Strategy

Servility or Clarity?

Trendwatching’s October brief – Servile Brands, reminded me of a favourite OTA which was generating some buzz recently for publicly firing its PR agency. (enough clues, but no names lest I should be accused of SEO bait 😀 ) ‘Servile’ is defined as “turning your brand into a lifestyle servant focused on catering to the needs, desires and whims of your customers, wherever and whenever they are.” It relates to brands having to evolve to factors such as (from the trend brief) on demand, time compression and consumers no longer revering brands.

Meanwhile, I would think that being ‘servile’ is scalable and useful only to a certain extent, even if an organisation is supremely wired to be the jargon word that is on an upward swing in the hype cycle – social business. In fact, I’d argue that a business can be social only if it has a clear understanding of what it stands for in terms of what its business is and how it conducts it, who its consumers are and therefore what needs it wants to satisfy. (the order of the last 2 can be switched as well) I also instinctively think that brands which can communicate this clarity across its various interactions will pull the kind of consumers it wants to have.

‘Servile’ implies that brands place the consumer’s needs above its own. I’m really not sure of this. Social or not, brands are in business. I doubt if bending over backward on every service request that every consumer has is a viable strategy. The reason why I remembered the aforementioned OTA is because of their reaction to an incident I wrote about in ‘Mean Brands‘.

The current version of social – pandering to every consumer – is arguably swinging to this extreme. Hopefully, brands will soon learn that there is a middle path and that is the most viable one. The brands who reach there faster will be able to weather the storms ahead better, because they would have a compass. The compass is their clarity of purpose. Scaling it across the organisation is the challenge, and the fun. :)

until next time, all clear?

On the first death of Facebook Commerce…

Towards the middle of last year, I’d written a column at afaqs on how social and commerce were in a relationship. A few months later, I revisited the premise on a tangent and wrote an article for Kuliza titled “Social + e-commerce ≠ Social Commerce“. (pg 25)

All through last week, after the Bloomberg report, in which a Forrester analyst phrased it as “But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar“, I’ve been reading post after post proclaiming the demise of what has been called f-com. (Facebook Commerce) It finally made me tweet this

I realised later that a similar statement had already been made – “Opening a storefront does not mean you have a social commerce strategy…” ~ Justin Yoshimura. In fact, f-com itself should only be one part of a brand’s larger Facebook strategy. The advice being given to brands, along with the news of the demise, is that they should make their own e-com sites more social. Fair enough, but what I don’t get is the mutual exclusivity. Indeed, if brands have adopted an f-com strategy that basically allows users to buy the same things available at their e- store, I wonder why they thought users would flock there. Yes, it does give the brand visibility, proximity to the customer, use of the social graph (like, recommend, share) etc but to the user, there’s really no value. In fact, f-com checkouts are apparently much slower.

Examples of ‘inherently social businesses’ (entertainment, music, games) are being taken as exceptions to the closure trend. IMO, every business (arguably) is inherently social, the trick (actually the hard work) is in finding the social context. Many brands have created value through fan-exclusives, (Heinz) CRM initiatives (Starbucks) free sampling (Pantene) etc. I can understand that coffee is probably social, but shampoo and ketchup?

Part of the fault is to do with the astronomical predictions on the kind of sales these Facebook storefronts were going to generate, part of it is to do with the trigger-happiness that unfortunately shadows most of everything on social platforms.  If brands learned to also pay attention to interest graphs on the network, and create scenarios that use the inherent (and phenomenal) social graph and new features like friction-less sharing better, Facebook can play an excellent role in the overall e-com strategy. As always, the answer is in focusing on user behaviour and experience and not allowing technology and fads to create a myopic vision. The old adage holds – Fail fast. Learn fast. Fix fast.

until next time, f-c’mon

Gamification – Level 2

I’ve spent quite some in the last week exploring gamification – going through documentation and perspectives that have been shared online. While there’s a simplicity in the basic concept, application is a totally different story. So as with all games, I’m going to navigate step by step, until a larger picture reveals itself over a few posts.

