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Verizon wants you to "Rule The Air"...which means what exactly?

DATE PUBLISHED: August 04, 2010
Ideation sites. They have been all the rage for years now in marketing. The reasoning behind them seems to be that if you can pick their brains, then you can pick their pockets. It all started with Starbucks and My Starbucks Idea. Then AT&T did an idea site, USA Networks followed suit, and now Verizon is saturating the airwaves with their "Rule The Air" campaign asking for (yes, you guessed it) ideas from people.

There is only one problem. Can anyone prove that this is doing anything? Mind you, the videos are great, and the ideas are sometimes interesting, and there seems to always be good press pick-up when one of these launches, but what exactly is all this ideation leading to? Are these campaigns really creating more enthusiastic consumers? Is new revenue being unlocked?

Having been part of some of these efforts, I have been there in the wildly passionate beginning, the apprehensive middle and then the often-disappointing ending. The power of ideas seems, well, so powerful. But the fly in the ointment may be that the power of these individuals still has to map back to the corporation behind it, and that is where the trouble breaks out.

Here is the thing. This is not meant to be a diatribe on big bad corporations or that causes and corporations don't go together. It's more about the fact that marketing, causes, and corporations have never really figured out how to work together. Take that blobby, amorphous creature called "Cause Marketing." This has been bouncing around for years. In its most basic form, it almost seems trite. Corporation finds a local non-profit that reflects well on them, they run down the street and give the nonprofit a check, they fire off a press release, and look ma, cause marketing!

Although, seriously, this is more public relations than marketing, isn't it? And even when this sort of thing comes from the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) department, it still rings hollow. After a while the audience started figuring out the game, and the need to re-engage with these people in a different way became important. And we had social media. And we had the conversational web. So how about using those to recraft the engagement?

Good in theory, certainly. Now it feels more like a conversation where the brand is asking for opinions rather than providing a cause. More passive, more individual, and in a way smart because it gives big brands a chance to have a small voice. But once again it is an issue of follow through. From a marketing point of view, what is the value of these conversations, and how does one then leverage them to create loyalty, retention and revenue?

The problem with both these approaches is they have inverted the relationship with the brand. From cause marketing to ideation campaigns, the cause or idea is selected based on how well it will project the brand. But this is an external exercise. In reality, a brand needs to look inside itself to find the core values that will then be credibly reflected in the marketing effort.

And this does not mean just assume what your company manufactures is the criteria for causes or ideas. There is no golden rule that says energy companies have to support green nonprofits, or that pharmaceutical companies have to start ideas around healthcare. In fact, making a selection based on what your company does can blur the lines and instantly raise the yuck factor. The more important question is, what does my brand stand for? Because if the core of your brand cannot embody the ideas you are collecting, the effort is doomed.

So what is the power of ideas? First off, the power of ideas is to reflect a truth about your brand. That in sparking conversations about a certain idea you are in fact triggering a conversation about core values. And not just your company or your products; it also includes your employees, your vendors and your partners. Look at powerful brands like Zappos, JetBlue and REI. Their brand is far more than the products they sell because they are perceived to have underlying truths and values that support their brand. That is what your ideas have to resonate with.

Second, the power of these ideas to reflect on your brand is only as powerful as your ability act on these ideas. Take the aforementioned My Starbucks Idea. The beauty of this site is that Starbucks is actually delivering on some of these ideas, and you can track how Starbucks is considering an individual idea. The perception that your idea could be instantiated in the real world is powerful, individual and rewarding, and that builds loyalty. Compare that to the Verizon site. Yes, you have the now-standard checkerboard of individual ideas…but now what? How will Verizon respond? How are these ideas reflecting a greater truth about Verizon as a brand? The reality is they don't. In fact these images are surrounded by icons for buying products. The gig is up even before it has started. So if you are thinking about a similar campaign, realize this. It's not about ideas, it's about truth.

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