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Utility

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My Tool Box April 2006, originally uploaded by geishaboy500.
Link: marktd: Brands 2.0: Branded Utility – Jack Cheng

There seems to be a belated realisation that comms planning is all well and good but you need to have something decent to communicate and that over time it gets harder and harder to be interesting and communicate well and to enter the world of the individual.  Brands just inherently struggle to find things to talk about in a way that is interesting and believable.  I think this is where some of John Grant’s work on brands as cultural concepts, looking outward rather than than closing down and defining can be useful.  But the digital age requires brands to up the frequency with which they engage and of course engage in a more well, engaging way to cut through to the fragmented groups that come together often only to disperse again as quickly as they formed.  That, combined with peoples ability to ‘read’ marketing’s referential system in more sophisticated ways and of course more cynical ways seems to have led to this "branded utility" meme.  Provide some *value*.  Deliver. Don’t talk, *do*.  Which of course all seems so right for today’s [primarily younger] ‘audiences as co-creators’.  This isn’t of course to the exclusion of other more emotive, ‘fluffier’ stuff :-) as Katie mentions with reference to Aristotle’s thoughts on friendship:

Take Aristotle’s concept of friendship. He proposed three models: friendship based on utility (a friend who provides something useful to us); friendship based on pleasure (we enjoy a friend’s company); and friendship based on virtue or mutual admiration (we find a friend who shares our values).

Whilst the latter are according to Aristotle the most enduring friendships, utility had the least longevity as it was based on a very functional relationship.  And you do need all three.  But from my experience of using Google‘s GTD product suite [and I think it can be called that now], wordpress, AIM in different guises, flickr, del.icio.us  [god and the list goes on.. magnolia, twitter – dammit!, the various extensions to firefox inc performancing and of course the myriad of widgets]… I’m far more likely to develop pleasure and admiration as a result of using those services and consequently utility for me is the driving force in brand engagement.  Services themselves enable a more emotive connection in the social web of things.  So why have we not seen much in the way of branded utility in practice?  I can only really think of the BA Google Earth mashup by agency.com as truly deserving of the name by a non-web business.  I’d love to know why it’s such a struggle to push utility / services through a marketing budget.  I’m imagining that it’s to do with the fact that:

  1. you can’t present the outcomes easily and prototyping to pitch to a client is an expensive risk
  2. large organisations tend to have strict budget allocations and ‘utility’ probably falls in product areas or even worse between the gaps
  3. and of course a lot of clients still don’t "get it".  yadda. though how long have we been hearing that for now?

You seen any good utilities from non-web businesses? Why are they slow to come through? 

And on a similar note I;m going to try to post less stuff that adds little or no value to a conversation and do more stuff that does add value.  The noise may be the signal in development but I’m sensing in planning it’s still mostly noise. With that in mind perhaps we should propose "planning utility" with  the strap-line "more than just words"?  Mr. Richard Reynolds always seemed to me to be that kind of planner.  A do-er planner.

6 Comments
  1. brand-free until 2007

    I’ve got nothing left to say about brands and advertising. It’s not that complicated. I don’t think the blogosphere needs any more pontification about that sort of nonsense from the likes of me. And, frankly, I’m beginning to bore myself

  2. Let’s be honest, people in advertising were probably saying what you said in your opening sentence years ago. It’s an ongoing dilemma, surely?

  3. mog. yep, it’s an ongoing problem for brands. but my point is that providing some utility is the strategic way out of that dilemma, at least for now.

  4. lol. gosh, we’re all feeling guilty! nice idea. be good if you/we could provide a more distinct ‘goal’. from experience starting group work needs more direction in order to cohere. i’ve got a couple:
    1. ask a planner an ad question – yahoo! answers style for those that sign up
    2. provide a series of “public service” iniatives such as the guerilla gardening e.g. make something to give away [charitable “make” style thing] where people put up what they’re going to make, say how etc. as a pledge [use pledge bank for this] and then post pic of end product.. which you give away to charity etc of choice?
    3. join adbusters 😀

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