Is the future about wikibrands? — brands that belong to everyone, and grow and evolve based on consumers’ direct participation.

Based on the Hawaiian word for “fast,” we now refer to a”wiki” as a way for websites to allow anyone to add, delete, or revise content. Consumers are now sharing more content than ever, via online media such as email, Facebook, blogging, Twitter and RSS. Consumers are turning out more content every day than commercial broadcasters, and it has been suggested that
with this push towards content sharing and wiki’s, that Brand’s must share their brand in order to grow.

Big Brands are now attempting to grow and evolve based on consumers’ direct participation. Pepsi has recently launched a social media campaign encouraging consumers to propose new projects for “refreshing” their communities; Procter & Gamble is collaborating on product development through interactive media; Starbucks is attracting more than 100,000 customer suggestions through mystarbucksidea.com.

As Brand specialists, we often communicate that a brand is not what you say it is, it’s what the consumer says it is…and this is becoming self evident.

The wikibrand methodology allows brands and entrepreneurs to test new marketing and communication approaches, using such tools as Facebook Pages to solicit feedback on new product ideas or services…and the responses tend to be very…Wiki!

You can say it’s a bit risky getting customers involved in product development or brand initiatives, but in the age of new media it’s definitely worth testing the waters and getting instant customer insights…after all, people were putting raisins in their cereal long before Kellog’s Raisin Bran.

Consumers have always been the determiners of user experience. A new study suggests that 74% of respondents said they like having many choices in what they purchase, which leads us to believe that if marketers don’t give more selection and alternatives, the consumers will look elsewhere. Customization is also key; 54% say they often modify the things they own “to make them fit who I am.”

Consumers want to get involved with your brand. The study states two-thirds are willing to participate in market research related to brands they buy; 61% would help design products; 37% would join a brand discussion group, and only 10% said they don’t want to collaborate on products.

Just as Wikipedia views its contributors as part of its network, companies can use the thinking of wikibrands to bring their customers into the fold. Rather than focusing on customers as conventional wisdom proclaims, marketers can engage them. Co-innovation and new value exchanges can replace old-style “customer centricity” and market segmentation. And customers, rather than being passive recipients of goods, services, and messages can participate actively and directly with corporations.

With this arrival of new media and consumer involvement, businesses are encouraged to facilitate dialogue become involved in the passions of their consumers through such tools as Facebook, Twitter, community building,  customer advisory boards, and ambassador programs. Businesses should promote active consumer participation before products are developed and consider the innovation less of an event and more of an ongoing pursuit.

Authors of a new book called Wikibrands promote a model called FLIRT to build successful Wikibrands:

Focus

Start by determining what exactly you want to share with which community, and how deep you want the interaction to be;

Language

Language and content Set the “face,” tone and context in which you present your brand to the potential audience;

Incentives

Motivation and outreach Determine what intrinsic or explicit rewards your customers, followers or fans will receive for participating in your community and promoting it to others;

Rules and rituals

What guidelines, general principles and loose cultural norms will govern behaviour in your collaborative community?

Tools and platforms

Determine what technical infrastructure your community will use, and which community features and activities you will add to maximize user enjoyment and participation.

Today, the brand is becoming a more complex construct. In fact, the brand has an architecture of sorts that includes various critical elements requiring constant attention and strategy.