Engagement is not a fad

It’s hard to believe there are less than 80 days left in 2009 but this time of year spawns Top 10 lists of all sorts. I ran across this one of the Top 10 Brand and Marketing Trends of 2010. Value, increased customer expectations and interconnected consumer communities are the first 9 trends but the author has saved the best for last:

Engagement is not a fad; It’s the way today’s consumers do business

I’m not sure how many marketers really get how fundamental this shift is, particularly with packaged goods. True authenticity, or the clever manipulation thereof (think Betty Crocker), will be difficult for “manufactured brands.” In the wine world I spend much of my time in these days, that means those cute, critter labels are in for some tough sledding while wines made by real people that can deliver true value will thrive (Chile, Spain and Italy should do very well). Or those that are industrial will need to develop a strategy to humanize their brands (think Stormhoek).

Check out the entire post here.

Drawing by Hugh Macleod of gapingvoid.com

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Radio Shack RIP

The recent rebranding of RadioShack as “The Shack” seems to me a sign the venerable electronics retailer is making it’s last stand. And it’s sad for those of us who grew up with the brand and have only recently gone elsewhere for electronic parts due to a dwindling selection at most retail outlets. Instead of radios, electronic instruments and other cool products under the counter, today’s Shack is more likely to feature an overpriced netbook. Big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Costco own the market for such products and RadioShack can’t seem to find their niche in this new environment. The few times I visit a store these days is to buy an overpriced cord to connect my iPod to the rental car aux jack. If I see a Wal-mart or Target before a Shack location, I go to those retailers as the same product is likely available for less.

But I will remember Radio Shack as the place to buy obscure electronic parts, educational kits and, yes, radios. My 18 year old Realistic shortwave still reliably tunes in the BBC when I’m out of wifi range or the power is out. RIP Radio Shack. You will be missed.

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Should Brands Join or Build Their Own Social Network?

One of the most recent bloggers to make it into my aggregator is Jeremiah Owyang’s Web Strategy blog. Yesterday he posted an interesting question in the Web Strategy Facebook group, “Should Brands Join or Build Their Own Social Network?”

On the surface, it’s an easy answer for me as I’m a big believer that companies should engage with their customers where they are right now and not force them to join yet another social network. It just makes sense for brands like Nike, Coke and Starbuck’s to build presences on Facebook, Twitter and Second Life as that’s where their customers are currently aggregated. There are a lot of interesting answers in the thread on both sides of the issue but it seems a slim majority favor joining rather than creating.

So it was interesting to see Doc Searls’ take on this question this morning. I’ve been reading Doc since I discovered The Cluetrain Manifesto, totally got it, and immediately started blogging and podcasting (since I was late to the game, this was only 3 years ago). Doc compares today’s social networks with the online services of the 1980’s and ’90’s; basically, managed walled gardens of discussion. He also takes the question a bit more literally than most asserting that brands can’t really get social; only people can.

If you are with me that brands are really just extensions of companies and their products (Apple comes to mind as the poster child here), then I think they can participate in social networks in constructive, not solely promotional, ways. And this applies to both the public and private sectors. For example, I’d like to see my local school board blog meeting minutes and post podcasts. This would make being directly involved with topics that affect my son’s education more accessible for me and a lot of other parents who can’t make it to the meetings. True, some industries don’t lend themselves to social media due to privacy and/or security concerns but there are educational opportunities for just about every company or government agency.

So I think brands, and companies, should embrace social networks but hope they join the existing platforms and not start their own walled garden.