Virtual Inertia

Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0

A new virtual world by the name of Kinset has been creating some buzz lately.  Boston Globe wrote them up last week, and MIT gave their perspective on the format this past Tuesday.

kinset.jpg

Kinset is essentially a Second Life that is devoted to retail.  It’s a walled garden, it requires that users download software, and it’s a bit clunky.  It has a few interesting additions, such as search, but for all intents and purposes it is more of the same.

I could rant about their choice in using a real bookstore for virtual inspiration – floors and aisles and bookshelves – all day, but I won’t. 

Well, maybe a little. 

It’s creatively lazy, guys.  Adhere to the cliche and think outside the box.

Moving on, I strongly believe that Kinset is doomed to mediocrity by the simple fact it has not built itself as a web-based technology open (or licensed) to the general public.

Web-based virtual worlds (WBVWs) are still in their infancy, but when the technology catches up with our dreams, many 2D websites will be converted to 3D. 

Fortunately, WBVWs got a leg up last month.  After years of speculation, the startup Areaehas built the most powerful and open WBVW ever.  It is called Metaplace.

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Wagner James Au of GigaOMgave the new software a great writeup.  At the TechChrunch40 conference, were Metaplace was unveiled, he writes:

To be honest, I’d expected a user-created online world built on top of a Java platform or something. Instead, Koster’s vision is far more ambitious: in effect, he’s proposing to make online world elements like dynamic, graphically shared space, avatars, and virtual currency part of the standard code which drives the web. How is that possible, and how can they compete in such a crowded market?

Here is how Areae is going to do it (per Au’s notes):

  1. Destroy the Walled Garden (YES!)
    • The Metaplace platform is a web browser with virtual world capacity.  It comes with a toolkit, and if people want to build worlds – for any reason – Areae will host it.
    • It uses HTML-style code and each individual “world” is served by the Areae network. Any code can literally be copied and pasted from one page to another.
    • Instead of a contiguous world (like Second Life or Kinset), someone visiting the Metaplace site will get a YouTube-style home page, but instead of videos you will get teasers of all the virtual worlds available to explore.  2D plus 3D.  I love it…check out the demo at the bottom of this post.
  2. Get Gamers To Embrace the System
    • Areae has been talking with an “A-list roster of people interested in creating their projects in Metaspace.”  Soon, several MMOs will be built on the network, which could help Metaplace get an critical mass of followers in a hurry.
  3. Have Multiple Revenue Models
    • Make it free to use.  Make it free to host.  Start charging when the traffic increases to a critical mass.  This is the tactic many blog hosts (e.g., WordPress) use.
    • Let companies sponsor sites…duh.
    • Build out a virtual currency that can be shared across the network (I hate this idea…but they’re going to use it anyways).
    • Build out an Adsense-style ad network that will track and target user behavior.

Au summed up his article with the philosophical differences between Second Life and Metaplace:

While Second Life is evolving as an immersive 3D metaverse which slowly incorporates web elements like XML and RSS in-world, Metaplace is beginning as a web-based network which swallows the attributes of online worlds. As Koster put it: “We don’t think the Net is getting stuffed inside a giant 3D client.” That’s just the Second Life strategy, which demonstrates the fundamental philosophical difference between Raph Koster’s Areae and Philip Rosedale’s Linden Lab. Rosedale wants a one-world utopia where all Second Life users share the same space. Koster wants a metaverse that looks more like the web. “Cramming people into one world doesn’t make sense to us,” he told me.

Amen.  This is exactly what we need.  It is going to be very exciting to see how Metaplace changes the web, and communication, as we know it.

Raph Koster’s Demo of Metaplace:

Rogue Advertising

Ad Biz, Heroes, iTV, NBC, NBC Rewind, Nissan, Rogue, Web 2.0

I have recently become a junky for Heroes.  I say recently because I’m a year late to the party. 

After rushing to finish the first season in only two weeks via Netflix, I geared up for the second season only to discover it had already started.  Nice timing, NBC.

