Last Friday, I introduced my readers to Alan Moore — not the comic book creator but the brand guru — a cutting edge thinker about the ways that grassroots communities are reshaping the branding process. Moore, with Tomi T Ahonen, wrote a book called Communities Dominate Brands. The book spells out their vision for where media is headed — towards what Moore described last time as a “connected society”– and what it means for the branding process. Here, Moore gets deeper into some of the issues which will be of particular interest to regular readers of this blog — the economic value of fans to advertisers and media producers, the issue of compensating for user-generated content, the case of Pop Idol as a global media franchise, and the concept of transmedia planning.
Moore will be speaking at the CMS colloquium later this term and we hope to make a podcast of his remarks available down the line.
There seems to be an implicit tension running through this book between the focus on the individual consumer (which has been a cornerstone of branding theory and which gets new attention in an age of personalized and customized media) and the focus on communities (which take on greater importance in the age of networked communications.) I wonder if you could talk a bit more about this tension — should companies be targeting individuals or communities? What do you see as the relationship between individual consumers and these
new kinds of brand communities you are describing?
My view is that one can create greater opportunities, by appealing to communities of interest.
Doc Searls said that markets are conversations. I think communities form around 3 principle tenets.
Lets take the equine community, or the climbing community, the motivations for belonging are at a deep human level.
By creating platforms that can better serve these communities around these 3 tenets, one can build I believe sustainable businesses, that are not geographic specific.
Communities form around values, not demographics.
Also, I believe that by combining, user generated content, peer production, inter-community trade and knowledge exchange, in conjunction with services and entertainment specific to that community, the community will grow and expand. This is where the advertising becomes the content and the content becomes the advertising. The advertising becomes the conversation and the conversation becomes the advertising.
Also, there is an opportunity to listen carefully to the community so that one is in a constant process of refinement of how best to serve that community.
The money flows in a different way.
Of course such a view is heresy, within the world of mass media, which are tied to location and old distribution/business models.
In the book, you describe the emergence of “brand promiscuity.” As Sex and the City might put it, we are just not that into you any more. What do you mean by brand promiscuity? What factors are giving rise to it? and what steps might companies take to make sure they still have some place in the hearts of their most loyal consumers?
There is no doubt brands wax and wane. But the brand manager wants their customers to always consider their brand before others, and where hopefully price is not part of that consideration process.
However, through the process of search, customers have been able to do much more research about the products and services they want to buy. There is mounting evidence that people go online – and research before they buy.
Customers have become far more aware, that their interests are not always put before the company interests.
That’s not to say certain brands don’t have die-hard fans, many do, and Apple is a great example of the extraordinary loyalty shown by Apple users.
But none the less, we know that by researching, we can find a better deal on our terms.
The steps companies have to take are to put the customer at the start of the value chain and not at the end. There can never be an excuse for disappointment. Brands have to learn that customer service is not lip service.
Recently I flew to the US via the business airline EOS. It was quite clear to me that they had designed their service from start to finish around the customer experience. I would advocate flying with that airline to anyone.
Such an experience means I will always consider EOS before anyone else and they are cheaper than BA.
Equally, when a community reacts angrily to what they consider as malpractice by a brand, the brand has to engage with that community.
If we look at the near collapse of Kryponite, the resigning of Trent Lott from the Senate, of Jeff Jarvis’s personal crusade against Dell computers, Brands have to understand that at the very least they could suffer severe bad publicity at the very worst they could loose their business.
The most extreme example of brand promiscuity comes from China. Chinese stores are being hit by mobs of customers who are engaging in a spot of Tungou, or team buying. Shoppers are coordinating times to hit stores using the web. The shoppers turn up en-masse and demand discounts – and often store owners concede! Sites such as www.51Tuangou.com and www.teambuy.com.cn provide forums for shoppers to meet and plan their next target.
