Brands : Stop Being, start Behaving …

One of the killer questions in the different panels and talks at #SxSW in Austin is: “… and what about brands”. Because, let’s face it: the boring internet of unidirectional websites has evolved into an online social forum, where people meet, talk and share.

The net is social, and the people have taken over the net in a peaceful revolution. That’s fine… but what about brands? Brands have invested heavily to build out their net-presence over the last decades, and are worried their dollars might evaporate overnight, with the masses gone rogue and confined to Facebook and Twitter. While people like Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter) think it is a bad thing for brands to move away from the trusted fortresses of their corporate websites, this does not mean there is no future for brands in the social space.

I’m agreeing with Owyang that abandoning the build-up brand capital that now is resting in the corporate websites is a bad idea. However, rethinking the website as the vibrating energetic center of a social online ecosystem is smart. Social sites add a ton of interacting and engaging possibilities into the brands online ecosphere, and are capital to bring vital social interaction into the equation.

The first steps in this process are a bit awkward. Beyond the heavily protected walls of the corporate websites, the social online ecosphere looks like a terrifying jungle to the brand owners. There is no perceived sensation of control, which triggers asthma attacks and anxiety in more than one corporate boardroom.

The answer is however simple: go with the flow and partner up (or hire) with online Tarzans who will give you the survival code book of the jungle, effectively turning it into a social ecosystem.  Because this is a fact: Just being a brand online will get you nowhere. Just having a brand presence will not propel you into the winning charts. You will have to allow your brand to behave like a social citizen.

Humanizing corporate brands and making them alive online, allowing a human face to interact with the online community are the first getaways to new opportunities to shine. But for that, brands will have to take the hurdle from controlled “being” to social “behaving”…. And that…. is a difficult one.  🙂

Beyond Apps: the ecosystem – the Battle of the Titans

Walking through the endless halls of the Mobile World Congress, you see mobile applications everywhere, ranging from e-health, over facial recognition, location based services and dating to picture apps, and apps juggling with a growing number of social communities.

One might even think it is all about the application. But, admit, that is exactly the same feeling you get while wandering through a supermarket where you have the impression that the battle for the planet is between a handful of price competing cornflakes-brands that struggle for your attention.

We all know the reality of life is that it’s not about the cornflakes. It’s about which supermarket will survive. So it’s safe to think it’s not about applications either.

The magic handshake between Steve Ballmer from Microsoft (clnt), and Stephen Elop from Nokia gives something away that has been preluding war since the dark ages: getting the right ally by your side before rallying the enemy.

The battle for the mobile consumer will not be a battle of devices, or a battle of applications, it will not even be a war of platforms. The very battle for the soul of the mobile consumer and world supremacy will be fought over the ecosystem.

Let’s face it. Heavy consumers do not care about the device as such. Heck, holding Android, Apple, RIM and Win7 together, you barely know what to choose. Same networks, same functionality… and more smartness and megapixels than we can ever use.

And applications? Steve Ballmer almost apologized for only having 8000 apps to choose from today. 8000… how many of those will make a real difference…. 100? It’s also a fact that most users do not even know or care about what operating system their mobile sidekick is packing. They know the brand. But is their HTC now running on Android, or Winmob7? Va savoir…

The consumers are simply looking for the best user experience. And most users like to stay in a trusty environment. So the ecosystem will be where the big players will battle for consumer loyalty; ecosystems, where the ease of use of functionality between the different devices in the consumers’ Personal Area Network will be key. Seamless interaction between mobile phones, tablets, laptops and more heavy desktops is increasingly important, and the ability to juggle data and documents between devices is what differentiates the experience most.

Apple has been working on its ecosystem for a while, HP (clnt) is back into the battle through the cloud-loving Palm OS system, and Android hopes that its open source approach and its mighty brotherhood with Google is the way to go. With Nokia and Microsoft Win7phones joining forces, the next generation of Nokia phones will be able to integrate the Microsoft ecosystem, with features that most users need every single day: like Sharepoint, Office (with Outlook) and the imminent Explorer9. Taking the great user experience of Windows7 PC’s to mobile devices might appeal to more consumers that Apple finds comfortable.

The battle of the ecosystems will be a battle of Giants. As long as user experience benefits from the effort…. I do not care who’s winning ;-).

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