Sunday, 11 March 2007

Open source marketing, without marketing

If you remember the Blair Witch Project, you will no doubt remember all the attendent hype. You'll remember that the film was made on a shoestring budget, but maybe not that it was also marketed for even less. Yet incredibly successfully.

Alex Wipperfurth's superb book Brand Hijack explains how, and presents a framework adopted by Red Bull, by Apple and many others whereby brand managers are turning to the masses to define, segment and market their products for them.

"With enough eyes, all bugs are shallow". It seems that with enough Is, brands are in fact deeper. Wipperfurth talks convincingly about the "tribes" and "cults" that have sprung up around various totem poles. Rather than erecting the poles, successful companies are instead handing out chisels and letting the good people do it for them. The resulting brands succeed because they are "defined by cool" - rather than "chasing cool". The result of this - loyalty beyond reason and high profits, though not necessarily from where you thought.

One step of logic not open when the book was published was that of Second Life. If you want to open source a brand - why not do it online where speed of interaction is high and cost is low. Nike might want to look at World of Warcraft for their next product launch. Boots of striding and leaping?

Pabst Blue Label beer - which features strongly in the book - is already at it.

Though not explictly labelled "open source" it seems a good example of the concept's spread from traditional software sector. How much further it goes is open for debate. Services, I'd suggest, could all easily follow. With little fixed cost centres and easily facilitated peer review and recommendation, services like marketing and consulting are well suited to open sourcing. Business Week last podcast even told of mining companies open sourcing the search for gold.

Pharmaceuticals, heavily regulated with high fixed cost assets (laboratories, etc.) will have trouble following. Whilst code or brand is hard to fake, clinical trials cannot be subjected to remote peer review so easily. If anyone knows of any advance examples it'd be great to hear about them. For now it seems those "bugs" are of the electronic kind only.


torriolanus said...

Most interesting. I don't know how effective it is but it certainly must be cheaper, if you're Pabst, to have your customers design your beer can for you, rather than pay designers to do so and researchers to test it. Is there a danger, though, that competitors will try to sabotage the outcome by posing as well-wishing consumers?

hmatt said...

It's a good point, yet I'd suggest the open sourcing era is one which will be ruled by crowds.

If you have a couple of hundred thousand consumers shaping your brand, your competitors must employ an awful lot of saboteurs if they are to derail the viral growth of a cult and it's icon.

The wisdom of crowds should keep your juggernaut followers stampeding over the banana skins of your rivals.

That's if you go the whole way, and give control to the market, and have a great product worthy of a cult.

If you are half-hearted and try to hoodwink or patronise (the book gives examples of big companies mistaking expensive "hype" for profitable brand hijack).

If your product is second-rate or sham, it will be exposed. In this paradigm, the brand consultants won't hide the flaws. They simply won't buy.

Wipperfurth's only example where an "ordinary" product got hijacked is Pabst Blue Label. And that was hijacked (apparently) because in the US beer market it turned out "ordinary" was pretty extra-ordinary.

It'll be hard for some big companies to make the change. Lots of highly paid consultants and marketeers with massive vested interest to keep treating the consumer as a sheep to be fleeced.

As you rightly say - big cost centre.

Peter said...

I'll get hold of this book - looks great.

hmatt said...

Hope you enjoy it too. It's a great book, with (importantly) the best cover about.

lolo said...

It seems to be great stuff but I am not convinced about the wisdom of crowds as even if the crowds usually look for differenciation from others, it is often not by a creative manner but to be first to copy from the "fashionnable world" of movie stars, footballers or even second life celebrities, etc. so it could create just a movement of fast followers and not real brand opportunities.

hmatt said...

I agree that the wisdom of crowds might not generate the extremity of uniqueness and success.

Then again, if its the crowd that will be buying, maybe their wisdom would be a good formula for financial success!

sscheidl said...

The book Chasing Cool i all about the need to have a specific focus when marketing products.

I loved the book! It kept me entertained throughout the whole thing. Hearing individual examples from nightclubs, Barneys, Airlines, etc. was an excellent way to give advice to entrepreneurs on how to stand out. I especially liked the excerpts about Barneys. Before reading Chasing Cool I never really knew the history behind Barneys being a discount store. I found the story behind bringing high-end brands such as Versace and Prada to the United States to be very motivating. This is an excellent example of how following your instincts and going where no one has gone before can prove to be very rewarding. This book will definitely be a reference point for me as I enter the workforce and attempt to stand out myself in today’s marketplace."

Frank Polenose said...

Looks like a great purchase to me.
Thanks, Frank @ Loans