A cohesive and tightly controlled brand used to be the pinnacle for a product or company. For many leaders this still rings true, but a new concept emerged with the widespread use of the internet and it is only now clearly being recognized as the leader of company organization. Open platforms have emerged out of the ether and dominated their respective markets. Large slow-moving companies are adopting them and startups are displacing those that don’t. It is no longer enough to have a strong brand, now you must enable and encourage the pubic to use and misuse your product to their own ends. In other words, don’t build a brand, build a platform.
Microsoft transformed from an innovative startup to a corporate Goliath faster than is scarcely believable. At the blink of an eye they were “The Man.” They moved slowly and constantly made missteps. They kept a tight reign on their products and legally pursued those that modified or tampered with their wares. Then something funny happened in 2010. They released the Kinect.
When hackers and tinkerers started taking Kinects apart and modifying them, doing things that Microsoft never would have imagined, the company uncharacteristically embraced the trend. They actually modified the hardware and released an SDK to help them. Whether they knew it or not, the Kinect team and by extension Microsoft had embraced the Kinect platform as being more important than the Kinect brand.
The iPhone, Facebook, YouTube, Android, and a host of others have all given up ultimate control of their product and reaped passionate followings and the revenues to match. In addition to big sales number, they’ve also gained access to the world’s intelligence by letting their customers be their innovation programs. They realize that it is better to let the world think for you, then scrape/buy/promote the best that bubbles up.
By creating a platform, you are getting a ball rolling that others in the public can then pick up and take where it best fits their needs and desires. This co-creation of the brand and platform turns customers into evangelists and products into gateways. The most succesful companies realize that the platform comes first, and the brand will emerge from that after the public have gotten their hands on it. Ecosystems, like information, want to be free.
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