Fortunately, NBC has one of the best online content sources on the Web: NBC Video Rewind.

There, I have caught up with what is going on in the second season.  I have been pleasantly surprised with the image and sound quality coming through my home network (DSL and Aiport Extreme) to the point that I have decided not to watch any future episodes on TV.  I just wait until Monday night’s episode is uploaded on Tuesday (which means I have a new episode to watch tonight).

The only thing that irritates me about this service is the advertising model.  NBC is still working out the kinks, but as far as I can tell they have chosen to keep the same format: ten minutes of content followed by a commercial break.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The breaks are only one spot long, and from what I can tell they are devoted wholely to one company that buys all the blocks for a given episode.  That’s not irritating, but what the companies choose to do with their time is.  It’s the same spot they air on television, broadcast over and over and over and over and over…

This is a slap in the face of the medium in which the advertising sits.  This is not TV, don’t run a TV spot.

The only exception is for Heroes episode 205 (2nd season, 5th episode).  This one was snagged by Nissan to advertise their new Rogue crossover (also seen extensively throughout the second season of Heroes).

What Nissan chose to do was make spots specifically for this format.  They aren’t remakes of their TV work or their website; rather, they are interactive snippets that let you scroll over the ads with your mouse to activate information about the car.  You can even click on it to learn more (without interrupting Heroes).  The interactive component quickly exits the screen after 30 seconds, and on with the show:

rogue.jpg

Great stuff.

It also ties in nicely with the microsite built out for the car. 

At this site, you can learn more about the car, play a few games, and customize your own Rogue (to ultimately purchase):

rogueballer.jpg

Try to get the ball past the cabbie in Rogue Baller

mazemaster.jpg

Avoid potholes while driving through a digital city in Maze Master.

Inform.  Entertain.  Engage.

Check. Check. Check.

Kudos to Nissan.  You are the first brand (I know of) to figure out iTV. 

Crank This

Community Marketing, connections planning, Entrepreneurialism & Innovation, hip hop, Mr. Collipark, Pop Culturisms, Soulja Boy, Trends, Web 2.0

Hip Hop – the music and the business – has been struggling over the past few years. According to Fox News, “though music sales are down overall, rap sales slid a whopping 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and for the first time in 12 years no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the [2006].”

It looks as if this industry needs a fire starter, or at least someone who owns a pack of matches.

Enter Mr. Collipark.  First name, Mr.

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Mr. Collipark literally wrote the book on how a young rapper can break into the business of hip hop.  To prove he can walk the talk, Mr. Collipark went out found Soulja Boy: 

souljaboy.jpg

Soulja Boy is part Mississippi teenager, part Flava Flav, part crunk (I frickin’ hate crunk), rhythmically unoriginal, and lyrically boring, but that’s not the point.

The point is Soulja Boy is a Millennial.  For him, music isn’t just about sound, it is about community, it is digital, and it is open for interpretation.

According to mun2, Soulja Boy “began posting his songs on the music-based social networking site Soundclick.com, before creating his own website, SouljaBoytellem.com, and, most recently, exploding on MySpace where he’s received over 11.5 million visits and accumulated 400,000 friends.”  Soulja Boy even came up with a dance for his hit song, Crank That, and put a video on YouTube to teach people how to do the moves.

Within a few months, MySpace rated Soulja Boy the #1 artist out of 30 million independent artists on their site (in terms of traffic, plays and downloads).

But all of this was still underground.  The Hip Hop industry had not found him.

Enter Mr. Collipark.  Driving down the street one day he sees a group of kids doing the Soulja Boy dance.  He rolls down his window to hear a song he has never heard before.  After doing a search for the song online, Mr. realizes just how strong the following is for Soulja Boy, so he promptly sends Soulja Boy an instant message and heads for his house. 

I’m hesitant to transcribe what Soulja Boy posted on his blog after his meeting with Mr. Collipark as it’s a little risque for a corporate blog, but you can read it here.

