SHOULD EVERY BRAND JUMP INTO WEB 2.0?
By Werner Iucksch
Web 2.0 is decentralising the internet, since everyone is getting access to
platforms to generate, mix and distribute content at very low costs. Phenomena
such as the Wikipedia, Flickr, Facebook, Digg, YouTube, Second Life and others
only succeed because of the intervention of thousands o people every day.
Everyday its possible to read something about the value that the interaction
between companies/brands and people can create, but the examples given
usually are either of companies/brands that were born on the web, thinking 2.0,
or “Nike +”. Other examples created by brick and mortar companies usually
come in form of “consumer created ads” – such as “crashthesuperbowl.com” –
podcasts with user interaction, forums sponsored by the company and other
initiatives that make sure the final decisions of most things are in the hands of
This “defensive interaction management”, made me think whether every brand
should even want to be collaborative. After all, is Web 2.0 for everyone?
Collaboration can be heaven or hell. I imagine what was going on Lego managers’
minds when the first hacks for their robotic series “Lego Mindstorms” appeared.
They failed to realize that people wanted to collaborate with the company,
expand the experience of other users by adding codes to the software, and
threatened to sue the “toy hacking pioneers”. Soon after, however, threats were
dropped. The company perceived that what the hackers were doing was actually
in the very essence of Lego, they were creating. The source code was opened to
everyone and discussion forums supported by the brand were created. The
company harvested innovation, by keeping the intellectual property of any code
developed and posted in their forums, perhaps more important than that, their
community was stronger after all this.
Lego, though, is an exception. There is resistance to collaborative initiatives
inside “traditional” companies and many consumer communities are suspicious
of such companies’ approaches to collaboration. This is because many
characteristics that drive people to collaborate and share are absolutely different
than those that helped build most of the big corporations of the XX century. Some
Characteristics Mass Society Network Society
Main Components Collectives Individuals
Nature of components (predominantly) (predominantly)
Scope Local ‘Glocal’ (global and local)
Centralization High Low
Type of organization Bureaucracy vertically Infocracy horizontally
Kind of Media Broadcast mass media Narrowcast interactive
Number of media Low High
Although many such companies can see value in adhering to web 2.0
communities, it is very hard to change their own structures for many reasons,
such as embedded company culture and lack of proper human resources to
develop Web 2.0 initiatives.
Additionally, it is interesting to discuss why companies develop brands in the
first place, to understand another reason why companies are slow into getting
conversation with “prosumers” further. David Aaker quotes Stephen King from
communications holding WPP on this subject:
“A product is something that is made in a factory; a brand is something that
is bought by a customer. A product can be copied by a competitor; a brand
is unique. A product can be quickly outdated; a successful brand is timeless.”
Developing sustainable competitive advantage and differentiation are possibly
the main reasons for brand development. To do so, marketers operate just like
the creators of comic books, movies and tv series. Marketers invest (a lot of) time
and money to create meaning for something (i.e. their brands). They create a
personallity for the brand, develop brand values, think about the market
situation, the human context in which it will operate, and they create a world in
which a brand is almost a living entity. Lynx, for instance, created a world in
which young males’ fantasies come true and they get the girl by using the
deodorant; MasterCard created a world in which credit cards are a means to live
priceless moments and not just buy goods.
When individuals begin to develop new stories using characters and worlds that
are copyrighted material, it is possible that they develop stories that are not in
line with intentions of the original authors. With brands there is the same
concern, with the additional problem that it is more common for people to
manifest themselves parodying brands in a negative way rather than otherwise.
As the work of anyone can spread incredily fast, it is possible that a creation from
a single person reverberates dramatically. Its impact can be exponentially
increased when difussed and discussed in social networks, blogs, podcasts, wikis
and social bookmarking sites, spawning new versions and complementary work
as its life‐cycle progresses, potentially damaging the brand equity, just like the
case in which GM asked consumers to make a commercial for it’s Tahoe SUV and
many consumers took the chance to voice their antipathy to such vehicle .
As final obstacle, web 2.0 business models have no track record in many
industries, so the profitability of making large‐scale participatory efforts are
uncertain. Is it worth trying to become a company so innovative and respected as
Google, if the whole business model has to be changed?
The task of getting many companies to completely accept ideas linked to the web
2.0 (as well as the other way around) is very difficult. There are good reasons
from both sides to keep a certain distance. The matter of control over its
intellectual property and monetization of it is central to marketers, the search
for freedom and collaboration is central to individuals.
Companies may not like it, consumers have the upper hand, for they are key
stake holders. Without their contribution, companies and brands don’t exist.
Therefore, as society moves towards the direction of creating, adapting and
distributing, marketer should adapt. In writing this article I thought of 4 ways in
which companies may behave. Not the only 4, I’m sure, but they are a start:
1) It might be the case that not every brand is suitable to be leveraged by
collaborative work, for the changes needed to do so would make them
commercialy unviable and just pretending to be 2.0 can have undesirable
outcomes. In this case, the brand shouldn’t try to travel the “web’s 2.0
2) The majority of brands, however, need to get into this arena and face the
incredulity of some groups. If the brand is loved in the “offline world” (e.g.
Lego), it is likely that good solutions are possible and in the medium to
long‐term reveal themselves as highly profitable. If the brands are
commoditized this is an opportunity to differentiate itself and gain value,
but the work is likely to be harder. Persistance and consistency would
have to be priority.
3) Companies can start creating new brands that are born with the spirit of
web 2.0, in order to be accepted and don’t feel the pressure of company
culture as much. Such brands might eventually enter the segments of the
own companies’ established brands and replace them.
4) An alternative approach for brands would be that of creating web 2.0
platforms that generate demand for their products, instead of re‐
inventing it completely from scratch. If Kodak or Nikon had had the idea
of creating Flickr or Sony the idea of creating YouTube, for instance, they
would have gained an outstanding amount of credibility and possibly
business among content generating users.
To decide which way to go, companies must first understand and accept the
rules that consumers are adhering to. Brand managers and directors should keep
both eyes in what their consumers are doing with their products, some might be
having exceptional ideas and posting them in some small, obscure forums. Many
maybe adopting new values and beginning to demand new attitudes from brands
they buy. Knowing how to evaluate these changes and ideas may be the
difference between highly effective initiatives and completely irrelevancy of the
brand. Acknowledging the possibility of change and experimenting with it will be
key to long term survival of a number of brands, as well as their parent
companies. It’s difficult, but interesting.
* ‐ Dijk, J. v. (2006, pg.33). Network Society. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage.