Earlier this week YouTube announced it would pony up $5 million, and eventually more, to back emerging auteurs whose videos attract viewers to the popular site. There are two ways to look at this new initiative.
First it’s an effort to get more quality content onto the site. The funding will motivate professionals and talented amateurs alike to create, upload and promote their content.
But second, and more importantly, it’s an acknowledgment that it’s not YouTube the brand or YouTube the platform that draws traffic, but rather the videos and the people who create them. YouTube will inevitably recruit better content creators and then have something new to market.
Customers are your greatest asset
Youtube, of course, isn’t the only brand that’s figured this out. Plenty of smart businesses realize their customers and users are their most valuable asset. They not only represent repeat business, they become advocates whose endorsement (whether on blogs, Twitter or conversation at a cocktail party), content and participation drive more business. (If you’re not yet thinking this way, you may want to read Joesph Jaffe’s new book Flip the Funnel; it will both convince you that it matters and present you with some useful tactics.)
But an active community might be worth even more
But the YouTube initiative isn’t just about attending to customers. It’s actually closer to “ladies night.” You remember ladies night. A bar lets women drink for less in hopes that more single females show up and act as a magnet for the opposite sex. Neither sex comes for the bar or the venue as much as they do for one another. Essentially the bar is gathering a community worth marketing.
Offline advertisers have always done this. VW built an entire brand image around the people who drove the cars rather than the cars themselves. Ralph Lauren Polo did the same. However in those cases the “communities” were contrived and lived only as two-dimensional images on magazine pages or as scenes played by actors in TV commercials.
A community can be the reason to “join” a brand
It strikes me that one of the next opportunities for brands is to market the real communities they build. Or at least promote them as an added benefit. Aren’t there people who purchased Dell computers in part for the customer-run service is? Or runners who bought Nike not only because it offers Nike + but because the community itself is a virtue?
So far it appears that most brands see the value in creating a community only as a service to existing customers but not as a feature worth marketing. But why not make it another reason to embrace their brand or buy their product?
The “gift of community,” as I like to call it, should be part of every brand’s marketing plan. Offer customers and prospects a way for them to connect with each other so they can meet, share, learn.
As Clay Shirky reminds us in Cognitive Surplus “humans intrinsically value a sense of connectedness.” Smart brands realize that customers can create value for each other. In the future smarter brands will learn to market that fact.
Some communities worth marketing:
Got any others?