Cultivating Brand Advocates – Four Remarkable Communities

Perhaps the pinnacle achievement in marketing today is to build such a strong relationship with your brand’s biggest fans, that they become true advocates – speaking so enthusiastically and positively about your brand, that others might think they actually work for you.

It is, indeed, a rare accomplishment to develop such a relationship. In part I believe that many companies do not recognize the opportunities and benefits associated with nurturing and enabling fans to become true advocates. Nor do they fully realize the path they must embark on.

Serving as a guiding light, here are five brands that have done it right:

Fiskars

Hands up anyone who would’ve thought that Fiskars, a scissors brand, would be able to develop a successful online community? They make scissors! Scissors! But guess what? They recognized a core and common passion that many of their fans have – scrapbooking – and they built a community around it. In fact, the thriving community has evolved to include a variety of different artistic categories. See www.fiskateers.com.

The lesson: A successful community doesn’t need to be centred around your brand. Find a common passion your fans have, related to your brand, and build a community that truly unites your fans provides them with value.

Intuit

Intuit is an award-winning developer of business and financial management software, having developed a variety of leading products including TurboTax, online income tax software, as well as QuickBooks, accounting software for small business. The company truly has excelled in developing a customer-centric approach to their business. For example, when using TurboTax, people have access to an entire community of other TurboTax users – to ask questions and gain insights as they fill out their tax returns. Moreover, people can also enter into a private chat with income tax professionals, before they have even paid for TurboTax!

The lesson: Brands should do what they can to pay it forward. Provide value to people before they have even paid for your product or service, and imagine the loyalty, enthusiasm and sense of community that can be be generated.

Genius Crowds

Here is a company and a community with a big twist. The community creates the company’s products, and in essence, the community is the brand. Genius Crowds is a community through which people can submit their ideas for products they’d actually like to see manufactured and sold on store shelves. The community collaborates on product ideas submitted, in an effort to help improve them, and then they vote on their favourites. Genius Crowds then reviews top voted ideas, and selects a few that have the potential – based on a manufacturing and marketability assessment – to be sold in stores.

This is a great example of crowdsourcing. In fact the first product, the Speed Bather (a dog squeegee) is now ready to hit store shelves!

The lesson:  Companies can benefit from letting their customers collaborate and participate in the development, and evolution, of their products and services. By tapping into the collective intelligence of their customers, they create opportunities for innovation.

Disclosure: I was a Community Manager for Genius Crowds when I worked at Chaordix.

Vancouver Canucks

Sports franchise brands and social media go hand-in-hand, as social media provides an amazing opportunity for fans to bond with their favorite team – regardless of where they are in the world. Canucks fans have turned to social media to share their experiences and emotions, expressing themselves through compelling content ranging from short tweets to engaging videos. At the same time, the organization itself has really excelled at leveraging social media to encourage fan participation and build loyalty – and there is little doubt that the strength of the Vancouver Canucks brand has been significantly augmented as a result.

The lesson: Be open to having your fans generate content, and help them share it on social platforms. Doing so will result in increased loyalty, and will aid in building your fan base.

Are you aware of any remarkable online communities that have helped a company cultivate true brand advocates?  Does your company have one, or have you considered developing one?

A New Agency Model: An Interview With Peter LaMotte from GeniusRocket

With agency models in the marketing world in a state of flux, opportunity is ripe for new, more nimble and potentially more innovative agencies to arise. One such agency is GeniusRocket, a small and creative firm focused on video production that brings together the best of traditional advertising with modern crowdsourcing ideas.

GeniusRocket has developed a crowdsourcing model that enables companies to source ideas from a hand-picked and vetted community of creative and video production professionals. Collaboratively, GeniusRocket works with clients to ensure that content produced fits clearly with the client’s vision and strategy while still providing the security, privacy and control associated with more traditional agency models.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Peter LaMotte, the President of GeniusRocket.

Q: What do you feel are the most notable benefits for clients of GeniusRocket’s unique agency model?