One of the things that I have thought about is where one would start. Since I’ve operated mostly on consumer brands, my thoughts were skewed in that direction. Most of the white papers outline a fairly simple approach that consists of defining goals, identifying users and rewarding engagement. Of course, it’s only the outline that’s simple, and application design is the real challenge. As games designer Sebastian Deterding (creator of the ‘Gamification and its Discontents’ presentation I shared last week) has written “Games are not fun because they’re games, but when they are well-designed”

One of my favourite posts on the subject is Kathy Sierra’s “Pixie Dust and the mountain of mediocrity” (this is the original post, for some reason it wasn’t opening, hence the FB link) It underlines the point about putting lipstick on a pig, and is applicable to every buzzword that appears on the horizon. Marketers (I generalise here) have been guilty of taking the easy path and focusing on the what (tools and frills) and not focusing on digging deeper and understanding the why. That probably explains why Kathy is “passionately against ‘gamification'”

Every brand – consumer or enterprise, serves a purpose for its user. In Kathy’s words, “make people better at something they want to be better at.” If they don’t do that yet, then they might want to get around to doing it. Brands wants users to do certain things, and it invariably boils down to a sale, and repeat sales. Every interaction in a marketing funnel is most likely a step towards pushing the user in this direction. Once upon a time, brands achieved this through one way communication on mass media, and other available means like Direct Mails and Ground promotions. The rise of social platforms allowed brands to listen more closely and gave them an avenue for understanding user motivations, reacting accordingly, having a conversation with consumers and taking word-of-mouth to levels hitherto unexplored. But rewarding this, especially if working on monetary premises, is not likely to be economical. Nor is ‘share with friends’ a great ploy because it does amount to spam. I think what gamification does is help marketers link the brand’s purpose in the life of the user to his journey in getting there, all the while utilising user motivations to create a different ecosystem of rewards that help the brand as well as the user. It then continues to give the marketer means to make the user ‘stick’ – retention.

Just like the previous season’s buzzword – social media – this too cannot afford a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Nor can it work by adding meaningless points and badges to an ill conceived process/product. Brands would have to align their own purpose, the role it plays in users’ lives, understand personal, group and social motivations and make their own game mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics that accommodates instant gratification as well as long term purposes.

until next time, level up

Consumer Tracks

I heard a very interesting quote recently, attributed to Rishad Tobaccowala

When consumers hear about a product today, their first reaction is ‘Let me search online for it.’ And so they go on a journey of discovery: about a product, a service, an issue, an opportunity. Today you are not behind your competition. You are not behind the technology. You are behind your consumer.

That reminded of the title of a post last month from Mitch Joel – “The Ever-Evolving Consumer Evolves (Again)“, in which he talks about how consumers are now more advanced than marketers in terms of technology and how they communicate. Quite agree in general, though it varies with geography, kind of demographic and so on.

Simplistically put, word of mouth with a technology assist. You'd say that every 'social media' presentation has a version of it, and I'd have to agree. But the interesting part is how brands react. For the purpose of this post, let me give you a contemporary tool based example.

Within a few days of the launch of Google +, a few brands jumped on to the wagon. They weren't just content sites, but regular brands. Only to be told by Google to lay off until they were officially allowed to. Were the brands behind the con

sumers in this case? Or technology tool? Not. But even if they were allowed to operate in Plus, would that guarantee a success story? Not necessarily. That's probably because many a time, when brands (and brand managers) get to know about technology, they choose the easy way out. Order the agency to create a page/handle/group and get x number of fans/friends/followers, post some content to 'tick' engagement and then wait for the next shiny object. The harder way is to understand why people are active on the social platforms and the networks that are created within. In this context, relationship and trust. Something that brands lost when they made full use of the fact that traditional media didn't allow consumers to talk back.

