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web 2.0 as a tool for building your brand Martie 30, 2008

Posted by cferseta in internet.
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un articol mai vechi de-al meu @ Conferinta de Informatica Economica.

 Web 2.0 as a tool for building a brand
Constantin Ferseta, Bucharest, Romania,

  In the online marketing used during web 1.0, the companies applied one simple rule: heavy branding. They tried to make their brand as visible as possible and they tried to put the logo, brand headlines, brand colors and other elements as much as they can across the site. Of course, Flash technology was mandatory, in order to impress the users (but most to impress the top management:)), both in sites and banner campaigns (considered the equivalent with the term “online marketing”). 

That approach worked in the years of content push. The PowerPoint presentations looked very good with those activities, the ROI was very low, but the companies and their agencies tried to look every failure as a brand success. But while a Web 1.0 site was as good as the marketing and web team behind it, a good Web 2.0 site is only as good as the people who contribute to it. And it’s concept. And that makes all the difference. 

Now the company can have the most skilled web developers and the smartest marketers, but if their customers don’t want to participate – if they don’t want to come with their contribution (video, audio, text, pictures, links, opinions, thoughts, ratings, etc), the corporate brands cannot create a successful web 2.0 community. 

The idea is to create a site where people want to interact. For a few brands like BMW or Apple customers care enough about the product or brand that they’re happy to come and talk about your products. For everybody else, the best way to use the power of Web 2.0 is to create an online community that has intrinsic value, and let the activities of that community reflect positively on the parent company’s brand. 

A site can help an offline brand if he finds a common topic with his consumers. An interest. Is just like Coca-Cola that associate its image with music and football, because these are the most powerful interests that its core target has. By claiming that the company has the same interest, being present in the consumers attention focus, it builds brand awareness. That’s why web 2.0 can create a lot a buzz, on these interests, that these are the primary focus of the consumer, not the brand itself.  This association can be seen in many places, especially in FMCG companies.

AXE, the deodorant from Unilever, had a campaign several year ago, “What drives women mad?”, an unbranded action, provided as teasing, combined with a interaction part on the web, where people could guess the answer to this hot topic. Branding was not existent.  

Coca-Cola Romania build a site, for music lovers, called Soundwave.ro, very little branded, who tried to tap in the users passion for music. By using very strong moderators, and by trying not to abuse of providing prizes (not to get only visitors interested in material gain), the music, and later on football communities thrived. Same with Sprite.ro, which has the coolest forum, in terms of tone of voice: spunepebune.ro, advertised separately. 

Nowadays, the Bergenbier use an insight from man psychology where they translated into ziuabarbatului.ro, a small but very interesting site activation, where to create wow and obtain a small interaction from men. This is not and will not become a web 2.0 project, because the interest is not an ongoing one. The people find no reasons to come back again. But is a great example of harnessing interests zone. 

If your company wants to create an online community, using interests may be the best way to ensure that its community finds its audience – by creating a community that actively engages its customers, and trusting that community to reflect well on the brand. 

When companies create an online community they are becoming a web application provider: in a sense, they compete for consumers’ attention with big players like YouTube, Flickr, Facebook or Neogen. Just like those companies, they’re offering to their customers a chance to find great content or meet new people. Just like those companies, brand owners are trying to get their customers to create their own content or participate actively on your site. And just like those companies, the brand owners need to offer customers a compelling reason to engage. 

That compelling reason is the site’s core concept: the problem you’re offering to solve, the specific conversation you’re convening, or the kinds of people customers can meet on your site. Any great interest based community rests on a great concept: something that defines the bounds of the community and makes it different from – and in some way, more valuable than – the YouTubes or Facebooks of the world. 

The branding must be minimalist, the old school marketers must understand that heavy branding or any branding at all makes a lot of damage for the community, because it affects it’s credibility. It will be perceived just another corporate publicitary action.  

The great challenge in creating an interest community is identifying the killer concept that will capture customers’ imagination and make them genuinely excited about participating in a conversation that’s associated with the brand. 

There are several questions that can help a marketer to capture the benefits of this: 

1. How passionately are the consumers about your brand? If your customers pay for the privilege of wearing your logo, or create independent fan sites to talk about your products, interest communities are acting only as an added benefit for it. The customers will be happy to participate in a brand-centric conversation.  

2. What is the common denominator between brand and clients? Do they share a common set of values or a particular problem that brings them to your door? That commonality defines the space in which you can create your online community. 

 3. What do your customers love to talk about? Music, football, women, kids? Your community needs to generate significant enthusiasm – and active contribution – if it’s going to thrive. So focus on a topic or question that your customers are already talking about. If you don’t know what they’re talking about, use a blog search tool like Technorati to find people who have written about your brand (or about your general type of product or service) and then browse through their blogs to identify the topics they care (and write) about most.  

4. Associate only with the most powerful values that also your consumer are interested for. Does it make any sense for the brand to associate with that interest. Is there any prove of it? Because otherwise, people will see it a false, and they are going to boycott the site. It must be a realistic joined interest. 