The rest is short history.  Rather than package Soulja Boy and spit him out like a Hip Hop artist circa 1995, Mr. Collipark took the social network Soulja Boy had already established and expanded it.  Polished videos were soon on MySpace and SouljaBoyTellum.com.  Ringtones, message boards, photos, and schwag were all available on his home page.  Best of all, snippets of Soulja Boy’s rise to fame were posted on YouTube as a daily podcast giving avid fans unparallelled emotional connection with the artist.

Crank That Video: 9 Million Hits

Crank That Dance Instructions: 12 Million Hits

From Vodcasts to Soulja Boy TV (coming soon):

Radio stations soon picked it up Crank That because Soulja Boy finally broke into “the industry”, and in the matter of months a bunch of rich white people watching a UT football game saw this on the sideline:

Like any modern day mogul-in-the-making, Soulja Boy is a social-network celebrity. His official YouTube video for Crank That has attracted nine million views in just over 30 days while an earlier home video that teaches viewers how to do “Soulja Boy Dance” has been requested a whopping 12 million times.

Bravo Mr. Collipark, and bravo, Soulja Boy.  You have built a network and sold an artist that won’t even have an album in stores until October 27th.

In the opinion of this author, as well as this one, Mr. Collipark and Soulja Boy aren’t so much producer and artist as they are connections planner and creative director.

One final note, as I’m finishing up this blog, a guy outside my office window is listening to Crank That.  His car windows are down so that all of us can listen, or dance, to Soulja Boy. 

LBS Notes: Part 1

Ad Biz, AKQA, Digital Media, iPhone, LBS, LOC AID, Location Based Services, Media, mobile, Web 2.0

Voice and data services have become commodities for telecommunications companies.  The result is an industry hungry for innovation to increase customer base and profit margins.

According to TeleMapics, location-based service (LBS), utilizing wireless communications and global position technologies, is poised to be that innovation.

LBS is an old term largely dismissed by industry insiders as it was uveiled almost a decade ago with huge amounts of hype and zero follow-through.  However, today is another story.  LBS could very well be the defining technology of 2008, as I have posted before.

AT&T and the iPhone are the kings of LBS at the moment, but Sprint just announced they are teaming up with Microsoft.  Verizon is not far behind.

If this is the case, marketers have some work in front of them in figuring out how to leverage LBS for their respective clients.

Here is what I/we know so far:

1. Utility Beats Entertainment…For Now 

For all the hoopla we’ve seen about being about being able to watch YouTube videos on iPhones, it turns out people are not as interested in surfing as they are searching.  Adrian from Zeus Jones writes today about an interesting finding from Google.  It turns out Google Maps usage has “increased sharply” since the release of the iPhone and “hasn’t stopped rising.”  Meanwhile, YouTube availability on the iPhone has not effected usage at all. 

Adrian analyzes this, stating “There’s no denying that entertainment is a legitimate way to engage, however this [information] does prove that the barrier to entry for a good entertainment experience is substantially higher than it is for a useful service.”

What does this mean for marketers?  Well, in a nutshell, focus on building mobile utility for your customers if you hope to get the greatest return.  Table the mobile entertainment unless you have some creativity worth a pencil – this may break through the barrier Adrian mentions above.  Or, optimally, pair the two together…just don’t forget the utility.

2. The Battle for Ad Turf

The mobile advertising space is basically virgin territory, but already people are working to carve out space and build standards for mobile marketing.  The “people” are search engines, carriers, and new platforms.

Search Engines: Google AdSense for Mobile enables online publishers to target location-based advertising to anyone using their browser from a mobile phone.  The opportunities here are endless from a marketing perspective, but they are limited at the moment.  Currently, Google only offers AdSense for Mobile on basic text ads. 

