widespread, they clearly place their brands at risk from product innovation and brand innovation from competitors.

Defining your brand agenda

Every brand has a brand agenda. It’s explicit, or implicit. The brand agenda states how, and how far, the brand intends to advance the customer. It shapes everything your brand does, and how it does it.

You can analyze your own brand to determine its existing brand agenda. Once you do so, you can then do the same for competitor brands. Often, they’re quite similar. That leaves room for new brand initiatives that can make a difference.

How you define your brand agenda will have profound consequences for your brand, and your business. For starters, it will dictate how you interact with customers, and how you structure their brand experience. It will also shape how well you incorporate customer intelligence and energy into your brand.

The concept of brand agenda gives innovative companies a powerful tool in growing their customers. It also gives them potential brand leverage over companies with tired or complacent brands whose only hope is to contain customers. It does this by defining the brand in terms of value delivered to the customer, including brand pathways that enable customer growth. And significantly, it also gives customers a choice in their brand outcome: as a customer, do you want a brand that holds you back, or a brand that moves you forward?

If you’re entering new markets, or carving new space in an existing one, a brand agenda focused on liberating customers can be the cornerstone of programs to disrupt legacy brands.

Two options for the brand agenda

As noted above, there are two end points on the brand agenda spectrum.

  1. Contain the customer
  2. Liberate the customer

The direction a company takes in its agenda strategy will determine how its brand creates customers, and what the brand can accomplish, near-term and long-term. Different brand agendas will produce radically different customer outcomes, and business outcomes. Your brand agenda is also your customer agenda.

The traditional “contain the customer” approach

Brand agendas to contain the customer are at the heart of many traditional brands. In fact, “containing the customer” is still a mainstream brand approach. This approach typically manifests itself in the following brand actions:

  1. Capture customer attention with massive media campaigns
  2. Rely heavily on emotional triggers as brand drivers
  3. Transform brand experience into a spectacle or a “show”
  4. Construct elaborate myths to replace reality
  5. Use symbols, icons and images to focus customer beliefs
  6. Inculcate passive customer behavior
  7. Use rewards programs to foster brand “loyalty”

Brand strategies to contain the customer are often found in commodity markets, in mature industries, and in markets with low innovation.

The “contain the customer” paradigm

From the customer containment perspective, the whole purpose of a brand is to help catch and contain customers. Ideally, it’s to lock customers in for life, so their world view never ventures outside the brand aura. The brand becomes a virtual corral or silo, where an artificial reality keeps its subjects in thrall.

The “contain the customer” paradigm entails changing the nature of customers as well. Customers cease being market equals and potential innovation partners in a value network. Instead, they’re relegated to the status of passive “consumers,” where their consumption can be managed. This is one reason why traditional brands often devote considerable resources to brand spectacle, symbols, icons, emotional drivers and rewards. These are the artificial stimuli for kept consumers.

The high price of a customer containment agenda

A brand agenda to contain the customer comes at a price, however. It replaces brand value with brand spectacle. By ignoring customer intelligence and initiative, it also restricts the value that customers can add to the brand. In addition, it slows innovation to a crawl. The brand acts as a dam against idea flow. Internally, it holds back engineers and others whose new product ideas might “make waves” in the placid waters of containment. The omnipresent fear is that somewhere, somehow, someone will puncture the brand wall and the once-captive “consumers” will be heading elsewhere.

Companies with containment brand agendas often resemble fiefdoms or plantations in how they think, and in how they operate. And this, of course, presents great opportunities for disruptor brands.

Disruptor brands aim to liberate the customer

“Liberate the customer” is the brand agenda of companies with innovative, disruptor brands. Their aim is to undercut incumbent brands by delivering superior brand value and associated freedoms. These brands intend to free the customer from current brand dependencies and lock-ins, which can impose a virtual lock-down on the customer’s ability to move forward.

Disruptor brands are “liberation brands.”

Note, however, that not every company can sustain a brand agenda of customer liberation. Such an agenda requires a company to be highly innovative, agile and resolutely focused on delivering customer value. It also demands that a company be platform-driven, because brand platforms are the best mechanism for growing customers from one brand level to the next. Instead of imposing a brand corral on their customers, liberation brands elevate customers to progressively higher levels through a sequence of platforms in progressively richer markets.

Liberate your customers to create new value

Liberation brands may seem counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t they be giving away the customers their brands created? The answer to this question is, “No, they would not, because they operate in a totally different context than containment brands.” Liberation brands free their customers from brand backwaters so they can team with those customers to create new market value. By teaming with customers, liberation brands transcend the static “capture and contain” ethos that hobbles traditional brands. They raise brands to a context of dynamic collaboration which is rich in market opportunities.

Part of the brand logic behind customer liberation is that the brand is no longer a company-imposed veil, silo or corral. Instead, the brand becomes a form of value network that enables companies and customers to join forces for mutual gain. It is a sequence of platforms for growing customers to richer forms of living, where their new sets of needs will be met by a company’s innovation roadmap.

Elements of a brand agenda to liberate customers

In coming posts I’ll discuss the elements of a brand agenda that can disrupt traditional brands by delivering new forms of value to customers. This will be an agenda that frees customers to be more proactive, so they can add value back to the brand.