Mitch Joel is right when he says that brands finally found an answer to the first coming of the web. They answered the 'why' reasonably well – information, and built websites. But with an explosion in platforms and interactivity, the answers this time around aren't that simple. Having a touch point at every new internet nation state is a great thing, but if brands look at the new shiny technology/service through the prism of why users are flocking to it, and go through the data – information – knowledge – wisdom path to figure out if/how they can use the technology/service to anticipate and meet consumer needs, they might be evolving a better and scalable strategy for the days ahead.

until next time, to corrupt a cricket line, platform is temporary, class is permanent 😉

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All hands on deck

Since tis still the season of predictions and ‘looking forward to in 2011’, and because I brought up the subject of brand agencies reshaping themselves for the future, I thought I’d share with you three of my favourite decks of insights from the many that I managed to scan in the last few weeks.

We’ll begin with JWT’s ‘100 Things to Watch in 2011’. (via Surekha on Reader) While there are many things in this that you might already think is a trend, what I liked about it is its thinking outside of any specific prisms – brands, technology etc, but still managing to capture the  essence of trends in human behaviour, culture, consumption, the shifts happening therein, and thus, a good reckoner for marketers.

The second one I’d like to share is Edelman’s ‘Digital Trends to Watch in 2011’. Though there are a few commonalities with the JWT deck, this seems more focused. While this is definitely quite a sensible thing to do from a client perspective, I missed the “completely out of the blue, but damn, why didn’t I think of it?” moments that I usually associate with its creators. But that’s just a testament to my high regards for Armano and Rubel, more than anything else. What I liked most about this was the trend + best practice combining, that layering gives excellent perspective.

The last one I’d like to share is Rohit Bhargava’s ’15 Marketing & Social Trends to watch in 2011′ (via Gauravonomics). There might be some overlap with the other two, but again, the idea of examples with each trend makes it a must-read, in addition to the overall quality of insights.

While its easy to see that there are commonalities in these, I also noticed an interesting thread of thought that  resonated most with me.

‘There’s an app for everything everywhere’ is perhaps the underlying theme in #3 (Apps Beyond Mobile), #7 (Ubiquitous Social Computing, more specifically its best practice) and #9 (Appification of the web) in the JWT, Edelman and Rohit presentations. We then move on to ‘production of consumable content and experiences across platforms’  that connects #93 (Transmedia Producers – faint connection), #4 (Transmedia storytelling) in the JWT and Edelman presentations respectively. And at last, we move on to how it can scale which is brought out through #3 (Developer engagement) in Edelman’s presentation and #7 (Crowdsourced innovation) and #11 (Employees as heroes) in Rohit Bhargava’s presentation.

While I may not endorse a brand strategy only basis tools, the ‘appification’ across platforms actually throws open the door for marketers to not just satisfy their ‘short head’ consumers in better ways, but explore the ways to reach the ‘long tail’. It allows them to blend or distribute their ‘story’ across platforms and if done well, raise the interest level of their consumers. And an agency or brand manager cannot do it alone. While the idea of crowdsourcing is looked down upon by many, there are enough examples to show that if targeted well and executed with clarity, it can deliver results. More importantly, here, the ‘crowd’ is not consumers, but developers who can re-create the brand’s experience on multiple platforms, and employees who can create a human story that will resonate with others.

If these possibilities for 2011 don’t excite you, I’ll try again next week, but I really don’t have any more of these awesome presentations to back me up.

until next time, slide rules!

Group Pwn

I’ve never gotten around to trying group buying/deal sites until once recently, though I always thought that they were fulfilling a need for businesses and consumers. But when I read this ‘peculiar’ story titled Groupon’s Success Disaster, I found myself identifying with it (from a consumer perspective, we’ll get to that in a bit) and since the number of group buying sites in India is only a few numbers lesser than the number of social media consultants, I thought it made sense to spare a few thoughts on it.

The (linked above) story is of a small business owner, who, after 3 months of using Groupon, discovered that the deals were hurting the business financially and then had to take $8000 out of savings to cover payroll. Considering that, I thought the Groupon reply has quite a cruel title – ‘Too much of a good thing‘, but it is well drafted.