Carriers: Another player vying for space is Australian telco Telstra.  Per ITWire, Telstra has “launched a trial of location based coupons from major retailers such as KFC and Pizza Hut. In the trial, users can request a coupon to be sent to their mobile phone from banner ads on a variety of websites.

By clicking on the banner advertisements, consumers are provided with information on the promotional offer and the ability to enter their mobile number to receive a coupon via SMS. For Telstra mobile customers, information on their mobile also includes a map of their local area and the location of the nearest stores plotted on the map.”

New Platforms: ProximityMedia has built out a system that can push out relative content to Bluetooth phones.  Their demo is tacky but interesting:

3. LBS = SMS + MMS + WAP

Wonky?  Yes.  Let me explain.

SMS – A.K.A., Short Message Service – A.K.A., text messaging – can easily be sponsored by corporations.  Envision an ad on top of your text message.  In turn, you can text for free.  Lots of marketers like this idea because it seems so darned simple.

Well, LogicaCMGrecently did a study of consumer reactions to sponsored SMS (or SMS Advertising) and discovered that Northern Europe and the U.S. would be “extremely unlikely” to use the product.  The conclusion here is free SMS isn’t that important in America – after all, unsponsored SMS is only five bucks a month.

However, SMS advertising has shown success when it is paired with multimedia messaging service (MMS) and wireless application protocol (WAP).  For all you non-wonks (a group that includes me), a good example of MMS is any mobile message that includes images, videos or music, and WAP is basically a phone that can connect to the Internet.  Put all three together, and you get yourself a promo.

For instance, a radio station in Boca Raton, FL, recently teamed up with LOC-AID (a LBS technology provider) to build out a scavenger hunt called Dash for Cash.  In it, people got SMS, MMS, and had to use WAP to find clues that would lead to $10k in booty. Supposedly the thing was a hit.  You can see more here:

4. LBS doesn’t have to sit on your phone

We have all seen the LBS billboards in Minority Report.  Tom Cruise walks by a board that customizes to his presence.

Well, we aren’t there yet, but AKQA recently got us closer.  This time last year, they built out a billboard campaign for Yell.com that was placed on the sides of London buses.  The billboards were linked to GPS that enabled them to be customized as they were on route.  Interactive, local maps were also put in at bus shelters.  Killer.  And they didn’t even use a phone.

akqa_yell_com.jpg

More later from me.  Anyone else have a best practice/insight for using effectively using LBS in marketing/advertising?

iTV now myTV

Ad Biz, Co Creation, Digital Media, iTV, Joost, Media Technologies, myTV, Web 2.0, widgets

Most people in the business of marketing know of Joost if they haven’t already had the chance to play with it.  For those that don’t, let me sum up their service as high-quality, full-length, time-agnostic television broadcast through the Internet. 

Given that it’s a web-based platform, Joost offers viewers basic Internet services as they watch.  For instance, you can instant message your buddies across the globe as you simultaneously watch the same show.  Your screen looks something like this:

im.jpg

(The IM components are in the upper-left and lower-right corners)

Joost aptly calls this IM service a “widget” that can be put on top of your primary content (the show you are watching) as add-on components.  Other examples of widgets on Joost include a news ticker, rating tools (upper-right corner), and an alarm clock.  All are made by Joost programmers. 

The problem thus far is that Joost hadn’t opened up their widget source code so that people could upload their own widgets into the system. Combine this barrier with the fact the programming available on Joost comes from broadcast corporations like MTV and you quickly realize that iTV is not necessarily “myTV”.  I don’t get the rights to upload content – like I do on YouTube – and I don’t get the rights to upload widget applications – like I do on many major social networks.

Well, Joost is opening up, and we should all rejoice.  MIT’s Advertising Lab noted today that Joost has opened their Widget API (or source code) to anyone interested in adding new features. 

