Brand 2.0

Some interesting brands showed up in the annual reader’s poll from Brandchannel.com, the online media site from Interbrand.

Some interesting brands showed up in the annual reader’s poll from Brandchannel.com, the online media site from Interbrand.

There were, of course, the usual suspects -- Google and Apple Computer were the top two most influential global brands, according to the survey. It was same in the US and Canada, although Apple is tops here, while Google reins globally.

But what was most striking was some of the new faces that showed up. Craigslist was sixth on the US list, ahead of Coca-Cola, Oprah Winfrey, and Amazon.com. Globally, Internet telephony Skype ranked third (ahead of Starbucks and Ikea), and open-source browser Firefox was eighth, ahead of eBay and Sony.

What's most striking about this is Skype is barely known in the US. And Firefox barely commands 10% of the web browser market. And Craigslist has listings in dozens of cities, but isn't a way of life outside major metropolitan areas.

These are not brands with tremendous share of mind. Mention these brands to the average person on the street, and you're likely to get a blank stare. But what they do have, and what most companies would kill for, is share of heart. Much like Apple, or even TiVo, people who use the technology love it, and will tell anyone in earshot about it.

And what those aforementioned newer brands have going for them, particularly Firefox and Craigslist, is a deeply devoted community of users. I wrote in the January 23 issue of PRWeek about Mozilla -- the company that develops Firefox -- and its marketing savvy when it comes to courting users and using their energy and passion to spread the word about Firefox. Their embrace of community has been so successful that the browser has managed to chip away at Internet Explorer's still commanding market share.

And Craigslist is perhaps the epitome of an online community. It's much more than a place to find a job or an apartment. It's a forum for people to share and discuss their ideas, beliefs, and passions, and is probably a better snapshot of a local community than your average newspaper.

It will be interesting to see what approach Skype takes as it tries to build its brand in the US. EBay recently acquired Skype, and Henry Gomez, formerly SVP of corporate and government relations at eBay, moved over to Skype as GM of North American operations. Gomez knows a thing or two about building communities, and many will be watching to see how he not only applies his communications background to developing a business strategy in the US, but also how he leverages his eBay community know-how at Skype.

Technology companies would do well to heed not just the success of Apple and Google, but also upstarts such as Firefox and Craigslist, and possibly Skype. These companies understand the value of empowering communities and bringing people together, at a time when more and more technology is about creating a sometimes overly personalized, sometimes isolated world.

The next wave of winning technology brands won't be based on who is the most dazzling or cutting-edge -- it's going to be the brands that engage us to share and participate and connect, and turn communities of users into legions of brands ambassadors.

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