How brands can play better and benefit in the digital space

At the turn of the century, when internet adoption in Kenya started to go mainstream and everyone was  clamoring for an email address and  patronizing the few cyber cafes in the city , a few brave corporate souls were converted to the gospel of  the net by a small number of web development houses. The output of many of these “ let’s get your company online ”  initiatives was a dismal brochure site that often times had the “managing directors ”  message to welcome you to the site. In hindsight and to agree that we have indeed come a long way,  the industry was finding its feet which may have meant succumbing to the whims of a clueless brand head.

However, some brands did get it right, and CocaCola’s Life in Red portal still stands out for what could be considered cutting edge and daring in a pre-Facebook era for a brand to pull off, managing to build and engage a rabid audience.

We seem to be facing the same challenge currently with both mobile and social media experiments. I feel that brands are yet to fully understand how to connect with their target consumers and ride the wave of  benefits that an engaged consumer will bring.

Drawing from CocaCola’s the Life in Red, the brand became an enabler of the social interactions that surrounded its product. Users on this early social network shared stories, submitted pictures, participated in discussions, listed to online radio and consumed curated content across different genres. While the platform was very visibly owned by the brand, evident from  its design and prominence of the brand identifiers, users never felt that they were being sold product, yet  this was achieved very subtly and effectively.

The brand become part of everyday life and the sense of community was palpable. People knew each other, whether by name or nickname to the point of roll call in the forums being taken and new uses welcomed to the different discussion groups. An analysis of this close knit community would reveal the “god particles”, those members of an ecosystem with the largest networks and most clout. These “particles ” would be leveraged to push for opinions on polls , drive content consumption  and create awareness of events.

In today’s world of  Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other social media outlets the benefits of such engagement can be amplified by several factors if you include mobile into the mix. Of note, is that the accrued benefits were not a function of technology but more in the strategy and positioning of the platform. Life in Red earned CocaCola a seat on the table, a right to participate in the lives of thousands of users on a daily basis. That is the kind of attention that comes with a hefty price tag if pushed by traditional media.

We  still need those few brave corporate souls that have been converted to the gospel of mobile and social to experiment. The beauty of the now, is that in an open knowledge economy, we can learn quickly what has worked elsewhere and adapt it to local needs or better yet carve out new experiences and models that will deliver the brand and shareholder promise without feeling like a nag to the consumer.

Earn your seat at the consumers table.

An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.
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