The other day, I was walking out of the office of an industrial manufacturer and one of its executives looked at my new briefcase and said, "Oh cool, you're a Fluevog guy".
That comment really made me think about the dynamic relationships that we form with companies and their brands today. It reinforced how certain, well-developed brands define you as a person to those around you. And, most importantly, it reinforced the fact that this status can and has been achieved by companies – big and small – like Apple, Zipcar or Fluevog.
As an advocate of branding and innovation, and a business practitioner, I try to maintain a measure of brand objectivity. But, for a minute, I'm going to put the shoe on the other foot, literally. I'm going to be the actual zealous consumer and use Fluevog Footwear as an example of a company that has progressively won my appreciation and affinity with innovative branding and wonderful products. (Full disclosure: they have never been a client of mine. I am simply a fan of the brand).
Founded in 1970 in Vancouver as a single, vintage shoe store, Fluevog now has 14 locations across North America and an amazing website where one can find this tongue in cheek corporate philosophy, 'Moses used tablets, Picasso used paints, God used Moses, Alex G Bell used the telephone and John Fluevog uses shoes. Great minds of the past have used a variety of mediums to communicate their messages – since the beginning of time (or at least John) John has even been using the soles and foot socks of his shoes to communicate with the world.' Compare this statement of purpose to the mission statements of most companies, and it's evident that Fluevog has a pretty eclectic audience in mind.
Other than great shoes and briefcases, what compels me about Fluevog is its ability to connect on a whimsical and functional level with its customers. It has replaced a one-way communication strategy with what I'm going to call an open, two-way 'Conversation Strategy.' Today, a communication strategy can incorporate online dialogue tools. However, too many of us have simply carried forward the old "tell our story" approach to these new media, and that isn't good enough.
Just being present on social media platforms isn't enough to generate buzz and revenues. What Fluevog has managed to do is to use social media to seek out and attract kindred spirits to the brand. In addition to Fluemarket, a site where consumers can buy, sell or swap, Fluevog shoes, the company reaches out to potential designers through Open Source Footwear, where the best ideas are actually made into shoes and the designer given credit.
As a consumer, what distinguishes Fluevog from most companies for me is its passion for making its customers part of the journey. It engages rather than informs. It opens a dialogue instead of a monologue. And perhaps most crucial to Fluevog's success... it lets its customers participate in and celebrate the creative process. So, not only do I own Fluevog products, I have also taken ownership of the company's philosophy of making me a part of the conversion.
We may not all be as eclectic as Fluevog or as artistic. We may be a business-to-business manufacturer of industrial widgets versus purveyors of fashion-forward footwear and accessories. But, we all have a unique story to share. Not just about what we make or what we do, but how our business and our philosophies can enrich and engage our customers or our community. Creating a real conversation means connecting in a meaningful way. Not just about our products or the new innovative introductions that our company is bringing to market. That's just a two dimensional conversation. What can make it 3D is by talking about the things beyond business that inspire us, like articles or books or trends or community events that help us to be better and more relevant people, leaders and managers. Fluevog inspired me by its approach to life in general, not just its shoes. It treats me like a sentient human, not just a paying customer.
Part of the conversion from communication to conversation is the ability to listen. Without the listening part, you can't expect to know your audience and what inspires it. The days of speaking to our customers have been replaced by speaking with them. Conversation is the new cash. And in today's era of social business creating an ongoing, engaging conversation is king. I'd like to invite you to be a part of the conversation by letting me know which organization has found a kindred spirit in you. How did the company engage, delight, involve and engage you in its mission?
Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works Inc. , is a branding and innovation thought leader who helps organizations reimagine their futures. His second co-authoured book on innovation, Cause a Disturbance ( www.causeadisturbance.com ), is due to be released Fall 2013.