Transparency and New Corporate Marketing (aka Building Intimacy)

[cross-posted at 30B]

In the relatively short product life of 30 Boxes we have made plenty of discoveries, had some assumptions validated, and had others completely overturned. Having over a decade of experience in consumer web apps, though, one thing is evident, the Web refuses to stand still and it continues to disrupt. The companies that recognize this and adapt will survive, others will continue to leak users and be relegated to the Legacy Web.

Many years ago, we learned that consumers were responding better to marketing or messaging that was what we termed “non-monolithic” or delivered not from some lofty, large corporate entity but in a more friendly tone and from someone (even if that person was fictional). As end consumers start to reclaim their influence (a trend most evident with the rise of blogging and social media), we are seeing wholesale shifts in the way businesses relate to and communicate with users.

It is one thing to pay lip service to the time honored business principle of “listening to the customer” but quite another to accept the challenge as a business. It is also easier for a small business to be more personable for two reasons: there is a smaller chain of command for acceptable outbound messaging and smaller businesses usually have smaller (more heterogeneous) audiences; you don’t run the risk of confusing users or having issues with scale.

That said, we are seeing a major trend toward transparency and it has an impact. Flickr is a great example of a product that has made exceptional use of one-on-one marketing and maintained it even as it grew out of the trendy confines of the blogosphere and into mainstream. Why? Well, it starts with a blog (duh!) but that is only step one. Stewart and Caterina have been tireless evangelists within the flickr community (as contacts, in groups, and offline at conferences and meet ups). They care about their users, large and small, big and tall.

Many of the succesful Web2.0 startups (YouTube, digg, etc.) employ variations on the theme of: approachability. It is very far removed from the tactics of burying contact information, impersonal responses, and treating customer support as a cost center which is still the norm at the portals (including Google). Start paying attention when you sign up for services. Who is marketing to you? How are they doing it? Who is the email from? Increasingly you will notice that this communication is designed to create intimacy. Instead of coming from “noreply” it will come from a real person and treat you like you matter because you do.

It is the new path toward brand building. Gone are the days of spending millions of dollars to build brand awareness. It turns out that a small company can score much higher on trust and reliability if they build intimacy. What’s the catch? Well, it means that as a small company, you have ready to accept that responsibility. You have to be prepared to be called out when you get it wrong. It requires a lot of humility. It also requires a LOT of effort.

There are and will be lots of folks who try to fake it. The good thing is that sincerity is hard to fake and effort is even harder. In the end, your constomers will decide your fate by either evangelizing your product or business or casting it aside.

Sorry for accidentally writing an essay. I set out to let everyone know that we have updated our anonymous home page, which now has a login form. Along the lines of what I was discussing earlier, that page includes one of the three of us in the greeting (as does our 404 – Page Not Found page!)


We have also updated lots of our email templates to include avatars and add a more stylish look and feel. Where appropriate, we have also “taken ownership” by assigning one of the three of us to the email template.

We’re getting bigger but staying small. Enjoy the weekend.

[tags]30boxes, marketing, pr, publicrelations, intimacy, legacyweb, web2.0, transparency, youtube, digg, google, flickr, stewartbutterfield, caterinafake[/tags]

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