You have interesting things to say in the book about fans: “Such fans are more precious than gold. You should find them, recruit them to work with you, never try to ‘brainwash’ them, but let them be themselves and use their own creativity and passion to promote your product or service. Find gentle but supportive means to promote them and their work. Pay them for their
intellectual property, at least as well as you would reward a star-performing advertising agency. Celebrate this kind of passion — you will ignite other such sleeping giants from amidst your fan base.” You touch on a key issue here we have been discussing on the blog — should companies be compensating fans for user-generated content? Why or why not?
Like all things its about context.
The BBC for example, feel they should not be paying for user generated content. Whereas, Current TV pays those that get their 15min pod onto cable $1000.
Spreadshirt.com – which enables me to create my online shop and to trade and transact, with spreadshirt handling all the printing, distribution and financials, are in a way benefiting from user generated content. In a more sophisticated manner.
What about fans writing for the Soprano’s or TV formats? Should we be paying them. Well yes. Wikipedia? No, because the motivation is completely different.
Again, we are the mid-wives of a new socio-economic model. It is interesting that we have never ever before really considered seriously that engaging such a fan base could be of huge benefit to various companies.
But, there is enough evidence to show that redirecting some capital in different ways can ignite creativity and therefore drive commerce.
Andy Warhol it was that said in the future everybody will be famous for 15mins. I don’t think he could have ever possibly imagined how this would manifest itself. But we are living with that prophecy today.
Could we fire our advertising agencies, that cost us millions if not billions of dollars and just get our most passionate fans to create our advertising for us?
So I guess the formula, is to think about what is the incentive? What is the benefit? Is it short term or long term, is it about reputation and just a sense of belonging or do we want something else? Do we corrupt what we are by paying a revenue share, or are we really igniting the blue touch paper of our passionate community by offering a financial reward?
More generally, what advice would you provide to media companies about forming strong ties to their fan base? Can you cite some examples where companies got this right and where they’ve gotten it wrong?
So the old rules of command and control don’t apply. It is about listening and building trust, it is about real dialogue and actions being taken on that dialogue.
It is about persistent conversation, and creating platforms that will attract, and reward in a variety of ways. It is about a better customer experience, and always, always delivering on the promise.
Who got it right?
Well I think Spreadshirt has got it right, Jamie Oliver and his School Dinner campaign got it right (through a TV programme he invited his audience to form as a community and embarrass the British Government in changing its policy as to how we feed our kids in UK schools), the Boeing Design Team, Soloman sports .
Trent Lott got it wrong, as did Kryptonite, as did Dell, Sony and Verizon all vie for the “how we really fucked it up” award.
But let me also say that, this is work in progress, and your fan base could be the many thousands of employees that work for your company, they are quite often a small army.
Jonathan Schwartz the COO of Sun Microsystems famously said:
The perception of Sun as a faithful and authentic tech company is now very strong. What blogs have done has authenticated the Sun brand more than a billion dollar ad campaign could have done. I care more about the ink you get from developer community than any other coverage. Sun has experienced a sea change in their perception of us and that has come from blogs. Everyone blogging at Sun is verifying that we possess a culture of tenacity and authenticity
And he talks about how Sun’s bloggers have created a more transparent company that appears more human as a result. This is the natural consequence of two-way flows of communication. Something that many brand and advertising managers struggle with. Command and control should no longer be part of any marketing communications strategy.
We are at the very beginning now of a revolution in marketing communications. How businesses will engage with their audiences, how marketing budgets will be spent, and how marketing departments will be organized.
You’ve done some writing about the Pop Idol phenomenon worldwide. What factors have led to the consistent level of engagement which this property generates? What do you see as the most significant commonalities and differences in the ways consumers respond to this franchise in different parts of the world? What lessons might other media producers draw from the success of Pop Idol?
Today’s world is a world of experience of content, of culture and of content-rich brands, a world where knowledge is profit and interconnectivity is power, where enabling and personal empowerment are keys to future success. The implications for business are clear. People will want more ‘experiences’ and to be able to define themselves by those experiences.
