Steve McCallion recently posted an interesting recap of the Gap logo debacle. But his most interesting insights concern the notion of a social brand platform and why it is so important to get this right in an an age where everyone is engaging with brands in ways that brand managers can’t even control. He cites the Levi’s Workshops as an example of a brand taking on this new dynamic with a sensitivity to the way that communities always and already are sculpting the brand identity by engaging with real and valuable resources:
Levi’s spent this past summer running a print workshop in San Francisco – the first installment in an ongoing series of platforms called Levi’s Workshops. Participants are invited to learn a creative skill, for free, with the best work produced going up on the workshop website. With one grand gesture, Levi’s hit every aspect of a good social platform: the workshops teach a useful skill, provide context for socialization, offer an ever-changing and deeply layered experience, and Levi’s curates the results for public view, to the benefit of their own brand.
An excerpt that further elaborates on the vital social brand platform:
Logos create value for brands, but social brand platforms create value for people. Nike+ helps people run and get healthy. Facebook keeps people in touch with friends and family. Etsy connects cottage industry craftsmen with buyers. Converse has just announced that it’s building a recording studio in Brooklyn to help up-and-coming musicians.
Social brand platforms are not experiential marketing gimmicks. They do not exist to promote something else, but rather they are useful in and of themselves. A logo, by contrast, doesn’t actually do anything.
Logos are about control and consistency, but social brand platforms focus on defining the context — there are no standards manuals. They invite people to interact with each other in a variety of ways including one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many.
Nike+ lets friends challenge friends, individuals compete with the crowd, and universities compete with other universities. Nike defines the context — letting people track their mileage — that lets people provide the social interaction.
With rare exceptions (notably MTV and Google), logos are static. But social brand platforms are living experiences that take place over time and increase in value as more people participate. The Apple and Android app stores become more valuable as the crowd contributes to these platforms.
Etsy offers a clean, well-curated introduction on its homepage to its collection of handmade goods
Not everyone wants to participate on the same level. Social brand platforms thrive by offering multiple levels of involvement. They recognize that not everyone is a creator. Specifically, they provide room for three types of involvement – creation, commenting and consuming.
YouTube is often heralded for its user-generated content, but only .1% of YouTube users are creators. The rest are making comments or simply consuming. All three types of involvement are necessary for a sustainable platform.
Finally, great social brand platforms provide enhanced functionality that helps aggregate and amplify user-generated content. Without curation, user-generated content is useless. Etsy provides shoppers with a number of ways to discover hand-made products including by color, location, time, and a 10×10 grid of editors’ picks to name a few. Threadless uses a combination of user evaluation and staff recommendation to push the best T-shirt designs to the front.