Create A Brand Ecosystem

I recently saw a quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt describing the fact that consumers now choose which "ecosystem" they want to buy into when selecting their mobile phones, tablets and other gadgets - currently a choice between Google, Apple and Microsoft. The concept of a consumer ecosystem is an interesting one, and it goes well beyond the technology sector. In fact, a wide range of businesses can utilize a similar approach to their own operations.

Whatever your business, consider creating an ecosystem for your customers (although you may have to stretch the definition a bit). This could apply to various aspects of your business, from the shopping experience to product usage. Experience is the key word here. You want to create an all-encompassing experience for your customers, and most importantly, a positive one. The goal is to create your own little branded universe.

On a recent trip to Vermont, I visited the Magic Hat Brewing Company. If you're unfamiliar with Magic Hat beer, the company is a unique microbrewery with a very distinctive brand image. As the guide on our brewery tour explained, when the company was founded in 1994, the founders noticed that most micro-brewed beers featured the same innocuous, forgettable branding. They decided that they could stand out from the crowd by creating an off-the-wall brand to go along with their unique (and delicious) beer. While Magic Hat is an excellent example of effective branding, they are also notable for creating a brand ecosystem. As soon as you walk into the windowless building that houses the brewery, you enter the Magic Hat universe.

You're greeted by a darkly lit room filled with eclectic, funky decor. A bar along one wall of the main room offers free samples of beer. Every aspect of the brewery fits into the carefully crafted Magic Hat universe. This universe extends to their actual beer as well. Each of their beers has a unique style and branding (#9, Blind Faith, Hocus Pocus and Fat Angel to name a few) but all fit within the Magic Hat universe. Even if you're not able to visit the brewery, you can still be a part of the Magic Hat ecosystem. On the underside of each beer cap is a witty saying, making the customer feel like they are part of an inside joke, part of a community. In fact, community is a large part of this strategy. Social media is a great starting point for this, allowing you to keep customers immersed in your ecosystem even when they're not shopping or actively engaged (or in this case, drinking beer). Magic Hat builds community with multiple Twitter accounts, an active community on Facebook, various contests, and special events such as their annual Mardi Gras parade in Burlington, VT.

By creating an ecosystem for your customers, you can build community, increase loyalty and rule your own universe.

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