Saturday 01 October 2016

Viral vs. Enduring

This post was originally published on Tony Long’s blog Cultural Exception.

To a brand manager, “viral” represents the effortless thrill of a no-strings lover calling the brand’s name. And she/he has tickets to that thing users love. But shouldn’t engagement offer more than the lottery promise of viral? Shouldn’t teams deliver more than a transient experience, one that is an extension of the brand?

To do this one can look to the one and only Cosmo Kramer. Well, not just Kramer, but the whole cast. And not really the cast, rather it’s just a couple of guys who love the show.

Introducing @SeinfeldToday

With over 498,000 followers at the time of this writing, @SeinfeldToday (or, “Modern Seinfeld” as it calls itself) is a Twitter feed that communicates on a daily / near-daily / spontaneous basis what a Seinfeld plotline might be today, given current events and popular memes. More than a Twitter feed, it is the embodiment of brand engagement that has been released completely to the brand advocates. The work of writers Jack Moore (@BuzzFeedJack) and Josh Gondelman (@JoshGondelman), Modern Seinfeld is everything a brand manager could want: Dedicated effort by consumers at maintaining the brand’s voice on behalf of the brand. Since the content isn’t the work of the brand itself, these freeform efforts have the effect of extending the lifespan and freshness of the brand beyond reruns. Or, in the parlance of product marketing, line extensions.

This stuff really could be woven into a new season of Seinfeld. Through @SeinfeldToday the show lives on not as a memory of a different decade with different hairstyles, but as a vital, relevant, modern version of Seinfeld. Or, as Jerry might have said, “It’s a MODERN SEINFELD!!”

This approach is definitely not right for every company. For a non-media brand without the eternal quoteability of Seinfeld, how could this work? By sticking to the basic concept of allowing constituents to own the brand, and execution becomes a little easier to envision. For instance:

  • Dedicate a visible part of product ideation to customer input.
  • Start a Tumblr blog dedicated to letting the audience have its way (in a lightly moderated way) with the company’s IP.
  • Engage a service like Bazaarvoice to integrate consumer reviews and feedback directly into the brand’s web properties.
  • Run a secondary Twitter feed that is guest-curated by a celebrity with edgy, comic timing to react to specific happenings connected with major events. This feels like what Oreo Cookies did with the Super Bowl, but instead of delivering company-created content, the comments are closer to the consumer and less about the brand. Just like the impressionist, it’s what consumers wish the brand would say.

Without question, the corporate counsel will lose their mind when they see this. The purveyors of @SeinfeldToday may have had to stare down Cease and Desist letters. But denying the efforts of a dedicated brand fan base is like King Canute trying to command the tides: short-lived at best, and ultimately futile. The technology needed to make the brand belong to its biggest fans is not only available, it is easy to deploy and is largely free. It’s time to consider new ways to put it to work in the service of its audience so they can be in the service of the brand.

Image credit: James Cridland

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