The win-win for business-consumer in this is because it gives the former a chance to spread the word on the service and probably get some feedback on it and the latter mostly gets a good deal. Like I mentioned, I used a site recently for what seemed like a good deal. Though the deal process was painless, I ended up spending more money than what I normally would, thanks to a mis-communication (and some carelessness on my part). It means that I won’t be a repeat customer. It ends up as a lose-lose. Now this is probably the exception to how it usually happens, but…

It did make me think whether the business owners get into deals with a strategy in place. Not just in terms of finance, but also in terms of their expectations of buzz, their delivery capability as well as how they’d manage to make the customer return. When it is kept in mind that social platforms and deal sites are mostly interwoven, I think it’d make sense for the business to use their service delivery (assumed good) and connect it to their social presence. A “We hope you liked it. Here’s an x% discount for your next visit and we would really appreciate it if you could leave your comments on FB/Twitter” approach. Facebook would especially help the business to spread the word beyond the usual early adopter set. While on retail, its difficult not to mention Foursquare. Though I’d love it if Foursquare aggregated the deals themselves, the businesses definitely can get active on Foursquare and push their deals to users nearby.

With the (limited) examples I’ve seen, I doubt whether this is being done. So it reminds me of a lot of advertising,  and most social media efforts. The former because the message and the product/service are rarely (generalising) in sync, and the latter because of the lack of strategy and the herd mentality.

until next time, regroup!

Brand Chats – Google & Godin

Last week, Seth Godin’s company Squidoo launched “Brands in Public” (BIP from now), a  service which creates pages -‘public-facing dashboards’ that aggregate conversations about brands on Twitter, YouTube and blogs, in addition to news, videos, images etc. BIP will create the pages anyway, but for a fee, brands can develop this page. Brands then get control of the left column on the page, and can respond to the content, highlight certain content, run contests etc. (example) In Seth Godin’s own words, brands “can respond, lead and organize.”As Godin himself states, there are many monitoring tools online (found an excellent wiki by Ken Burbary) which can be used to ‘listen’ to the conversation, but this service allows brands to respond publicly.

I saw a couple of posts which asked an interesting question – whether by creating pages ‘anyway’, Godin was brandjacking. Godin had clarified that if a brand requested him to take a page off, he would do so. And in a later update (to clear the air) he took off the 200 sample pages that had been put up. Bravo! Not that there was anything technically wrong with it – after all, like one of the articles states, Google does something similar- sell ads next to contextually relevant others- generated content (search, ad sense on sites), but the non-paid for brand pages just didn’t sound right.

But it made me wonder again about the location of brand-consumer conversations. Before we get to that, another interesting news item in context, albeit a bit tangentially. Last week, Google launched Sidewiki, “which allows you to contribute helpful information next to any webpage. Google Sidewiki appears as a browser sidebar, where you can read and write entries along the side of the page.” The entries which are shown, are selected not by recency, but an algorithm that has among other things – the contributor’s previous entries and the feedback on the entry. Moreover the entry will also be used on sites with the same content. Users will have to be logged into Google for leaving comments and rating.

As Jason Falls notes in his post about Sidewiki, this adds another layer for brands to keep in touch with, because users may not even have to search for information about the website (or the product/service sold there). If they have the toolbar downloaded, they can see the information as they browse the site. He also rightly remarks (IMO) that we should expect ads (even that of competitors) in the wiki soon. Meanwhile, like any good social product, there is no control that a brand can exert on this content, as it exists on Google’s servers. Jeremiah Owyang  also has a post on the same subject, which offers several great insights and advice. Apparently, the comments a user leaves will also be displayed on his Google profile. The web as one giant social network, he’s right, that’s what Google’s after. There is also the option of sharing it on Facebook/Twitter. It’d be interesting to see a Facebook version of this whenever it happens – a play with Facebook Connect, the website, and perhaps, Facebook fan pages. The Facebook newsfeed means that it can bring the conversation back to Facebook. That’s something Google can’t do..yet.