A: I think it has to do with comparison to what else is out there. The paths that have always been there have been “go local”, meaning essentially freelance – like a local guy or someone you might know – or go to an agency for the creative space. What crowdsourcing has done, through its evolution, is provide a third alternative. By using GeniusRocket, clients get the benefits of privacy, creative oversight and direction, and quality that an agency delivers as well as the speed, choice and the affordability of your traditional crowdsourcing paths. So, it’s meant to be the best of both worlds. We feel we’re the best approach out there for creating video content for a brand that really isn’t interested in just sophomoric humour or some of the stuff that tends to come out of contests. When you say “hey, $5,000 to the best video” and anyone can submit ideas, you tend to get a lot of college humour, a lot of students participating. When people are truly looking for agency level production, and quality of ideas, GeniusRocket delivers that through our crowdsourcing model.

Q: Often times with more traditional agencies, you’ll have the same creatives dedicated to a client account over an extended period of time. Is that possible through your model?

Yes, it is. Traditionally in an ad agency there is a small team dedicated to an account – and when a brand goes to the agency, you will typically get variations of the same idea. Someone will pitch idea A, and someone will come up and say “that’s great but what if we do this”, and all of a sudden you have ten ideas but it’s really A, AB, AC, AD. Someone else may come up with something new, but it usually ends up being B, BC, BD, again variations of the same idea. Whereas what the the crowd delivers through crowdsourcing and GeniusRocket’s curated process, leveraging established relationships with professionals, is a diverse range of creative and production choices. As a result of our relationship with the creatives, if a client comes back to us and says “I loved working with that team”, then we’ll make sure the same team either participates in another crowdsourcing initiative with the client or works directly with the client. Now where we see that happening more is actually in the production side, so what people will say is “gosh, I love the fact that we got 25 original professional ideas from you”, and “I love the fact that I used that production company, is there anyway going forward we can continue to work with that production company?”. We do that a lot, for one of our biggest clients we’ve done six national TV spots with them across three different projects, four of them done with same production company.

Q: How do you envision agency models evolving over the next number of years? Are you seeing other agencies coming in, with models that are similar to yours?

A:  The trouble with large agencies trying to adapt to this changing environment, and yes they do have to adapt, is that they’re going to have a tough time shaving off excess baggage that they have to make themselves more nimble. It’s not that they’re not going to do it, its just going to be difficult for them and they’re really going to turn to maybe more virtual teams than they have in the past and learn a lot from what is working at companies like GeniusRocket and Victors and Spoils from a more traditional approach. I believe you’ll see some disappear, more will acquire companies like ours to give them that agility

For a post on another innovative crowdsourcing firm in the ad industry, read my interview with Ignacio Oreamuno from Giant Hydra.

Can Collaboration Be the New Competition?

I find it interesting that there is such a strong, prevailing mindset that companies within the same industry must always be in competition with each other. Whether the focus is business to business, or business to consumer, it’s true that companies are fiercely fighting to attain and retain customers – customers who, no doubt, are closely watching their expenditures in these challenging economic times. However, what if companies adopted a different mindset?  What if companies became more open to collaborating with each other?

We are already witnessing the possibilities that can arise when companies open the doors for stakeholders to actively participate in various corporate functions and decisions through social media, leveraging online community engagement, crowdsourcing and co-creation. Companies, by tapping into minds outside of their corporate walls, are expanding their knowledge base and becoming more innovative as a result.

Now, imagine what could happen if companies became more open to working with each other?

Last winter, I came across a great example of collaboration in marketing. New to Ontario, I went to the LCBO (Ontario government liquor store) in search of a good microbrew. To my surprise, the LCBO carried a six-pack of beers from different craft brewers. What a delight to see the brewers working together to promote their products. The craft brewers are members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association – through the association, 25 brewers collaborate on a number of marketing initiatives designed to educate and expand awareness amongst the buying public.

Needless to say, I bought the six-pack; also, since then, I have repeatedly purchased a number of the beers that were in the six-pack.

In another example, a group of coffee roasters have come together to form Coffee Common – with the goal of working together to introduce consumers to the joys of exceptional coffee. Having previously worked in marketing in the specialty coffee industry at Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, I am particularly excited about this initiative. Great coffee can be just as complex and nuanced as great wine, and just as delicious too. It’s challenging for one coffee roaster, with limited resources, limited budget, and in all likelihood a very localized geographic area, to make an impact. However, there is opportunity to be had through collaboration, which enables greater access to resources – notably minds and money.