In no TV show worldwide has this been more obvious, than in
In Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy, Professor Ronald Inglehart from the University of Michigan, and, Professor Christian Welzel Professor at the University of Bremen, have been studying how developing economies affect and change individuals and society. Living in a world where survival is now taken for granted, and migrating from an industrial economy to a knowledge society places increasing emphasis on individual autonomy, self-expression, and free choice. Emerging self-expression values transform modernization into a process of human development, giving rise to a new type of humanistic society that is increasingly people-centered.
This new society they argue, seek true voice; direct participation, unmediated influence and identity-based community. Taking control of one’s life, having total control over one’s identity. These issues therefore, are central to the underpinning of Pop Idol.
Most viewers fully understand that Pop Idol is a manufactured format. What is crucial is not that these wannabe stars are just great performers, but that they come across as genuine and authentic.
Authenticity is one of today’s zeitgeists. The cumulative net result of blogs, the explosion of user generated content and self-publishing, is about the exploration of identity on the one hand and on the other it is about communication that is unmediated, unfiltered, and perceived as genuine/authentic. Distrust of Governments and global brands explain why authenticity plays such a critical role in post-modern society.
In one Pop Idol show a contestant is told by the judges that her singing style lacks emotion. Her response to this observation is that she is not interested in the judges view, because she is performing for the audience. It is the audience with their voting power that she appeals to. Su Holmes explains in her paper Reality Goes Pop! Reality TV Popular Music, and Narratives of Stardom in Pop Idol: Sage publications 2004:
Contestants situate the audience not only as the primary point of address and recipient of the performance but the primary arbiter of its meaning. This structure validates audience choice, discrimination and agency at the moment of transmission in which the audience is actively encouraged to adopt a viewpoint at odds with an official or expert opinion.
In early Hollywood the stars were exceptional stage performers who transferred their skills to the silver screen. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin fell over for real, Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers truly did dance, though Rogers did dance backwards and in high heels! Elvis and Frank Sinatra did sing. The movie was special, and stars were closely guarded maintaining their sense of aura, and a heroic image. Today’s Hollywood star relies on stunt doubles, plastic surgery and special effects. Doing the publicity tours for each movie, the stars are over-exposed, and discuss the tricks of the trade ad nauseum, destroying any lingering admiration for skills beyond purely that of acting. Actors are now known to be that and nothing else: actors. Audiences sense that this is more fake, than authentic. While a movie or TV show may be great entertainment, it is still fake, whilst there is an increasing demand for authenticity.
Reality TV is built on co-creation, participation, and persistent peer-to-peer flows of conversations on the television via voting in the chat rooms and forums. This signals that commercial success for broadcasters can be defined by better improving the dialogue via rich flows of communi-cation. Modern viewers think like this: “When I can see, that my vote counts, that my voice counts, then I will willingly engage. When I can be identified as myself within a group context, and listened to, that is important to me.”
Sure, some of us may not want to participate in the Pop Idol’s of this world, but we may be passionate about other issues, and Pop Idol is more about participatory democracy, true enough in a crude from, than some people may care to accept. If this is the case, then it is worth pausing as a broadcaster, to mull over; how am I engaging my audiences? How as a commercial broadcaster could I better retain our customer base thus reducing our acquisition costs? Or keep the size of our audiences, and therefore keep our advertisers?
Here are 8 key points to consider as a commercial broadcaster
1). Attraction = Pull to engage. We are deeply social
2). Co-creation / participation / peer production / collaboration / persistent conversations
3). Transparency and authenticity are key components of any engagement initiative.
4). Flowability of content across all media platforms
5). Valuable and contextual content
6). Idea driven
7). Deliver a memorable experience
8). Editorial can link to commercial revenue streams
As an American reading your book, I was consistently fascinated with your accounts of mobile media and SMS in other parts of the world. We lag so far behind Asia and the Nordics in terms of our adoption of these technologies. You’ve spent a lot of time helping clients to understand how they change the information flow and alter their branding efforts. So, what do you see as the future of mobile media and SMS in the North American context? What do you see
as some of the innovative uses of these technologies in other parts of the world and what changes would need to take place if American companies wanted to deploy these approaches in our context?
This is such a vast topic I feel defeated before I even start.
