After a refreshing week at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, i find myself more motivated and energized than in a long time. John Maeda, the President of RISD gave a great presentation on creative leadership, while Tara Hunt shook some corporate foundations with the Whuffie factor ideology. In essence, my personal key take away from the conference was extremely liberating: we can be more human again. As crazy as it sounds, the information age has evolved heavily around information processing, where programs and computers are created to exercise calculations way too arduous for any human brain to complete day in and day out. This strong technology focus has and continues to be important, but we are also witnessing a pendulum shift towards utilizing the technology to be more human again. Being human is more about having conversations, collaborating and sharing. Social networks are enabling us to come together as tribes again, but simultaneously the same tribal rules apply: give love to get love. This is especially important for brands who wish to operate in this space.
Tribes work very similarly to a neighborhood. Different types of people come together to live their lives, have conversations, create relationships and make a living. A brand that wants to be a part of a neighborhood, needs to EARN their right to be there. Unfortunately, since the industrial revolution, brands have become accustomed to simply intruding the neighborhoods by bombarding their messages down consumers throats. It’s been easy for brands to do this, when you channel your advertising budgets through analog/one way media. The more you pay, the louder your microphone becomes. However, in the digital era, brands can’t replace time with money. Involvement in social media takes time and time is becoming the “new money” that companies need to see as their new working media.
Different brands can play different roles in the neighborhood, but it all comes down to bringing more value to the venue than what you take. Companies like Google are providing tools like their maps service, that allow other companies, communities and consumers to make use of their service in their own context. This has enabled Google to successfully expand their digital presence across the internet, as they are providing value in return for their service usage and visibility on other web properties. Other brands are using the Google API’s for creating marketing campaigns, mashing up their own services and recording their traveled journeys. Threadless on the other hand, is all about connecting people that share a passion for design and t-shirts. They have enabled an environment where you don’t only go to to buy nice t-shirts, but to submit designs and receive feedback from the community on how you could improve as an artist.
When i think about the 2 examples above, i think there’s some great references to brands being a part of a neighborhood. Google has provided the neighborhood with free electricity. The consumers can use the electricity as they please, while companies need to pay a small fee for it. Other brands can build more appliances that work with electricity and maybe each light bulb in the house has an ad that Google serves based on the type of household it is. (ok, maybe going a little too far there) Threadless on the other hand has built an art gallery that is open for anyone to submit their work and sell it. They have taken care of the facilities and even have a payment system in place. In both cases, the brands are being good neighbors by being enablers for the society and giving love to get love. These kinds of neighbors earn trust, respect and in the end, (yes, gotta say it), money.