When you see the Red Bull logo, you might think of Red Bull Stratos, the space-diving mission that was its most recent major product placement. Like all Red Bull product placements and sponsorships, Stratos is highly relevant to the brand’s core identity of extreme sports. (Red Bull’s marketing initiatives have been so consistently successful that consumers think of both extreme sports and the energy drink when they see the logo.)
What sets Red Bull’s initiatives apart, however, is its crowd branding.
As Zach Servideo wrote in the winter issue of Pragmatic Marketer, one of the best crowd branders is Dunkin’ Donuts, and its prime channel is Facebook. Every time someone shares, likes or comments on a post, it appears in friends’ news feeds across the globe. That’s the essence of crowd branding: Put your customers to work marketing your products.
Dunkin’ Donuts, Red Bull and every other company executing this strategy on Facebook are connecting with fans of their brand (the crowd) and shaping what those fans communicate about their brand (crafting Facebook posts for folks to share). Through this process, they are turning those fans into brand champions and expanding the community by reaching new fans. Companies are now hiring community managers to lead this effort. The full-time role is new, but the strategy is not.
It was executed successfully before Facebook existed, and even way before the Internet existed. Let’s consider business-to-business Company X, which offers software for completing activities more efficiently and effectively. Company X has instituted a crowd-branding strategy without even using a form of social media. Company X’s strategy includes the following steps:
- Make a customer happy.
- Ask that customer to be a listed reference that prospects can call.
- Guide calls with prospects toward the product benefits the customer is most happy about.
- Coach the customer on how to respond to inquiries from prospects.
That’s classic crowd branding. The company’s customers are doing its marketing, and the reference call is just the first step toward more broad marketing. Once the customers are really happy, you can get them to sit at your trade show booth, collaboratively apply for awards and even garner unsolicited positive conversations with peers in the industry (other prospects).
Red Bull employs the same strategy as Company X, but with different tactics since it is primarily a business-to-consumer company with exponentially larger scale than Company X.
In addition to product placement and sponsorship of extreme sports events, Red Bull’s strategy to establish its own branded extreme sports events (such as the human-powered flying machine contest known as Red Bull Flugtag) has resulted in the holy grail for crowd branders: The marketing initiative and product are one and the same.
Red Bull sells event tickets, television rights and related videos. (A DVD retrospective of Red Bull Rampage, an annual mountain bike competition, sells for $29.95.) The community of fans loves these events, and the crowd participates in defining the Red Bull brand. Just like the person that commented on Dunkin’ Donuts’ Facebook post, a fan or champion that loves Red Bull Rampage is likely to tell friends about the event. A friend might then join the community by attending the event or watching it on TV. That new fan is also likely to buy a can of Red Bull and transform into a new champion of the brand.
While the community helps in defining the brand, the company remains in complete control because it never wavers from its vision. If Red Bull launches a new event tomorrow, millions of people will be exposed to it and every new member of that event community serves as a Red Bull brand spokesperson. Without direct control over how people behave, that might sound risky, but only the right people have joined the community because the company’s identity has remained extremely clear: extreme sports and energy drinks. Red Bull has fostered its extreme sports events for over 20 years. When you visit the Red Bull website today, you’ll notice the events are heavily featured. You have to dig to find any information about the energy drink.
So, what can Company X learn from Red Bull? Imagine that you’re Company X’s product manager. Crowd branding isn’t just your marketing department’s job. Not only can you help, but you can lead the way by following these steps:
Identify what you want your customers to be happy about. This is active, not reactive. The task is not to figure out why your customers are happy. The task is to figure out what you want your customers to be talking about when that prospect calls them as a reference (your equivalent of Red Bull fans talking about their favorite extreme sport). This can be identified at any time, even before you launch the product. For the sake of creating a simple use case, let’s say that Company X has identified its key customer happiness driver as time savings. (Many business-to-business companies are all about saving their customers’ time.)
Make the happiness driver visible within your product. Red Bull turned its extreme sports event marketing initiatives into part of the Red Bull product, but you don’t need to be quite so ambitious. Company X’s customers are saving time whenever they use the software, so why not add a data field for time savings? Let’s measure that time savings and display the results.
Build a community of fans with the happiness driver as its foundation. With the time savings visible, you may not even need to ask your customers to be references. Since you’re feeding them the key data, they’ll be inclined to rave about it to their industry peers. They’ll market your product, and all of a sudden your marketing initiative and your product are one and the same. Of course, you can accelerate the growth of your community by using LinkedIn and other third-party platforms, or even establishing your own official community (online and/or offline).
Base everything your company does on the happiness driver. Imagine a world where your marketing department launched an initiative based on time savings. Separately, your sales team is evangelizing about time savings during the sales process, and the operations and support teams are talking about time savings with customers. Now imagine those departments operating with the time savings showcased within your product – it’s a game changer. Your company has been marketing and selling time savings all along, but now it’s tangible and the message is controlled. Your marketing initiative and product have become one and the same.
Like the Red Bull Flugtag, which challenges teams of everyday people to build and pilot human-powered flying machines, and the company’s tagline, the data-driven approach “gives wings” to your crowd to build your brand.