Large U.S. companies like General Motors are using MySpace models to strengthen their brands. No longer satisfied with costly surveys or focus groups to decide which new products and services they should develop, big brands are exploiting the social power of the internet to talk "directly" with customers.
They are inviting 100 to 800 carefully selected customers to join password-protected customer spaces. These spaces are virtual, secure, and closely presided over by third-party facilitators hoping to glean trends and preferences. Using instant messaging, online surveys, email, and telephone, participants share ideas with others like themselves. (Companies sometimes eavesdrop.) Customers are rewarded with gift cards and the feeling that they have contributed to corporate America.
I do believe these spaces help large, somewhat arthritic, companies sell more under their brand umbrellas. I am not certain that consumers are better off having more personalized brands. I am talking about people getting what they need, not what they want.
Ironically, personalized brands give us one more way to detach our selves from ourselves.
A couple of other observations on password-protected customer spaces:
- This is listening--which is a good start. It is not collaborating. It is the nature of these companies to hear what they want to hear.
- The idea that people like you and I are low-cost/no-cost marketing "resources" is perverse. Yet, this is what many companies think.
- Communities are inherently organic and cannot be artificially constructed. A group with community characteristics is just a fancy focus group.
- The re-thinking of business models and processes has much more potential for brand innovation than walking around in customers' shoes. Try walking around in partners' or employees' shoes. Customers will almost never tell you how to change internally, but they may tell you to get of their shoes!
Have a great weekend.