According to the Joost forum (where Joost fanatics talk shop), the ideas for new widgets are pouring in.  Here is just a select few (with marketing implications in parenthesis):

  • Queuing – drag/drop/select movies/shows to go into a viewing queue similar to what Netflix offers (marketers could build target audiences by queue content)
  • Show Tagging – let people mark great moments in a show to indicate their favorite/worst moments (think 0f this as a copy test…for better or for worse)
  • Content Screener – let people take a survey that then generates content recommendations (more options for targeting, options for paid search)
  • Shopping Widget – syncs with programming so that people can buy what they see (allows marketers to advertising products in widget that are seen on show)

There will soon be a day when all content is a la carte.  Passive programming and active components will intermingle at my discretion.  TV? Internet?  Who cares?

TV + Internet = iTV

iTV + co-creation = myTV

Friend is a Four Letter Word

Cake, core tie, friend, Pew, Rubel, significant tie, social network, total network, Trends, Web 2.0

What does “friend” stand for in a world connected by a series of tubes?  This has been an ongoing debate for the better half of a decade, but the growth of Facebook has reignited the burning question of what it takes for me to consider you a friend (or the other way around).

The most recent post I have seen on this subject is by influential blogger Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion.  He states:

[Having friends] is becoming more about quantity and less about quality.

This can be a very good thing. I am friends with people in social networks from other countries. Technology makes that possible.

On the other hand, these same technologies enable anyone to add me as a friend, even though we’ve never met.

It leaves me all confused about what friendship will look like in 10 years. It seems like it’s declining in quality, even as technology scales it in quantity and helps our networks spread far and wide. What’s your view?

This is a very good question, and thanks for asking.  Personally, I don’t think we should be using the term “friend” to discuss the impact of social networks like Facebook.  The term we should be using is “tie”. 

Several years back, the Pew Internet and American Life Project published a report entitled The Strength of Internet Ties.  It was a brilliant piece and available for free download here.

Pew’s approach was to ask participants about three types of connections they have with their respective social networks (both real-world and web-based). The first and most important type of connection they measured was “core tie“.  Core ties can be defined as the people who are in our inner circle.  For instance, my core ties would be people like my wife, my parents, and a close set of friends and advisors with whom I can share pretty much anything on my mind – hopes, fears, happiness, sorrow, etc.

The second type of connection Pew measured was “significant ties.” These are the people outside a person’s circle of trust but with whom he or she still has close connections. Examples of my significant ties are my coworkers and the guys I play disc golf with – I know them well enough to invite to a party but not necessarily well enough to talk about…well…let’s not talk about it.

Both core ties and significant ties are considered part of a larger, third type of connection called “network.” My network includes everyone I have some level of interaction with, like the waitstaffs at my favorite restaurants, the neighbors I wave to from my front lawn, and the homeless transvestite who receives 15% of the mayoral vote each time the city holds an election. No, I didn’t make the last one up. He likes to drink his morning vodka out of a coffee mug while wearing a skirt on my lawn, and he’s part of my network.

To (hastily) sum up Pew’s research, the Internet expands our total network but rarely expands our core or significant ties.  True, we may converse with mom via email, but we would have connected with them regardless (e.g., if we didn’t have email we would have called them).

As a result of access to the Internet (and social networking sites), my total network looks a bit like this:

twoeyes.jpg

Note, the terms “Industrial Network” and “Post-Industrial Network” are my terms, not Pew’s.  It is my opinion that the Internet and social networks like Facebook are part of a larger, more fundamental change in the ways we connect with other people.  For more info on this, you can read the .pdf I attached here.

Moving on, the graph above makes it clear; the Internet may expand my “total network” but has little impact on the people I connect with on a daily- or even weekly-basis.  The question of “friends” shouldn’t come into this discussion because “friend” is highly subjective (e.g., is the transvestite as much of a friend to me as my wife?)

Therefore, let us table this discussion of what a “friend” is and discuss the impact of social networks on a persons “total network”.  The question should be what are the benefits of increasing a person’s total network?  There are many, I’m sure.

