How can a business of any size stand out and profit in an @anywhere world? It’s all about currency. Brand Social Currency, that is. Vivaldi Partners, an international brand consultancy, just put out its Social Currency 100, which ranks the social branding efforts of companies across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. From cars to confections, luxury goods to toys, the firm compiled a list of campaigns that made their mark on the web, social networks, mobile or location-based platforms, microsites, or even in print, over the past three years.
Vivaldi Partners has been tracking social currency for a while. Fast Company reported on its inaugural study in 2010 that measured the value of brand assets in the shifting marketplace.
Vivaldi Partners' methodology was developed in conjunction with MIT Sloan statisticians and Lightspeed Research and is made up of six key dimensions: Utility; Affiliation; Identity; Conversation; Advocacy; and Information. Likewise, the Social Currency 100+ ranks based on that "social six" criteria. The research shows that social currency translates to greater loyalty—and a willingness to pay premium prices for their products.
Here are five takeaway lessons from the brands that made the list:
Reuniting Barbie and Ken after their 2004 breakup was not an easy feat for Mattel. The toy company that created the iconic sweethearts more than 50 years ago has been struggling to keep up with savvier 6-year-olds since "Earring Magic" Ken prompted more derision than dollars. And when Bratz dolls emerged, kids jumped ship, seriously undercutting Mattel’s profits. So the company put all its stock in social media efforts that included Barbie and Ken profiles on Match.com, Twitter, and Foursquare and streamed it all on a YouTube video. Fans were encouraged to vote on whether Barbie should "take Ken back" or not on BarbieAndKen.com.
Result (spoiler alert): Facebook states that Barbie is currently "in a relationship." Vivaldi Partners says using contemporary communication worked for refreshing the brand but affiliation for this initiative wasn't strong, since it was simply a voting game. Sales for Barbie were up 17% in the third quarter this year.
Lesson: When reviving an old workhorse, consider the entire target market. Ken and Barbie may be toys for children, but it’s the moms and dads on Facebook and Foursquare who have the buying power.
Scoring big points for a "wow" factor, Intel's Museum of Me makes a video from photos and "Likes" on a Facebook user's profile projected onto the walls of virtual museum. As the point is to get beyond the gasp of the cool and into the wallets of potential purchasers of Intel’s Core i5 Computer Processor, Vivaldi Partners finds that Intel did generate a "fair amount of advocacy and conversation for/about the application, and thus the brand."
Result: Intel reported that sales in its PC division were up 22% in the third quarter.
Lesson: Any branding effort that focuses on the user/consumer will boost all-important sharing (Hey, look at what I made!) and narcissism can translate to revenue.
Flip Video, maker of the nifty shoot-and-share HD camcorders wanted to inject life (and motion) into static profile shots on Facebook. The Flip Your Profile app, presented by the Flip Video Singapore team, allowed Facebook users to switch their profile picture to a profile video by uploading their videos to Flip's Profile Maker application on Facebook.
Result: Cisco bought out Flip and then promptly shuttered the division, citing the need to focus on its core business-to-business market.
Lesson: Even great campaigns can’t stop a shutdown. The initiative scored high on the Social Currency meter. As a tool for self-expression it was the best example of identity generators, according to Vivaldi. "The innovative and viral nature of this initiative helped it score high in building conversation and stimulating positive advocacy."
Teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters teamed up with Polyvore, the web’s largest fashion community, to launch a 10-day-long styling contest. Polyvore users were required to create a look for Spring Break using at least two American Eagle products from the 100 provided. The contest garnered 13,684 submissions and winners scored American Eagle Gift Cards (in values of $1,000, $500, and two $250 prizes) and a spot for their collage on American Eagle's billboard in Times Square.
Result: The Polyvore community is quickly becoming a fashion force to be reckoned with as users create over 35,000 sets a day and the site attracts over 11 million unique visitors per month. American Eagle got points for creativity, positive representation, and upped its style profile among users. The contest also provided a shot in the arm for sales—up 11% in the third quarter.
Lesson: To expand your reach and draw more customers, play in a different (and bigger) sandbox. Vivaldi gave American Eagle props for community building on a larger platform, "allowing them to comment on looks that were created and find styling inspiration from one other."
Barcelona-based art-collective Blablablab did its best to have life imitate art when it jury-rigged a RapMan kit printer programmed to read openKinect data via custom software (developed using the free software openFrameworks, to create miniature souvenir statues of passersby striking poses.
Result: The installation debuted in January, however, rolling out for more mass consumption is still proving to be more work than Blablablab’s developers intended. Their site says it will be ready in a couple of weeks but we’re not sure how long ago that message was posted.
Lesson: Most quirky and fun initiatives don’t necessarily lend themselves to mass market replication. Beyond obvious technical challenges, Vivaldi says the initiative doesn't "score much on advocacy, affiliation, and/or utility due to the fact that the interaction is mostly between the brand and the users, and not as much between the users themselves."