Companies utilizing crowdsourcing should know that a consistent brand experience can be your best marketing friend. But a brand that has lost its way can also be your worst enemy. Crowdsourcing participants are seeking a consistently branded and engaging experience wherever they engage with your company or organization; whether it's online, in a community, in a retail store or at an event. You have to be religious about defining, designing and applying your brand.
So what’s a great brand? Well-known brands are more than logos, colors and slogans. A brand is a promise. An authentic brand generates trust and loyalty from consumers. A forward thinking brand helps customers make decisions. A great brand helps turn customers into evangelists for products, services, ideas, or even other people. Founder Yves Chouinard's Patagonia brand (a pioneering outdoor clothing company) is a great example of this; whether it's their Facebook or web page, their Footprint Chronicles® community, their store design, or the corporate culture, everything is on brand: and that brand is honesty and transparency and nature-friendly by design.
In Yves Chouinard's book, “Let My People Go Surfing,” (a must read) Yves speaks of defining Patagonia’s philosophies (for design, production, distribution, image, HR, finance, management and the environment) as guidelines, not rules. These are keystones to their brand’s approach to any project, and although they are set in stone, their application to a situation isn't limited by hard and fast rules. Their brand values, culture and philosophies remain constant, alive, and define their every decision. This is one of the most inspirational books I've read in the last 10 years, particularly because of Patagonia's corporate philosophy; the book lays out their re-definition of the “responsibility of business” to steward their natural resource base. Without nature, there would be no shareholders, no employees, no customers, no business.
Where crowdsourcing sometimes gets this wrong is when the heart and soul of the brand is forgotten and the technology supporting the community becomes the centre of attention. The web interface may have the brand’s identity, it may even have the famous tagline, but it just doesn't act or feel like the brand the participants have come to love. And that's a missed opportunity. Imagine a group of brand fans waiting to tell you how they can help you make your product or service even better, but when they arrive at your online door, everything is a non-descript beige with a logo in the corner, and they're not even sure if this online community is the real thing or not… not to mention those robot moderators.
Today, a consumer wants a seamless experience. For example, a customer buying the latest in outdoor gear (for example my new feather down sweater), with one click I can view the product footprint. Consumers want to use their smart phone in the store to learn more about your product, and engage with your brand while they’re buying it. They want to be on Facebook seeing pictures of new products and be invited to join a great brand community where they can share their opinions and ideas. Brands need to spend the time and resources to design and fulfill their brand promise via their communities (including the customer-facing technology and tools) so that every opportunity consumers have to support your brand message is taken. It is one of the most cost-effective ways to fully engage consumers, or your brand participants.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all formula of how to weave a brand into your community design. Brand elements that can be used to help the participant quickly feel “at home” include: style of image, colour, wording, tone, posting frequency, pull vs. push activities, types of incentives offered, and so on. Companies that really understand this branded community concept are H&M, with their playful and colourful photos that are frequently shared on Facebook; Apple’s clear corporate message, easy navigation and iconic visuals remain constant on their pages; and Volkswagen’s love of adventure is experienced through the tone, the words and the images they choose to represent their brand. Each of these examples immediately immerses the participant in a visual and verbal experience whether they’re on websites, mobile devices, or opting into marketing promotions.
These are excellent examples of companies who truly believe in the power of a great brand and practice that belief every day – whether it’s for crowdsourcing or any other form of brand participation. What company do you think does the best job keeping their brand in tact across all platforms?