Additionally, let us remember what Cake had to say about the word friend:

Multi-Dimensional Facebook

Design & Creativity, Digital Media, Facebook, graph, Social Marketing, social network, Web 2.0

Jeff Berg of the Interpublic Emerging Media Lab posted a great article on the growth of Facebook applications (3,000 and counting) that have been developed by third-party developers since the system went live a few months ago. 

One stood out: Interactive Friends Graph

 interactivemap.jpg

As you can see, my entire network (not that big, really) is posted in this application.  When I scroll over a friend – in this case, Ed Mahon – I immediately see how our networks overlap. 

The name “Interactive Friends Graph” is terribly boring, but this visualization tool is something I have been wanting for a very long time. 

A major problem I have had with social networks from the beginning is they have been programed not as networks but as linear streams of data.  MySpace posts my friends in rows.  Facebook posts my friends in columns.

Now, with this map, I can finally see a representation of my social network much as it exists in my head – a mishmash of loose connections that encircle my little slice of the world.

This same type of mapping (e.g., multi-axis and multi-dimensional) will play a key role in Web 2.5 (yes, I just made that up).  More to come, I’m sure.

Ingenuity Trumps Consistency for Jones Soda

Brewtopia, Co Creation, consistency, Cultures & Fringes, Digital Media, ingenuity, Jones Soda, Trends, User Generated Content, van Stolk, Web 2.0

Dino Demopoulos, author of the blog Chroma, uncovered a great article about Jones Soda published in Beverage World this past Friday.

The article starts out with a brief, inspirational history of the company followed by a mission statement:

Peter van Stolk, CEO, Jones Soda, has an “ability to straddle the line between corporate head and maverick—he maintains the attitude of a creative entrepreneur while steering an 11-year-old company to strong double-digit growth in a down CSD market—is reflected in the brand itself. With youthful flavors like Blue Bubble Gum and Fufu Berry and eccentric black-and-white photos of consumers on its labels, Jones Soda retains a quirky, scrappy image. Yet the brand that got its start in tattoo parlors and skate shops now can be found in Panera Bread and Barnes & Noble, retail environments more likely to attract soccer moms than fans of the X Games. So how does a brand that built its fan base on a simple premise—“Run with the little guy…create some change”—stay relevant when it has a highly publicized [contract with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Quest Field] and is predicted to be a global company by the end of 2008? 

Image 

“We’ve got to make sure we stay core to our roots,” asserts van Stolk. “Our mission statement is, ‘It doesn’t matter about soda. It matters about our consumers.’ We have to stay true to our goal to create emotional connections and be relevant to our consumers.”

How many times have we heard that one?  It matters about our consumers…create emotional connections…be relevant…etc…etc… 

It brings out a bitter strain of cynicism in me whenever a CEO speaks like this.  The talk is rarely walked. However, van Stolk and Jones Soda are truly delivering on their mission statement.  Here are just a few things they’ve done:

Find and audience:

  • To build a cult following, van Stolk placed Jones Soda in unconventional retail outlets, such as tattoo and piercing parlors, skate and surf shops and clothing stores.
  • To back up this produce placement, Jones Soda was one of the first to enter extreme-sport sponsorships – Tony Hawk was the company’s first athlete – and is now sponsoring cutting-edge tattoo artists like Kat Von D (the woman behind the TLC’s new show L.A. Ink).

Let that audience co-create the brand:

  • Jones Soda solicits suggestions for the next off-beat flavor from their loyal customers.  For example, Whoop Ass energy drink was a result of consumer-generated branding long before Doritos took the plunge.
  • Even the quotes found under the bottle caps usually come from Jones Soda loyalists.
  • Customers can go to myjones.com to create personalized labels for 12-packs of soda to be shipped directly to their homes.
  • As part of its deal with the Seahawks and Qwest Field, Jones Soda will have photographers roaming the stadium during games taking pictures of fans and players. Those images then will be available for fans to buy and customize their own 12-packs through Jones’ patented process. In addition, Jones Soda is releasing specialty packs with Seahawks players and team logos on the bottles.

 myjones.jpg

There is a lot going on here.  I applaud van Stolk for being on the cutting-edge of integrating customers into the process of branding, but it doesn’t look like he is slowing down.  His decision to tap into the popularity of tattoos puts him at the front of a changing culture (I think I read somewhere that over a third of all people ages 18-30 have a tattoo and the numbers are rising). 