Now, back to the location. Attempts are being made to aggregate these conversations, and in BIP’s case make it a conversation involving the brand itself. My problem was not with brandjacking, the conversations are happening anyway, and brands are free to create their own ways of aggregation and response, I was more concerned with two other things. One, the creation of a destination point , a ‘middle man’ whose only context connecting its users was the brand itself. Like a subject popping up while chatting over coffee vs a focus group – they both have their uses, but for me, the former is more social media, simply because of the difference in intent. To be fair, I’ve always thought aggregation was inevitable, but Chris Brogan wrote recently about ‘Feeling the Community‘, where he talks about how “we don’t join communities because we  happen to like a product or service. We gather around people who feel what we feel, and we share passion for things that bring us some sense of pleasure or joy, or even healing.” I can completely relate to that, it is the reason I’m not a fan of many things on FB, and was/am not an active member of the groups I’d joined. Now, I talk about all these things (whose group/fan page I am part of) on Twitter. I follow blogs and use these as conversation points there, on Twitter and offline, whenever I feel there is a context, and whenever I can identify with what’s being said on the subject.  What I’m trying to say is that the objects (brands) or even the platforms are not the important context, the people are. Even though the brand has an identity and a personality, different people associate to the same brand differently, and my conversations happen with people who I feel can relate to what I’m saying. Also, the aggregation may not really show the context in which a comment was made. (esp. Twitter). For that, the brand has to be present on Twitter. I’m not sure whether an aggregation point would have the same effect. Woods, trees, and mistakes.

The second issue I have is whether such destination points would tend to become band-aid fixes for a larger problem. Would brands approach the issues with a short term tactical mindset – highlight the issues that they’re able to solve, gloss over the ones they can’t? In essence, see this a point where they can control the conversations? Shouldn’t the greater priority for organisations be changing their internal processes and structures to adapt to social media, than having a dashboard responding to comments? I’m just not very sure it can work in parallel.

So, conversations on the brand website, on its side, and on some other site..actually everywhere. At some point, all data would have to become portable, and depending on context (and perhaps other parameters) I would choose the platform/service/location for interaction. For now, world wild web indeed. :)

until next time, a website with a sidekick 😉

Flipping news models

Google’s Fast Flip has been receiving quite a lot of attention these days. Based on the Google News model of aggregation and categorisation, Google has partnered with quite  few sources including BBC, BusinessWeek, Washington Post, New York time, to name a few, which shows previews of their pages on Fast Flip, but looks exactly like they would on the source site, almost. We’ll come to that in a bit. The stories can be accessed basis sources, sections and the other parameters we are used to – recent, most viewed, recommended etc. Oh, yes, much of it is the user interface, that lets you ‘flip’ through the content, ‘like’ stories, and you can click through to the source site, if you want to read the full story. It has its rough edges, and is far from being any sort of killer to anyone, but its a damn good start, much better than any interface that any publication has brought out so far. On the revenue front, there are contextual ads on Fast Flip itself, and Google will be sharing revenue with newspapers. It is interesting to note that the previews of the source sites do not include ads. So if I am able to read a story completely in the preview, (which in many cases I am), I wouldn’t go to the source site, nor would I see/click the ads there. This is potentially an area of conflict, since the (shared) revenue from the one ad that’s displayed on Fast Flip cannot compare with the revenue from the source site. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a time when perhaps, Google Reader will have a similar interface. 😉

In the last few weeks, this is the second instance of Google engaging with publications and ‘helping’ them create a revenue stream. The first instance was Google sending a proposal for micropayments, in response to a request for paid content proposals from the Newspaper Association of America. As per an NYTimes blog, this would be an extension of Google Checkout. Google is only one of the companies that have sent a proposal, and the list includes Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. The system is of course in its early planning stages, and the business model has a 30-70 split (Google-publisher). Though Google still doesn’t believe that paying for content will be the remedy for newspapers’ woes, it  still has a vision of a premium content ecosystem, which includes five key features that combine the Google’s e-commerce, search, and advertising platforms.

