What Whales and Space Stations Have in Common

humpback_tailToday, brands have unprecedented access to their audiences. No longer reliant solely on research intermediaries conducting periodic focus groups and surveys, marketers now hear directly from their brand’s consumers. Via social media amplification, brands can quickly see how consumers are reacting to a social network redesign, or to an abrupt termination of a spokesman.
Many organizations are using this access to reach out and connect with constituenciesósometimes with surprising results. Back in 2007, Greenpeace asked its fans to help name (and save) a humpback whale. Internet users rejected mellifluous names like Libertad and Mira in favor of the less dignified (and arguably hilarious) Mr. Splashypants.
Similarly, this week, NASA’s poll for the new wing of a national space station allowed a write-in option. Comedian Stephen Colbert urged his viewers to submit his name, and Colbert was the winner in a landslide.
All this raises an interesting question: how much should your brand assets become a democracy? Indisputably, brands can be shaped by their consumers and audiences as never before. But when core assets are handed over, does the community risk becoming a mob? Or does an engaged community trump all? Henry Ford was famously at the other end of the spectrum with this attributed remark on user input: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Photo credit: Richard.Fisher

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