Sunday, August 16, 2009

community: a slingshot for little brands

a few days ago, the lead story on Yahoo was about some big brands like Starbucks, Apple and BP and how they've changed their logos to increase their appeal to their audiences, or change audience perceptions. i've spent a fair portion of my career working on corporate identity issues, and so i was interested to read the opinions of some of the experts quoted in the story. in particular, one guy, asked about the IBM logo-- you know, the 3 blue letters with all the lines going through them -- said "because of its simplicity and originality, 'you have a hard time desiring to mess with it.'"

seriously? i've been wanting to mess with that thing since it came out in 1972. of course, i was a child at the time, so they didn't take me up on it. (note to IBM: i'm sometimes an adult now. call me, we'll talk.)

i raise this story on big brands to get to the point of this post, which is how little brands with logos that are perhaps recognized by those companies' employees and few others, can use community as a lever to propel their brands. community is, of course, much discussed in the social media universe as a way of creating engagement between brands and their customers, and while i've appreciated that intellectually as a marketer i didn't really appreciate it fully as a target until i saw this.

that's right, it's the "cutest dog competition," sponsored by All-American Pet Brands, which is a company i've never heard of, and, which is a website i've never been to. yet, when a colleague (thanks, D) sent a link to the competition website, it took only one click to hook me. here's why:

1) it's emotional. they are talking about the "cutest dog." show me a dog-mama who doesn't think her dogs are the cutest, and i'll show you a woman with no soul. even the mothers of ugly dogs are mistakenly under the impression that their dogs are cute.

2) it has scale. with nearly 75 million owned dogs in the US, that's a helluva community. more than 32,000 people have posted photos of their dogs on the site ... and with some dogs getting thousands of votes from site visitors who are not the owners, i'm guessing that site traffic is pretty extraordinary. and with a one-vote-per-day max, they've automatically ensured return traffic from at least some of those motivated-to-vote visitors.

3) it's easy. whoever thought this up deserves kudos for complying with KISS (keep it simple, stupid) criteria. click on "upload your photo," enter a few pieces of basic info, and get people to vote for your dog(s). there's a million bucks in it for the winner, with smaller prizes for the runner-ups.

4) it's not overly hard-sell. let's not kid ourselves -- this is about community, yes, but it's also ultimately about selling some chow. the market for pet food and supplies in north america is about $25 billion annually, and All American is clearly interested in taking some share from better-known brands. but they're not forcing the brand on site visitors. it really is mostly about the competition, with some corollary, relatively unobtrusive graphics and messaging about All American's products. i like and respect them more for this, and that feeling will manifest itself positively, i think, the next time i'm in the pet store looking for food and treats.

this is really just another david-and-goliath story, where a small brand takes on big brands, armed only with a slingshot and the idea that size is not necessarily a precursor for success. in skillfully targeting the community of dog owners and lovers, and making it fun and easy for them to engage, All-American is showing us a great example we'd do well to emulate.

p.s. willy and hoover, in a shameless ploy for votes, are insisting that i publish their respective photo urls, along with a request to please vote for them early and often.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

couldn't agree more. thanks for a great post.

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