While Google is described by many as the single largest threat to newspapers, its definitely not the only one. From new hyperlocal community sites (eg. Patch) to remnants of old giants (AOL’s Digital City, Yahoo Local) and from new age media entities like Huffington Post to new and varied kinds of aggregators (Guzzle.it, OurSignal, MeeHive, Thoora) different services are catering to the different needs that newspapers used to satisfy. The important aspect is that the new entities are well versed in leveraging the latest tools and collaborating with those who can add to their utility value. A good example would be the tie up between Huffington Post and Facebook for HuffPost Social News. Social sharing, real time are changing the way news is being consumed. I recently read about The Twitter Times, which creates a customised ‘newspaper’ by checking the links from people you follow, and the popularity of those links. Even while massive changes are happening online, and affecting the lifestyle of individuals and society at large, newspapers are still grappling with how to evolve new business models. (a good, albeit dated read on battle plans)

There was a short but interesting discussion on Twitter a few days back, where Surekha brought up the example of PressDisplay’s business model (aggregation of various newspapers and consumers pay for access) to ask whether a DTH kind of model would work for newspapers. I didn’t think it would. The only other distribution network for television content is the local cable guy (ignoring the web for now). But ‘news’ and even the ‘features’ content can find its way to the consumer through multiple sources and media – TV, web, mobile, and multiple sources within that.  The entry barriers have fallen drastically. Scarcity model vs Abundance model. Keeping in mind the cost that newspapers incur in creating the content and the incremental value that they give the consumer, how much would a consumer pay a newspaper aggregator, and how much would the newspapers get out of that. Yes, Press Display will make money, but ask newspapers to survive only on that revenue or even that plus web advertising, and it would be a tough task. This is why newspapers are finding it hard to negotiate this transition stage (discussed earlier) because its not one answer and its definitely not a common answer. Again, as I’ve discussed here earlier, there are inherent differences between news gathering processes in the print and online space – batch processing vs real time processing. It calls for a (albeit cliched) leaner meaner structure, not just for operations’ sake, but also perhaps from a profitability perspective.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that its not just processes, there is a cultural angle to this. As Terry Heaton points out in “The Web’s widening stream“, the knack of creating and facing disruptive innovations. We’ve discussed David and Goliath before, David becomes version 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 faster and faster, each version better than the other (because he fixes the bugs in 1.1, 2.5 etc) while Goliath reels because it can’t even figure out the answer to 1.0.  His strength has become his weakness – scale, and he doesn’t have a culture that encourages moving fast, learning from mistakes, being open to changes amongst other things. In fact, newspapers have been lazy and guilty of doing the exact thing that Seth Godin warns about in “Flipping abundance and scarcity” – putting free on top of a business model, and now rapidly trying to change it.

I don’t think India is impervious to these changes, the time frame will vary because of several factors – technology adoption delays, vernacular content to name a couple, but as I keep repeating, its no time to be complacent. From Rediff and Instablogs which have evolved their own news collection systems to hyperlocal players of different kinds – governance based like Praja, Citizen Matters, local businesses review based like Burrp, and several other niches, the different domains of newspapers are being challenged. More importantly we’re increasingly getting used to ‘streams’ – FB, Twitter etc. The principal revenue model of newspapers has been advertising (as opposed to circulation), they have been the medium to reach audiences, with the most basic of audience filtering. The radical change (as Heaton points out) is that advertisers can be part of the stream themselves, with such filtration techniques that they can target an individual if necessary. So, for newspapers, if the advertiser won’t pay, the reader has to. The reader , meanwhile has figured out that on the web, he has an abundance of choices.

until next time, stop press?

