The New Utility: A Story about Brand in the Social Age

Agility can be about perspective, about being brave enough to climb up high and get a better view. Being brave enough to shout from your viewpoint that the world has changed. Being brave enough to lead an organisation and community through that change. Because, in the Social Age, everything has changed, but many organisations have failed to notice, and those that remain in the dark for two long will be swept aside.

The Story of Brand

We’ve seen the emergence of value led brands, brands that make stuff, for sure, but which are represented by more than simple transaction: they are represented by something more. By community, by stories, by membership and ownership, by an emotional sense of connection.

A sense of connection you probably don’t feel with your bank or healthcare provide.

Younger, more agile, more innovative organisations, ones who truly grasp the scale of change, recognise that the value they have with their consumers is more a matter of negotiation than broadcast.

Just providing a product of service is no longer enough: instead, we need to add the new utility. Community, relevance, authenticity and responsiveness. On our terms, as consumers.

In the Social Age, the value of a brand is co-created with the community and, largely, the value is held by the community. It’s no longer broadcast and owned by the organisation. It’s no longer about pushing brand onto people, but instead it’s about adding value to people in meaningful ways.

As technology hauled us into the Social Age, organisations were wont to think that their salvation lay in technology: they invested in infrastructure and hardware, systems that let them sell, that let them deliver, that let them trade. Which was all well and good, but the challenge with infrastructure is that it dates, and, when push comes to shove, it only adds one type of value: transactional.

Infrastructure may get the goods out on time, may provide the service, but it doesn’t provide the loyalty or love. That comes through the stories, through the meaning that the organisation provides to the individual.

Storytelling styles

Take Graze, a UK based supplier of snacks. Each week, if you are a subscriber, you get a box through the post. Inside it are separate, carefully packaged and playfully named, packets of snacks. Nut mixes, dried fruit, flapjacks. It’s not utilitarian: it’s experience. It’s choreographed. You can buy mixed nuts more cheaply and in greater quantities at the supermarket, but you can’t get the experience or utility at the supermarket. At christmas, they didn’t send a leaflet trying to sell a credit card: they included a popup Santa Claus and snowman. If the nature of the relationship is transactional, you can transact. If it’s relationship, what you have to do is nurture the relationship.

Look at what Metro bank are doing, also in the UK. They deliberately position themselves as counter to normal banking culture: they open their branches late and at weekends, expressing incredulity that other banks don’t do the same. They are open about their desire to change the market, indeed, they even have a book about it. Sure, it’s a business: it’s an evil bank trying to make money, but they are doing it in relationship terms, and at least demonstrating a clear desire to engage in a more relationship based way. Will they succeed? I suspect it comes down to how they engage over time: if the experience feels fundamentally different over time, then yes. If it feels fundamentally like all the other banks over time, then no.

Take my own bank: when i was in America, i accidentally went into my overdraft and they charged me a fee. When i discussed it with them, i said that maybe they could have phoned me, texted me or emailed me about it. Not just fined me and waited for me to discover it by chance. As i pointed out, when they want to sell me something, they are more than happy to craft an email, post me a leaflet or phone me up. So why not do that when something goes wrong? Transactional is fine, but i don’t love them for it.

By contrast, last Christmas i had a flat tire and went to a chain garage to have it fixed. The guy quickly resolved the problem, but wouldn’t take any money for it. He explained that it was just a small thing, a faulty valve, and not worth charging for. I’d have been happy to pay, but instead, he was investing in a different output; a relationship. I always recommend them and go back there now.

This isn’t about being just nice though: it’s about how we compete and win in the Social Age. It’s about the mindset of your organisation and how agile it is. Broadcast modes of communication, transactional methods of engagement, these are all fine if you want to retain control. They are low risk, in terms of message drift, but high risk in terms of agility.

4 aspects of the agile organisation

If you accept that the value of your brand is held within the community, then you need to engage with your communities, both internally and externally, with authenticity and humility.

When eCommerce rolled out, the conversation was about how to get online and sell. Now that the space is established, the conversation has moved on, but many organisations are still focussed on their platform, instead of focussed on the utility and brand. Successful organisations are crafting a community based on true value: they are agile with the technology, pragmatic about systems, but highly engaged in brand.

At the heart of the message is this: brand is no longer owned by the organisation. It’s substantially owned by the community. Organisations that engage with their community in authentic ways are more likely to forge a relationship based on the new utility: not just transactions, but relationship based and persistent over time.

And agile organisations will understand this: they will see that viewing change as a process will only lead down dead ends. Viewing it as a lifestyle will yield rewards. Agile in technology, agile in mindset, engaged in community and willing to listen.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Brand and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The New Utility: A Story about Brand in the Social Age

  1. Reblogged this on Natalie Lewendon Digital and commented:
    I really like this – the illustrations are boss also. Great stuff about branding, marketing and relationships.

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