5. What can you offer your customers: content, relationships, or an infrastructure? People will discover and return to your site if it offers tangible value. The most frequent kind of value you can offer is content that either educates or entertains. An alternate approach is to give customers a tool that they need on a daily or weekly basis, like email, blog, photo services, dating services, getting a jobs. A third option is to foster relationships that will draw people back to the site – but you still need either great content or useful tools to get them there in the first place.  Once the company has identified the niche that will bring its customers together in a passionate, consistently growing conversation, it must me ready to start building the site site. There are some that need to be considered: 

1. Minimalist branding. They consider corporations as enemies. And untrusting. So companies must stay aside, and be credible in their efforts to support people needs and communities.

2. The “About us” section should be minimalist also. All marketers (the old school ones) consider this very important to transmit to consumers. But consumers have zero interest in this. It gives no added value to them. That’s why if such section exists, it must be a simple, low impact link. If somebody is interested, he must be able to access it. But it must not be intrusive.

3. The association between company and that specific interest should be clear for user  Every company dreams about having customers who care passionately about their brand. Like Harley Davidson, or Nike. Interest sites helps to generate that passion: brands are the owner of the community that has entered your customers’ lives and become home to their social relationships, beliefs or creative enthusiasms. The value of that passion isn’t just realized in CTR or online purchases. It’s realized in every good appreciation those customers say in the world about the brand. On blogs, forums, message boards, their sites, etc. In the buzz that creates. Another aspect of web 2.0 communities is the content control. In web 1.0., companies were used to fully control what appears on their sites, on their brands. It was approved by marketing, by PR, every comma was verified. A big problem was with the consumer interaction on the forums or on the chat, where the control could not be done. Then, anytime when a bad language was found, the whole company entered into a crisis situation. And it was only words. With bad words filters. And even so, the generated stress was very big. Now, by entering web 2.0, a lot of potential negative aspects appear. For example, consumers can upload content without usage rights. Can upload pornographic content, or injurious to other religions. But that’s the whole idea. You create a community, in a specific framework, you try to restrain the consumers to some extend, but in the rest, companies must let go on the strict control and assume the risk. If the platform is well-done, the community is self regulating itself. The bad content is voted by other users and it gets buried.  

Not to mention that in web 1.0, the approving procedure for entering new content on the site, being rigorous controlled, was a very difficult an time consuming process. Now, in web 2.0 everything moves with a huge speed. And people upload the content. And it’s instant response. Actually, the success of a web 2.0. project is when it reach a critical mass, and it is been created a social pressure upon it. People know that their friends are using it, so they are start using it themselves.  They start coming at first, see if they feel that this site is useful for them, if it fulfils the need better than other site. 

A study done on YouTube showed that form 100% of visitors, only 1% upload original content, 9% tries to copy what that 1% submitted and the rest of 90% only visits the site, without uploading. So reaching with the company web 2.0 project a critical mass is a must, in order to be able to further proceed. 

Why web 2.0 is such a big success? Why is been on the wave for a short period of time? Because it is using the „wisdom of crowds”. That means that 2 heads are better than one, and 1000 heads generates a lot a synergy and critical mass and added value to the community.

 The wisdom of crowds is all around us these days. Del.icio.us groups links and ranks the pages based on the number of links existing in the users saved lists. Wikipedia is a join effort site from all over the Internet, where people can openly define anything they cross their mind. Google is ranking sites in the search results based on the number of incoming links. So people have the power now. 

The consumers, organized in crowds, can be used to generate wisdom, and traffic. The knowledge and talents of a group of people is leveraged to create content and solve problems.  

Companies (like HP, Dell, 3M) that put accent on innovation should create platforms where people can interact, can use their creative and voting skills and harness this power. Dell did such site, where it’s new products ideas are tested by crowds. 

Here are some examples of web 2.0 sites that really tap into interests and use the power of the mobs. 

CrowdSpirit is a very ambitious project that aims to utilize the power of crowds to develop and bring to market electronic devices under 200 USD (like MP3 players, digital cameras, or game controllers). Community members will decide what the product is, from concept to design to technical specification, by submitting and voting on product and design ideas. Winning ideas will then be funded by members of the community – and after prototyping and beta testing, the completed products will be delivered to market. 

Marketocracy was launched in 2000 with the goal of finding the best investors and tapping their collective knowledge to create a superior mutual fund. Anyone can sign up for free and run a virtual fund, starting with $1 million. The site has attracted over 60,000 users to date. In November 2001 the company launched the Masters 100 Index, a real mutual fund based on the virtual investments of its 100 most successful members (as determined by a computer ranking).The fund, which now has $44 million in assets, has outperformed the S&P 500 Index (generally considered a good gauge of the U.S. equities market) and has an average annual return of 11.4% since its inception.  

But can crowds be successful at creating products, predicting markets, or organizing data? There are several considerations1. The web 2.0 projects must have some constraints. On Youtube u can upload only some types of files, with a specific number of KB, with specific usage rights. Not having rules creates chaos and the community will not succeed.2. Debates are benefic for community and for final outcome.3. KISS rule applies here. As simple is a project, the better chances it has. What is requested from users must be very simple, not intellectually challenging. 

The conclusion is that companies that want their brands to thrive, and to use the new hype, called the web 2.0, have two options. Either developing a new community, that is ownable, either supporting existing communities and benefit the power of association with them. In any case, the marketers must become aware of the particularities of this new domain. 

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