For years, all of us - whether on the brand, agency or product sides - have been attempting to play Nostradamus in determining who our audiences are as well as developing assumptions about their purchase behaviors. Now, we have brand monitoring tools that not only enable us to make more educated evaluations about who they really are and what they talk about, but we can also profile and segment those purchase inclinations into real personas. What this ultimately means is that we are creating markets of opportunity first, and marketing associated brands second.
Take for example the now famous KOGI Korean BBQ case study, in which various social media tools were used to geo-target specific affinity groups in order create coordinated offline experiences. KOGI looked at three key elements to their grassroots activation:
1. Associated interests and social graphs already a part of a larger community.
2. Physical spaces for food consumption tied to these common interests.
3. Types and patterns of media consumption that would keep conversations or buzz ongoing.
When you think about engagement in this way - in which the return on intent far outweighs a sale of an actual item or product - you then realize that product branding can be removed almost entirely from the equation. In other words, community activation relies on branding a phenomenon as opposed to a product. The KOGI initiative could've just as easily been an effort around a category or an industry such as "Korean BBQ" or even something broader such as "exotic Asian foods". The response patterns, particularly through microblogs like Twitter, spoke directly to an experience tailored around sharing fine food in distinct urban settings that engendered loyalty to this market.
This is why brand monitoring leaders like Scout Labs, Radian6, eCairn and Overtone play such a vital role - because brands no longer have to take on the inherent risk of launching a product through empirical guesswork. The nice part about this as well is the fact that in many instances, profiling and segmenting don't require a huge window of time, compared to the more traditional methods involving focus groups and product testing.
So, in sum, perhaps it's time for brands to not look at themselves as needing to outpace their competitors in releasing new products, but identifying and supporting new market sectors that would essentially incubate a suite of products. Only time will tell, but it seems like we're already heading in this direction, and fast.