Social deluxe

Sometime back, Mashable had an interesting post on luxury brands and social media. While a few points were raised on the challenges, the one that interested me most was how the facet of  ‘exclusivity’ could be balanced with the relatively open nature of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. The post also highlights a couple of examples – the aspiration based FB fanpage of Gucci and the invite-only closed social network of Mercedes Benz – GenerationBenz.com. The examples were interesting because they were two different approaches – of how luxury brands can use social media. On a related note, Jeremiah Owyang wrote a post a few days back – 5 ways luxury brands can overcome the conundrum of social marketing.

Before we discuss the specific usage on social media, how exactly do brands become classified as luxury? According to the post above, “When linked to brands, it is characterized by a recognizable style, strong identity, high awareness, and enhanced emotional and symbolic associations. It evokes uniqueness and exclusivity, and is interpreted in products through high quality, controlled distribution and premium pricing”. I assume the above takes into the account the parameter of service – not just in the case of say, hospitality or other service luxury brands, but even regular luxury brands, since the overall experience (from the retail experience of shopping for the brand to post purchase service) is key to earning the tag of a luxury brand.

With regards to social media, I’d say that social media has this way of stripping the veneer, of removing the fluff around entities so that its reputation is made/broken basis its performance on the core value it provides. In fact, sometimes even the cost of ‘production’ is not taken into account, the audience expects things for free and the crowd makes its own sense of value for the product. (yes, I am referring to the interesting free vs paid debate) Wired has an excellent article titled ‘The Good Enough Revolution‘, where it takes examples from various sectors to show how, with advancing technology, consumers’ expectations from their purchases are changing drastically – the rise of the ‘good enough’ tools. While it is essentially attributed to the busy lives we lead now, the fact that it is also ideal for recessionary times is highlighted. From the article,

We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as “high-quality.”

Of course, there still is an audience that doesn’t live by these credos, but that’s perhaps not really a large number. One could argue that this was the only audience that mattered to luxury brands anyway, but If this trend catches on, then the entire premise of luxury branding becomes wobbly. PSFK has an interesting note on a Louis Vuitton Calabash – on mixing the notions of utility and luxury, and how the addition of a designer label on a commonplace item raises a question on the value of things. A lot of the luxury brand’s aura is through maintaining a perception among the audience, and keeping itself as an aspiration among potential consumers – couching utility in intangibles. This is not taking away anything from the quality of the product per se, but the entire concept of ‘brand’ is usually seen as a way to distinguish the product from similar products and take it to a level  above that of a commodity. A lot of communication these days is about the aura/show off value of the luxury brand than anything to do with the product superiority. In a way, its quite logical (and obvious) because if luxury brands focus on the utilitarian value of their product, they really wouldn’t get ahead. The counter point to this would be that the premium charged by the luxury brand is for the emotional high of using the brand, in addition to the (hopefully) superior quality that it provides. Does it mean that luxury brands would have to relook at the premiums they charge?

But having said all that, there are quite a few things that seem to point towards potential synergy between luxury brands and social media. One of the points that Jeremiah mentioned in his post is the usage of celebrity associations. Celebrities are now running rampant on social networks, and luxury brands have a good means of weaving themselves into the conversation, and increasing their aspiration value. Usage by a celebrity also gives them a context to kickstart conversations. Also, social media is about emotional connect and sharing. If much of a luxury brand’s aura is built on the emotional appeal, then it can use social media very well to its advantage. After all, what other medium offers such easy methods to spread some ‘show off’ value? :) I thought the Mercedes Benz idea of a closed network would be great if they allowed users at least partial portability of data to other networks. (to, rather than from) The ‘share’ aspect of social media will also help identify potential customers via existing ones. But most importantly, I feel the biggest use of social media (actually the web in general) for luxury brands is the audience data that is being generated on a regular basis, real time. It offers better segmenting and targeting opportunities, and while this is applicable to all brands, it is all the more important for luxury brands. This can be used for gaining more insights, encouraging sampling and so on.

It is definitely an interesting conundrum, but the web, thankfully has space for all kinds, I think. Will appreciate your thoughts. :)

until next time, the luxury of real time? 😉