9 Themes from the BRITE ’10 Conference

An overview of the BRITE '10 Conference.

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Our Center on Global Brand Leadership recently wrapped up this year’s annual 2-day BRITE conference at Columbia Business School, with an amazing group of speakers and attendees.

For those who weren’t able to join us, I wanted to share nine major themes that I found running through the presentations, case studies, workshops, and conversations at BRITE.

1) Stop thinking of customers as individuals. Start thinking of them as networks.

This is the central thesis of my next book, “The Network Is Your Customer,” which I previewed at the conference. Many speakers throughout BRITE represented new businesses built on customer networks: InnoCentive, MakerBot, SheSpeaks, myBarackObama.com. Others presented businesses that have adapted to this new model of the dynamically engaged customer: NPR, Samsung, the Red Cross. In my talk, I argued that businesses need to re-think how they create customer value, by understanding the five core behaviors of customer networks: accessing, engaging, customizing, connecting, and collaborating. I presented cases of network-based products, services, and communications, including Virgin American’s in-flight Wi-Fi service, Zipcar’s on-demand car rentals, and IBM’s videogame Innov8, which has become the #1 lead generation tool for their top selling business software.

2) No customer is statistically insignificant.

Musician Dave Carroll shared his music with us and told the story of how United Airlines refused to pay for damages when it broke his guitar, leading him to record the song “United Breaks Guitars,” which was viewed over 7 million times on YouTube. Aliza Freud presented a case study of how Nestle mishandled its relationship with customers on Facebook by assuming it could dictate all the rules of their conversation. When United Airlines met with Carroll and announced new luggage policies, the company told him that they had never done so before because his problem was “statistically insignificant.” In the world of customer networks, every customer is significant and has a voice, whether she is posting on your Facebook page or singing testimony at a passenger’s rights hearing on Capitol Hill.

3. Be the influencer.

Duncan Watts put some hard numbers to the question of customer influence online, drawing on his latest research study that tracked the diffusion of 8 million user posts on Twitter. His analysis showed that influence in customer networks will come not from hiring a few celebrity spokespeople (e.g. paying Kim Kardashian to tweet about you), but rather from inspiring lots of slightly influential customers to spread your message—what Watts called a “Big Seed” strategy. As Matt Quint said, the point is not for brands to find and hire an “influencer” (someone with a following of engaged and loyal constituents); rather, brands have to be that influencer—by engaging their own audiences directly.

4. Lower the barriers to entry for customers, and raise your level of expectations.

New digital tools make it possible now to connect and collaborate with constituents to an unprecedented degree.  Thomas Gensemer of Blue State Digital presented examples of how they helped organizations like the Barack Obama campaign and the Red Cross to lower the barriers of entry for participation by their supporters. He explained the importance of a tiered approach that allows supporters to engage just a little or a great deal, depending on their level of commitment. Gensemer and Freud both talked about the benefits of connecting with customers in private networks, which lack the scale of a platform like Facebook, but allow you to control the experience and own your customer data.

5. Shift from mindless to mindful consumption.

Looking at data from 500,000 consumers around the world, John Gerzema argued that the Great Recession has ushered in an era where customers are seeking more than mindless consumption, and businesses can gain competitive advantage by demonstrating their values. The data showed an almost 400% increase in the number of customers who cared if companies were “kind,” and more than 70% of respondents reported that they make a point to buy from companies whose values are similar to their own. New businesses like Paperless Post and Blu Homes, as well as established ones like Wal-Mart, are finding ways to connect with the “post-crisis consumer” by being mindful of their values.

6. True innovation balances emotional & functional design.

SCHMITTYoon Lee, and Reid Sullivan described how Samsung developed a breakthrough new product in the digital camera category. The 2View, with a screen on both sides, was developed after research showed customers increasingly taking snapshots by pointing cameras at themselves with friends. Lee, who leads Samsung’s Product Innovation Team, stressed that innovation needs to balance functional and emotional values in a product, and that innovation processes need to include emotional quality testing as well as functional quality testing.

7. Leverage untapped potential in your organization.

Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, talked about the untapped potential in networks that can be seen in car-sharing, couch-surfing, and the recent invention of ChatRoulette by Russian teenager Andrey Ternovskiy. Dwayne Spradlin showed how InnoCentive’s global network of independent experts have solved critical innovation issues for organizations like SAP and SunNight solar. Vivian Schiller told the story of how a customer conversation in the comment section of NPR’s news blog solved the mystery of the Balloon Boy hoax long before police or reporters did. “No matter what story you are covering…” Schiller said, “there is someone out in your audience who knows more about that than you do.”

8. Culture eats strategy for lunch.

Everyone agreed that the biggest challenge for established organizations in a time of disruption is not just finding the right strategy, but ensuring that your organizational culture will support that strategy. Schiller said that NPR’s recent Peabody Award reflected the recent retraining of every employee at NPR in the skills and orientation for a digital news organization. Jeff Jarvis asked whether the Washington Post can adapt as an organization to compete with profitable journalism start-ups like Politico, which operates with 2% as many employees. Leadership from the C-suite will be necessary for organizations that want to move beyond traditional silos—marketing, sales, operations—and drive innovation from both inside and outside the firm.

9. You are not in the business that you think you are in.

Schmitt took to the stage with DJ Steve Popkin playing ambient house music to argue that our digital age is marked by circularity of experience. As we face the end of linear strategies and straightforward business models, every organization needs to reconsider what business it is in. Jarvis described how retailer Best Buy is increasingly behaving like a media company, and how media companies like London’s Telegraph are surviving by becoming retail merchandisers. With 30,000 newsroom journalists lost in only 2 years, Schiller argued that what we are looking at is not the death of news, but a revolution in its business model. “We need to stop looking back and relentlessly deal with this reality,” she said, and then quoted Shimon Peres, “If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact that must be coped with.”


On its second day, BRITE ’10 got even more interactive, with our 300 attendees splitting out into workshops and panel discussions that included “Myths and Realities of Building Brands Online,” “Applying Design Thinking to Marketing Challenges,” “Designing & Scaling New Growth Ventures,” and “The Future of Content Online.”

Participants also got a chance to see hands-on demos and talk to the entrepreneurs behind some of today’s cutting-edge technologies, including:

  • Astor Place Media—showcasing a new kind of choose-your-own-adventure music video
  • Fifty100–whose “ethical music distribution” incentivizes fans to share music with their friends
  • CabSense–utilizing GPS data to show you the best locations to get a taxi in real-time, throughout the day
  • Ogmento—“augmented reality” games that entertain or teach spelling by overlaying virtual images on top of reality as seen through an iPhone
  • MakerBot—a desktop 3D printer that lets you build anything smaller than a coffee mug, out of plastic, in just minutes

Want to see more? We will have hi-def speaker videos posted soon (I will come back and add links to the above).  In the meantime, you can see photos and video shot and uploaded by our attendees at the BRITE Media Community page.

But to really experience BRITE, you’ll have to be there in person. I hope to see you next year at BRITE ’11!


This post originally posted by David on the DavidRogers.biz blog at: http://www.davidrogers.biz

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