The above examples are relatively small-scale in nature, but what’s to stop larger enterprises from becoming more collaborative? Imagine, for example, that companies became more willing to share intellectual property rights. The fear is, of course, a competitor will innovate, develop a better product or service and gain market share – but it is not possible, that by sharing information and collaborating, companies can work together to grow the overall market?

What are your thoughts?

Innovation in Advertising: Ignacio Oreamuno and Giant Hydra

I am excited to introduce a new feature on my blog. Every few weeks, I will be posting short interviews with interesting people who are truly making an impact in the business world – through their thoughts, their ideologies and their actions, paving the path for new and innovative ways of doing things.

This week’s interview is with Ignacio Oreamuno, a true innovator in the advertising industry. Ignacio is President of IHAVEANIDEA, one of the world’s largest online advertising communities, and he is CEO of the Tomorrow Awards, an international advertising awards show with a focus specifically on the future of advertising.

More recently, Ignacio developed and launched Giant Hydra. Giant Hydra is a unique technology that enables ad agencies and clients to access a global pool of creative professionals for work on a particular project. Qualified professionals, selected by the ad agencies and clients, participate in mass collaboration – working virtually and as a team through Giant Hydra, leveraging their collective ingenuity to create ideas for the project at hand.

Thank you, Ignacio, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your insights.

1. How do you envision the creative development process at agencies evolving over the next five to ten years? With respect to a movement towards mass collaboration, at what stage are we at?

The advertising has not changed in over 150 years. It is pretty much the same structure and method of work.

Take a look at all other industries and you can see that they all have changed dramatically over the last 50, 20, 10 and even last two years. Remember when Kodak claimed that digital photography would never have the quality of film? When music companies said digital music wouldn’t work, that the quality of CD’s was better?

The creative process between a copywriter and an art director that Burnbach famously pioneered is no longer apt for the campaigns of today.

As the recession proved, money talks. If an industry can produce a product (in this case creative ideas) in a lot less time, of better or equal quality and for less money, there is nothing that will stop change from destroying the old way of things. All it takes is a handful of agencies to start doing it and boom, it will change things forever.

Look at other industries, like digital film, online music etc. Once technology makes things better, it’s impossible to turn back the page.

Right now agencies are skeptical. They are all waiting for the other one to try mass collaboration and see if it works. Again, instead of seeing the opportunity and jumping on it, a lot of them are so scared of change that they would rather wait. I know a few people who say this model won’t work. They are the same people that have never used it. Ironic.

2. What do you believe is the biggest barrier with regards to improving collaboration and innovation?

The biggest barrier is going to be in getting proof that mass collaboration produces quality. Agencies want to know one thing and one thing only. That you can produce award winning work out of mass collaboration. Giant Hydra is so new that it is hard to show case studies since all of the work is confidential. It will take some time for the work to come out and for the evidence to be ready. I am not worried about that, I’m just focused now on showing the system on a case by case basis to each agency. Everybody always gets blown away by the quality of the people working in the system and the quality of the ideas.

I don’t think there are any more barriers apart from that. Giant Hydra works. Period. Mass collaboration works. Period. I’ve seen it, I’m seeing it right now.

3. A number of creative professionals and associations have expressed reservations about crowdsourcing, essentially claiming that crowdsourced creative undervalues their skills and expertise. What are your thoughts on this?

The HydraHeads in Giant Hydra are all paid. Some of them work on multiple projects at the same time earning multiple fees. And they work from wherever they are in the world, whether that is NY or Japan or a beach. They are all award winning creatives, strategists, planners, and social media mavericks. I would challenge anyone to have a beer with one of the HydraHeads and ask them how they feel about it. In all honesty, they seem pretty excited and happy, and these are 10+ years experience people.

Most people understand crowdsourcing as a contest where the best idea wins. This is not the case with mass collaboration crowdsourcing where it’s essentially a group of people (more than 2 working together online for a fixed salary). The word “crowdsourcing” is now tainted I think, and there’s not much anyone can do about that.

Follow Ignacio Oreamu on Twitter at @ihaveanidea.

Follow Giant Hydra on Twitter at @GiantHydra.

The Role of Social Media in Disaster Response

It goes without saying that the disaster in Japan is an absolutely profound tragedy. Thousands of lives have been lost, and many thousands more adversely impacted, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. Let’s hope that the current nuclear situation is brought under control, and that radiation effects are kept to an absolute minimum.