Additionally, his decision to take co-creation to the stands at Quest Field is an amazing idea.  The idea of co-created bottles is not something Jones Soda owns, Brewtopia has been doing it for a while, but I have never seen a company move beyond the digital space to bring co-creation opportunities to customers in the real world.  It will be interesting to see if these photographers roaming the bleachers generate more interest in co-creation.  The very concept of co-creation alludes much of America – Jones Soda may help change that.

The final thing I’ll note is van Stolk seems to approach everything a bit differently.  Whereas Coke is focused on protecting their special sauce (and even make commercials about how much it is protected), van Stolk states “The thing I really like about Jones is that we’re not a flavor. Nobody associates Jones with a single flavor. So we can do anything we want and the limitations are what we put on ourselves.”

For the world of beverages, ingenuity has never reigned supreme over consistency.  Perhaps the this is a sign things are changing.

Auto Industry Driving a New Form of Capitalism

Co Creation, Community Marketing, Digital Media, Fiat, Fiat 500, mass customization, Scion, Trends, User Generated Content, Web 2.0

Sorry for the pun.

As you may have noted from my previous posts, I’m big into mass customization and co-creation (MC/CC).  Although consumer-generated media is the buzz term of the moment, its impact on the fundamentals of capitalism will be limited.  CGM is an evolution of company/customer conversation, not a revolution of company/customer transaction.

The transactional revolution will begin on the production lines and in the boardrooms of major corporations.  Currently, the very idea of letting a customer manipulate a product prior to purchase goes against much of what we were taught in school (protect the brand, be “on” brand, be consistent with your branding efforts, etc.) 

But within the automotive industry, we are seeing some great efforts at opening up the production- and marketing-models to customer control. 

The revolution began in 2003 when Toyota’s chairman, Hiroshi Okuna, uttered the words “I can’t offer any relevant input.  This is a vehicle design and concept that is clearly not for anyone in this room.”

With those words, Okuna admitted that it was time to consider a new model of car design (and a new brand) if Toyota hoped to appeal to a new, younger and more demanding demographic.  Toyota would have to give up partial ownership of the brand to the customer.  Acting as a leader and visionary, Okuna gave the idea a seal of approval.

Over the next few months, developers brought Okuna a revolutionary concept – a car that could be mass customized to customer specs prior to delivery.  It would be a production- and distribution-system that would come with a new brand: Scion.  Since it launch, Scion has been huge success, and many other car manufacturers are following Toyota’s lead.

Read more about the Scion and its impact on the basics of capitalism here (another chapter of my book):

the-custom-class-chapter-7.pdf

The latest example of a car company driving a new form of capitalism is Fiat and their 500 (or Cinquecento in Italian).  This story has gone largely ignored in American circles because we won’t see the car on our streets before 2010 (and we’re ethnocentric, but I digress).

classicfiat.jpg    classicfiat2.jpg

The Fiat 500 has been around for a long time.  Much like Beetle (German) and Mini-Cooper (English, until recently), the Fiat 500 was designed for congested Italian roads in the middle of the 20th century.  It was a popular and practical car throughout the 60s and 70s, but it’s influence tapered off as the 80s approached.  The production of the 500 ceased in 1977. 

Because of the international brouhaha over car size, Fiat is bringing the 500 back from a 30-year hiatus.  It’s small, sporty, and cheap.  It’s also the most mass-customized and co-created car to come out of Europe.

For quite some time Fiat has had a really cool, multilingual website up for people interested in the 500.  See it here.

