Sunday, March 10, 2013

Horizontal Brand Salience

Recently I had a discussion with a CTO of some very popular video portals. The question he raised for my feedback was whether to develop a “Horizontal Approach” or a “Vertical Approach” to a Social Media Product Development.

    He had been having some meetings with Facebook management. He posed this question:

    What do you think Facebook wants? Do they want you to build brand pages on Facebook and bring traffic to Facebook? Or, build your own site and bring Facebook users to your own branded site?

    To his and my unconsidered surprise was that FB management wants you to bring Facebook users to your branded site... Thus Facebook is not trying to build vertically, its trying to build horizontally. Makes sense once you use Facebook Connect as a social login, right?

    Okay, so that is Horizontal Branding. Providing a layer across products or services that work without sacrificing the brand equity of the horizontal or the platform. In fact the horizontal should enhance it in a kind of symbiotic brand equity exchange.  This works in various schematics and environments, take Sirius, or Tivo, or Dropbox... Sirius is offered in several different rental car services. Facebook Connect is another example of this, but its insidious nature was not something I was able to comment on in this brief encounter with this CTO. The antithesis of this is of course “White Labeling.”

    Before we investigate Reed’s laws here (which I will return to), let’s take the third word “Salience”. Here is where things get really interesting. Salience is the implicit impact of bounded rationality on behavioral actions, in that as we raise the salience or awareness of a brand, research shows we crowd other brands out. And conversely we enhance brand loyalty with the salient brand. This can be somatic markers or embedded consensus maps depending on the marketing guru you follow.

    We also know that many things can and do raise Brand Salience. Last week, I was having a conversation with the VP of Customer Experience of a company that unbeknownst to itself sells “Brand Salience”...  Their core offering is a web page application that asks two simple questions and based on the answers given the selected users get one basic request.

What do you think of this Brand? (On Scale of 1-10)
What do you think of their specific product? (On Scale of 1-5)
If they score above 9-10 and 4-5 - They request you to share your thoughts.

    That’s it. And it works brilliantly. By identifying the individuals who like the brand and the brand’s products, they take that group and request that they share those positive thoughts... A Simple Brand Salience Function.

    But how do you provide Horizontal Brand Salience? The fact is most major brand companies don’t or don’t do it well. Ford does not, Dell does not, neither does Apple. Well, that’s not really true. Apple does provide Windows users with iTunes on Windows. “That glass of ice water”... But that’s it and its very rare for a major platform brand to not build and protect vertically. Of course, Microsoft does provide Office for Mac and some iPhone apps.

    And that brings us to the real title... Ubiquitous is the New Black. From web sites to mobile phone platforms,  we are confronted by “uneven” networks. Yet we know from Reed’s law that the exponential power to reach new pockets of users is in these subgroups or subnets. And its not always the technology that creates the barrier... Sometimes its content...

SideBar: I was asked who we should target in a past marketing meeting.. I said “The Etsy Girl” and you can find her on Etsy or Pinterest ... Well, Mashable saw what I saw...

    Meaning there are pockets of users or technology bounded communities or networks like Blackberry users or iOS users or Chrome users or Symbian users or Apple PC users or Android users or Windows Phone 7 users or Windows 8 Beta Tablet users... Or even combinations such as PC Gamers of WOW. And the list goes on..

    And so services that can maintain their “Brand Equity” Horizontally have additional “Brand Cache”.. As their ubiquitousness is part of their attraction. Its everywhere... 

    Take Dropbox, recently valued at over a billion dollars. Its a frickin slick “FTP client”.. But it works on every conceivable platform from mobile phones to PC operating systems.

    So do you put Office on the iOS? Do you put iTunes on Android, seeing the effect from iTunes on Windows? These are and were heated discussions within their respective platforms. But, as all things indicate creating a Horizontal Brand Salience is the gold ring. Which is to say, if you have an iPad tablet and Microsoft Office comes to it, and you are aware of the MS Office Experience working seamlessly between iPad, Mac and say the work Windows PC you have enshrined your product or service within the users set of cognitive brand constructs.. This is a major shift from the days of only building in features for your platform and walling off the platform like an AOL online experience.

    But does the platform lose? If I can run MS Office on iPad, why would I buy a Windows 8 Tablet? But if I have a PC does Apple lose if iTunes works on Windows? Observationally no of course...

    So what was my answer to the question: Do we build a vertical or horizontal Social Media Product? I suggested a hybrid approach. But as I was limited in time, I had to skip the importance of granularity and abstraction. And more importantly do you lose if you tie yourself to Facebook’s Social Connect... Is this any difference than the trade-off MS will make by placing MS Office on the iPad/iPhone?

    And here is where it gets really messy and I will dig deeper in a new post in the future.

    But briefly: You use FB Connect you get the aggregate data and maybe more if you are creative. But they have privacy concerns breathing down their neck. Ultimately you don’t want aggregate data of users, you want granular or atomic. That brings you back to thinking you need email as a unique id. Or Twitter id, or extracting an FB id. But ultimately, you need a unique identifier separate from FB/Twitter/Email.

    So getting started using FB sounds good at first because of its low friction social spread, but you need abstraction. That means you need to understand that once you begin building granular data around your user ID, you can then abstract the social identity and re-architect the branding from the game logic of the Social Media Product you are delivering.

    Thus, visually each product appears separate on each domain, but that is because you are applying game logic that takes both the granular and the organic emergence of subnet/subgroup/product verticals in mind. While still using the horizontal social dynamics across multiple verticals... Example might be a “Point and Shoot Game”. On the kids site you shoot butterflies and on the adult site you shoot ho’s and pimps. The login, the number of inputs and outputs are the same, but the kids game may have some control over not allowing vulgarity in chat and allow only small subgroups to form, while the adult would not. You’re still shooting by tapping a flash button at moving objects in a 3X3 Window, just the visual layer is different... And yet I understand that this example does not dig deep enough into our discussion on Horizontal Brand Salience (I said it would get messy)... Unless, we return to opening the game API to other game developers or user generated content? Again this is for another post...

    Yet in the end,  the result is Horizontal Brand Salience that adapts to each community, by  individually delivering experiences you want to provide. Where as Dropbox wants to be similar on each platform thus providing a Horizontal Brand Salience, a Social Media Product does in a different way. See how giving Meetup Groups the ability to customize their community works? Their UI is not dramatically different, but UGC will be. And most importantly, the Social Media Product will scale horizontally across the long tail of new bounded communities you have yet uncovered. 

    The horizontal is that your brand will remain. The code base will remain horizontal. The user database will remain horizontal yet delineated. But the product will be socially, visually and interactively vertical... If you have architected the brand strong enough you will have Angry Birds like ubiquitousness and be seriously in the black...