A brand is a nebulous thing. It's the sum of the perceptions, feelings and beliefs toward a given company.
A recent trend in interactive marketing is to try and create websites that "capture" the online essence of the brand (Modernista, Skittles, and CP+B). Some have called these brand mirrors, others have called them brand nets. The gist of these websites is to give you insight into what people are saying about that company/product across the web. Whether good or bad, they highlight mentions on twitter/wikipedia etc.
Is this trend a gimmick, or the future? It's a little bit of both. The reality is most of these executions are more gimmick than not. At least CP+B's brand promise is creating advertising people talk about, so by showing just how much people are talking about their work, they accomplish what they set out to do. Skittles... not so much. Too often brand nets are more narcissistic than useful. They monitor the conversation without participating in it.
The real future is in building branded websites that transcend the traditional limits of the online space. They merge offline content and activities in powerful new online ways. Red Bull's new site is a good example of this. They use all of their sponsored events, athletes and spectacles to generate content that's exclusive to the web. This content shows by example what it means to give people wings. They take something that most people think of solely as "offline", event marketing, and use it to generate tons of solid content for their website.
Brand "nets" may not be the future, but branded content is here to stay.
What if we looked at new ideas as a combination of all the previous good ideas they contained, instead of as completely new inventions. The Macintosh wasn't the first computer, the first GUI, or the first mouse. The Model T wasn't the first combustion engine, the first car or the first Ford. The same goes for the iPod and the the incandescent lightbulb.
The new ideas that become truly influential are a combination of previously proven ideas that in their totality turn into something special. The genius of innovation is almost never a revolutionary new idea. Most often innovation is combining a series of previously unrelated items into something that by nature of their combination becomes new and remarkable.
A lot gets said about the need for companies to innovate, but not much gets said about what happens when you innovate too early. Because big ideas have small time frames, innovating too early often leads to the same end as not innovating at all.
At my last job I setup a deal between my company and another startup called Lookery. Lookery was in the business of connecting publishers to advertisers by monetizing users' cookie profiles. From my end it seemed like Lookery had a compelling offering, and they did, but unfortunately Lookery was recently forced to close shop.
Scott Rafer, the CEO of Lookery, writes on his blog:
Once we sold the ad network, I fell into a bad old habit — persuading my team to build something before the market was ready for it.
If you keep an eye on the startup scene, especially in the tech sector, you'll see a large number of companies failing because the market isn't ready. It's simultaneously refreshing and sobering to see so many entrepreneurs trying to make their ideas work. Refreshing because they are trying, and sobering because they are failing. These companies serve as a warning sign: sometimes, speed isn't everything. The first mover advantage is, in fact, not always an advantage.
Good salesmen educate their customers about what appear to be little differences. When it comes to a suit, it's not the practicality or aesthetic value of two buttons, three buttons, or brass buttons that matters -- it's the history behind the particular style, the story of the brand that made it, and the pop culture surrounding it. These seemingly little differences are, in fact, extremely important. Without them, the suit business would be in trouble.
Strategy is king. Though the internet has revolutionized our mediums and given us new tools to work with, success is still largely dictated by strategies that have been effective for years past. Yes, the newcomers are innovators, but their success stands on the shoulders of history. What works now has worked before. When it comes to customer service, the model of the day is Zappos. Zappos has great customer service, but before Zappos there was Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom, and many others. These companies were icons of customer service when new media meant colored television.
So, here's the thing: customer service is about treating people like people. That means good customer service was possible long before the internet. While our pictures of timely responses, courtesy, and going the extra mile may look different online than they did offline, these things are still the fundamentals of good service.
There is a movement building momentum in the marketing world. It's not a bad idea, but like all movements there are those pulling the bandwagon, and those who are merely riding along. The idea is that social media will humanize corporations.
Unprecedented possibilities will open before our eyes. Citizens will chat merrily with corporations on Twitter. Brands will integrate seamlessly into our daily lives on Facebook. Best of all, every mistake made by giant hungry monoliths will be made known to the masses, and the sheer power of the people (also known as bad PR, bad luck, a shitstorm, and every CEO's worst nightmare) will transform companies worldwide into loveable organizations run by real, genuine, and kind human beings instead of the evil prawns running them today.
Good customer service was possible before the internet, and bad customer service will be around long after. As long as companies believe a new medium, instead of a new strategy, is the answer to all their problems things will never change. Good customer service results from being committed to doing right by your customers, no matter the cost incurred. The medium is irrelevant.