John Todor, contributor to the Customer Think blog, recently wrote up a summary of Fiat’s efforts to both engage and respond to customer demands:

Fiat has engineered a way to get customers engaged on- and offline. I believe they are on their way to nurturing mutually meaningful relationships.Customers are:Engaged in the design. 500 days before the launch Fiat invited potential buyers to a web site to design accessories for the car. 8000 did so! Now there are over 100 accessories available. Accessories customers find relevant and appealing. The most popular, a clear glass roof. Second most popular, Italian colors as racing strips. Italian pride (emotion).config.jpg

Engaged in the Launch. Customers generated the themes for advertising. Think about it! Who knows how to reach potential customers in a more meaningful way than customers who are already involved?

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Engaged in Customization of their Car. Ford and Chrysler offered online “build your car” tools for years. Fiat has taken it a step further. They add emotions.

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Engaged in their Web Presence. Each visitor to the Fiat website can customize the look and feel of their own web site. This isn’t just appearance. It enables customers to get the information that is meaningful to them—front row and center. (All the bubbles I added into this post from Fiat’s website are stand-alone widgets that can be drag/dropped anywhere on the site…very cool technology.)

Customer involvement helped sell 57,000 cars in the first month (July ’07). I predicted the way Fiat is continuing to involve customers in the ownership experience will lead to a growing customer base. Perhaps more importantly, they are nurturing highly engaged and committed customers who are very likely to be passionate evangelists.

The one area Todor didn’t touch on was the fact Fiat opened up the advertising and marketing of this product to consumer generation.  I love it.  Product and promotion. Complete exposure to customers.  Here is one of the two winning campaigns:

“Many of the great ones who had change the world are gone forever. 

Luckily, some do come back.”

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What a great approach, no?  Buzz?  Yes.  Demand?  You bet.

The first 500 sold out in two hours.

Fiat’s sales goal- 57,000 500s over the course of year – was tapped in 30 days. 

THEY ARE OUT OF CARS.

Its a problem anyone would be glad to have.  Fiat has mass customization and co-creation to thank for their enviable dilemma.  Capitalism, as we have known it since the dawn of industrialization, is on the verge of major change.

M&Mass Customization

avatar, Co Creation, Digital Media, M&M, M&Ms, mass customization, Simpsons, Web 2.0

M&M has been taking some bold moves into Web 2.0 over the pas 6 months.  Their first notable effort was to build out web-based system whereby I could customize a an M&M to look like me.  This effort was supported with traditional media.

The interface looked like this:

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It was a little rough around the edges, but the system worked. 

Still, it never struck me as profound.  Frankly, people aren’t in love with the M&M guys to the point they want to be one.  Yes, they are huggable and edible, but I wouldn’t put them up there with Stay Puft Marshmellow Man.

My opinion was confirmed when this technology was applied to the Simpsons.  As part of their movie promotion, the Simpsons crew built out a similar system whereby you could create your own Simpsons character.  This was brilliant, and it played directly to what many of us have dreamed about at least once over the past 15-or-so years: getting a cameo on a Simpsons episode.

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Since this battle of avatars, M&M has changed coarse.  Their newest campaign (I saw it on TV last night) is promoting a new web-based system whereby you can add custom text to M&Ms.

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To me, this is much more on strategy.  I wrote a few months ago about another company, MyMuesli, that opened up their production model for mass customization. If M&Ms (and it’s ad agencies) want me to emotionally connect with the M&M brand – thus making it “my” brand for candy – then they need to let me make “my” bag of M&Ms.  Let me pick the colors, let me pick the type of chocolate (dark, light, white), let me pick the packaging and let me pick the text that will be written on the back of each thick candy shell. 

M&Ms still has a way to go with their system (you can see it for yourself here) as currently you can only choose two colors from their palate and the text comes in only one font, but they have taken the right approach.  To date, I know of no other food company with American presence that allows a customer to customize a product.  Unlike the avatar system, this is profound.

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