Social media and digital technology have played a central role in the disaster on a number of levels – and no doubt have resulted in improved response and provision of aid to Japan. Here are three key positive impacts of social media.

1. Increased awareness of disaster realities

We used to just watch disaster coverage on television, hear about disasters on the radio, and read about them in newspapers. Now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, we witness travesties on a completely different level. Instead of seeing the after-effects devastation of a tsunami, we can actually watch a tsunami role in – from the personal perspective of whomever is holding the camera.

Through social media, people impacted by a disaster can share the realities of their situation, providing detailed personal accounts. The stories about Japan were passed around, they were shared, and we all grieved. On March 11, the day of the Japan earthquake, 177 million tweets were sent – well above the daily average of 140 million – and a significant number of new Twitter accounts were created

2. Improved disaster response

Social media has become pivotal in augmenting governmental and aid organization disaster response efforts. Facebook, Twitter, wikis and other tools facilitate collaboration and response to disasters on a truly global scale. Volunteer communities can mobilize quickly, regardless of geographical location, to provide varying types of expertise.

Moreover, mobile technology and applications such as Ushahidi allow disaster information to be crowdsourced and mapped – enabling ground level concerns and issues to be identified in a more immediate manner and responded to accordingly.

3. Enhanced fundraising

Social media facilitates fundraising through quick mobilization, ease of campaign set-up, and broad reach through massive social networks.  Shortly after the Japan disaster struck, people at SXSW Interactive already began to mobilize a fundraising effort – SWSW4Japan.  A website was created within a day, and over $100,000 was raised.

Worldwide, scores of local fundraising events were set up and promoted through social media.

Crowdsourcing for Small Business and Start-Ups

The following is a blog post that I originally wrote for www.365daysofstartups.com

 

Crowdsourcing is a practice through which organizations can tap into the collective intelligence and skills of their crowds – employees, customers, or the public –  for product or service innovation, problem solving and performing specific tasks and achieving specific goals, leveraging online communities. Crowdsourcing is becoming widespread as companies, both large and small, non-profits and government become more familiar with the practice and how it can enhance their own internal resources and knowledge base.

How does crowdsourcing work?  First, it should always start with a sound business strategy and objectives. Typically, an organization either recruits its own online community of participants (the crowd), or gains access to a community that already exists. The organization then invites the crowd to contribute ideas and solutions related to the tasks it needs accomplished. The crowd is encouraged to collaborate and provide constructive comments on ideas that are posted, and vote on their favorites – enabling crowd-preferred ideas to be identified for the organization. Often times, incentives and rewards are provided to the crowd to entice participation.

Large corporations, such as Dell, Starbucks and Pepsi have been using crowdsourcing for a number of years, however it is now entering a place of maturity – related companies and services geared towards small business and start-ups are arising. Although small businesses may not have the following required to recruit their own crowds, they now have access to a wide range of opportunities to leverage crowds created by crowdsourcing service providers.

Efforts that a small business might consider crowdsourcing include:

  • Graphic and logo design
  • Product innovation and development
  • Marketing and communications
  • Computer programming

Small businesses and start-ups can benefit from crowdsourcing in several ways. Crowdsourcing enables companies to gain access to a large talent pool and resources that complement and build on their own internal expertise.  For time-starved business owners and entrepreneurs, crowdsourcing can help ease the burden of a heavy workload. Also, depending on the task at hand, crowdsourcing can be a very cost-effective solution.

Despite the name, a “crowd” doesn’t have to be that large.  Crowdsourcing projects can result in excellent output with as little as a few hundred participants, so small businesses and startups shouldn’t be turned away from considering crowdsourcing for fear of having to recruit thousands of participants.

For an example of crowdsourcing in action, check out Genius Crowds – www.geniuscrowds.com.  Genius Crowds is a new crowdsourcing initiative through which participants have an opportunity to submit ideas for new products, as well as vote or comment on ideas that others have submitted. Ideas that turn out to be Genius Products, as selected by the crowd and reviewed by a panel of experts, could actually be brought to market  – with the participants who submitted the ideas earning royalties.  Not only that, but their logo happens to be crowdsourced too!

