Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Architecture of Participation

A couple of months ago Tim O’Reilly coined the term “Architecture of Participation” (http://radar.oreilly.com/tim/) , describing how innovative companies implement an easy to use structure in which every employee can contribute his or her best ideas, concepts, innovative breakthroughs. He outlines how a company’s internal open and “merit-based” Online Network can be one of the best models to build a long lasting innovative advantage.

This concept of unlocking the creative and innovative power of employees has been recently transferred to the marketing space. Marketers involve stronger and stronger the consumer in building dialog enabled brands. More and more marketing programs enable consumers to create their own brand oriented marketing devices (eg TV spots, Taglines, Messages), all based on the premise of utilizinge consumer generated content as an additional push to increase consumer engagement.

The significant difference between Tim O’Reilly’s concept of innovation focused “Architecture of Participation” and the dialog oriented consumer marketing approach is its intent: on the one hand the drive to utilize the power of a merits based innovation network (very similar to Open Source software projects), on the other hand the consumer driven brand creation by contributing consumer created marketing vehicles back to the brand owner, the company.
Both applications of Tim O’Reilly’s concept can learn from its counterpart. But in both cases the break through power of “Architecture of Participation” lies fundamentally in allowing individuals to contribute their creations. Successfully implemented concepts seem to share similar traits and best practices rules:

  • Provide easy to use contribution systems: The contributor does not spend a lot of time to learn the contribution application but spends his or her time on creating something interesting and personally relevant
  • Control and police contributions as little as possible: Contributors realize very fast if the contribution system is primarily a marketing gimmick with very tight central controls or if it’s really a system with extensive freedoms
  • Enrich the contributor’s experience: The contribution recipient (employer or brand owner) has to offer an additional experiential benefit beyond the simple fact of allowing his or her contribution. This benefit can be a recognition element or real influence on the brand itself.

This accelerating trend demonstrates that Marketers realize once again: Brands are ultimately not owned by the legal brand owner, the company, but by the diffuse and often disconnected community of consumers. The marketer should not be surprised that a well executed “Architecture of Participation” concept strengthens the consumer ownership of a brand, with either positive or negative consequences. It’s not easy for us marketers to not only give up control over the brand, but to enable and accelerate the control transformation to the consumer.

2 Comments:

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