Well – operators have to really consider how they stimulate peer to peer flows of communication.
Mobile is not a mass market. it’s a market of mass niche audiences.
In Norway you can buy plane tickets, pay for your parking space. In Finland you can be notified by your library that the book you wanted is now in stock or you can renew your borrowing by SMS, pay for your train tickets via SMS or buy your lottery ticket.
Bands have their own MVNO including the rock group Kiss and P.Diddy.
There is the obvious Citizen Journalism package, for example the Norwegian newspaper Aller, has equipped its journalists with video mobile phones where a print is translated into a 5 min sound-byte via the web.
In Hong Kong one can play the community horse racing game super stable, and in Japan play the community treasure hunt game Mogwai. As teams hunt a prize in an urban jungle.
Mobile is not Heinz baked beanz. One has to put the tools in the hands of creators.
There was one passage in the book which provoked sharp disagreement from me. You write, “Undebiably the storylines of content in popular culture have shrunk, which has shortened the attention spans of especially the younger audiences.” Yet, writers like Steven Johnson have made a convincing argument that popular culture texts have greater complexity now than ever
before. We can certainly point to the short lengths of music videos, YouTube segments, or content for the mobile platform, yet we can also point towards people camping out all weekend to watch long marathons of complex serialized dramas on DVD. How would you respond to the claim that popular culture is demanding more, not less, from its consumers in response to the fragmentation and interweaving of storylines you discuss?
I agree, and it is something we have been researching from the last book. Culture is more layered. And is an area we have given more thought to.
I think what we were trying to say was that conventional storylines had been exhausted. Pulp Fiction was perhaps the last film to exploit the old movie genres to great success, where narrative is pulled, pushed and squeezed in innovative ways.
I think kids watch less television, my kids do, but seek greater immersion, in myspace or Grand Theft Auto, or any other gaming experience, or fan fiction site one cares to think of.
But the important criteria is, that they CAN be part of the co-creation experience. That changes everything.
Think about it, you’re a kid, you’re 9 standing in the schoolyard. Your lonely, you see the cool kids playing soccer, or baseball. The coolest kid in the school comes over to you and says, “do you want to join in?” what are you going to say?
All of a sudden you belong. Your identity recognised.
We’ve been talking here about transmedia planning as an approach which recognizes the growing complexity of popular culture and rewards the competency and mastery of fans. This approach would seem to be consistent with your own emphasis on fan engagement and brand communities. How do you respond to this concept and how might we reconcile it with your discussion of fragmented attention and declining brand loyalty?
Create context, attraction and reasons to engage. These are myriad.
Deliver a valuable experience, and rewards for engaging. Again, depending on what the reasons are for creating engagement will depend on how one structures the engagement initiative.
I like the concept of transmedia planning, it acknowledges the complexity of story-telling, and co-creation in a super-connected world.
It requires the combination of different skill sets, to develop and deliver such an experience.
All writers about media change face the problem of print being too slow a medium to respond to unfolding events. What recent developments do you wish you had been able to discuss in the book?
Well, we are blessed, with the sequel or son of. So I have no regrets. At times I wondered if we had gone too far. Also we built the book off of the SMLXL blog, and had 172 pages of draft text in the 1st weekend. When we went to print we were right on the bleeding edge.
It has however, taken until the middle of 2006, for the rest of the world to catch up.
The conversations that I am having with many companies and organisations demonstrate that we have pushed the envelope. They are just starting to grapple with the difficult issues of Darwin. Adapt or die. Or as we say, engage or die.
I think organisational structures, is perhaps the one issue Tomi and I grossly underestimated. Companies are struggling to grasp what they should be doing, how and why.
But everything pretty much that we wrote about has evolved into reality.
I am proud of the book as a body of work, as we tried very hard to mix theory with practical examples. Proving that our assumptions were and are already true, which they are.
As a creative person, I deal with putting things into reality, its no good, offering advice others can’t see as practical.
Of course web/mobile 2.0 was still a twinkle in the sky, and the Apple iPhone a mere dream.
Its amazing what has happened in 15 months.