Lots of Genius Ideas!

As you can see, I haven’t had an opportunity to update my blog since early September. I intend to rectify that, and will be more active with my blog again soon.  Lots has happened over the last couple of months. Most notably, I moved from Vancouver to Calgary for a new job.

I am now a Community Outreach Manager for Chaordix, a leading crowdsourcing platform and services provider.  Amongst other things, in my role I am responsible for recruiting for and moderating crowdsourcing communities for our clients.  One such client is Genius Crowds, a fantastic initiative through which participants have an opportunity to help create products that actually make it to store shelves – and earn  royalties!

You can actually participate too! Here is a short one minute video on Genius Crowds that I wanted to share:


Challenges Companies Face in Truly Embracing Digital

Over 700 million people are now on social networks worldwide. Numerous companies are successfully engaging with these people, leveraging social media, technology and emerging platforms to engage with customers, generate demand and drive sales. They are also gaining valuable insights and data as a result of their efforts, paving the path for more intelligent business decisions and targeted marketing.

However, in spite of this, many companies have been slow in embracing the digital frontier. For these organizations, several concerns stand out.

Lack of attention and priority to digital

A digital mindset must involve all levels of an organization, starting at the top with senior management. In fact, many companies at the forefront of digital have senior managers who actively engage with customers, whether through corporate blogs, Twitter or other means. Peter Aceto, CEO of ING DIRECT Canada, openly shares a variety of insights on Twitter at @CEO_ingdirect. Without senior management support, as is the case with any strategy or initiative, it will be difficult for digital to permeate through an organization.

A tactical, and not strategic, focus

Related to the point above, a digital strategy must be highly integrated with the overall business objectives and marketing plan. Merely setting up a corporate Twitter account and Facebook Fan page, and regurgitating marketing and communications messages from other platforms, is not sufficient. A digitally strategy must be well thought out, with consideration given towards the needs of the target market and how each unique touch point can be leveraged to engage and create value.

Organizational education and alignment

To effectively build a strong digital presence, specific skills are required. Those people responsible for being the face of a company online must understand how to foster and build community and loyalty with customers. A sense of trust is of the utmost importance. Further, some organizations allow employees from departments other than marketing and communications to engage with customers. In such instances, it is critical that employees understand they are representing the brand, and that external departments buy into and support the effort.

Disparate consumer touch points

Companies are now able to connect with consumers in a variety of ways, through a variety of platforms, both online and offline. The number of different consumer touch points certainly makes it more challenging for companies to ensure that consumers are receiving positive, consistent experiences that are aligned with the brand. Well thought out digital strategies, including proper training and internal communication of brand values, will help ensure consistency.

Dated CRM strategies and research methodologies

While customer relationship management systems are still important, solely relying on them is not enough. Digital provides an opportunity to collect rich and relevant insights about customers, and how they want a brand to fit within the context of *their* lives. One new and evolving way to glean insights is through crowdsourcing, which enables a company to tap into the collective intelligence of a large group of people or community. Crowdsourcing could, for example, be used by a company to determine how it can improve its products and services, brainstorm products and services it should consider offering or, from a philanthropic standpoint, learn about causes its customers would like it to support.

So, how to get started with a digital strategy?  This is definitely a topic for another blog post, or a book (and there are many great ones out there!).  A good first step is for a company to figure out which social media platforms are most relevant for its brand. At minimum, consideration should be given towards cultivating a following on Twitter and a community on a Facebook Fan Page. Staff should get involved, engaging with customers on a daily basis, which will result in credibility and trust being built over the long term.

Ah yes, long term trust. Imagine the rewards that can be created, for both companies and consumers, through a forward-thinking digital mindset and well-conceived strategy.

Do any of the concerns mentioned above resonate with you? Has your company truly embraced digital?

Crowdsourcing: Vitamin Water Announces New Flavor

Following up on my earlier post about Vitamin Water’s crowdsourcing efforts to create and name a new flavor, a winner has now been selected. The new flavor, voted on by the brand’s Facebook fans, will be called “Connect” – with Facebook’s logo prominently displayed on the packaging.  All told, one million people participated in the initiative. That’s a lot of people who will no doubt be interested in buying the product.  What a great example of crowdsourcing!

Full details about the can be found here.