Today’s media world is a circus: Random attractions vying for attention at every turn, multiple entertainers relentlessly attempting to show us something new in the hope that they can evoke a sense of surprise and delight.

But successful marketing in this sphere requires more than just interaction and conversation; it requires value. Over the past few years we have seen the construction of a variety of “buzz”- or online conversation-tracking software. While it is vital for a brand to monitor relevant conversations, the value of this practice (and related social media practices) will only be realized when in service of some sort of strategic application. It’s time to add another ring to the circus.

The Three-Ring Framework

branded-utility-diagram

This visual representation is to be read with the centre circle (application) as the target, where marketers can achieve the most effective consumer engagements. The target is generally reached through the employment of the two outer rings; interaction and conversation. As the diagram reflects, application is the hardest part for brands but it’s also the most rewarding in terms of attention and return on engagement.

Driving Community: Zipcar and Zimride

In order to shed light on the above framework, let’s take a look at a cutting-edge Transumer brand. Zipcar is the world’s largest car-sharing and car club service, which serves as an alternative to traditional car rental or ownership. The brand stands for utility and simplicity while remaining incredibly innovative. In many ways the product itself is its best marketing vehicle. Its inherent elements of surprise and delight – Zipcars are associated with road trips and new experiences – are such that people talk about Zipcar without encouragement. But no brand’s story can spread to larger audiences without some assistance.

branded-utility-zimride

While some brands have managed to create their own successful online communities, many more have failed. So last spring Zipcar partnered with Zimride, a popular online ride-share and carpool service.

The result of the partnership is both social and utilitarian – the ultimate goal of the three-ring framework. Zipcar drivers get to meet new people and save on gas money while Zimride’s existing community gains access to a new pool of like-minded travellers. In the end, both brands benefit, along with their customers.

Apply as Needed

The partnership between Zipcar and Zimride is a form of branded utility – the notion that, through relevant and valuable services, brands can create favourable experiences for consumers.

branded-utility-iphone

New devices such as the iPhone have opened up an entirely new set of possibilities to create branded utility. Zipcar recently decided to throw its hat into the ring and create an application of its own. Through understanding the needs of its loyal community, Zipcar has managed to build a platform with the potential to serve as both branded utility and mobile CRM, adding both competitive advantage against current competitors and barriers to entry for any potential new ones. Zipcar demonstrates that conversation compounded with utility can create a virtuous cycle for Transumers, adding points of value throughout their journey.

Tell us: What do you think about the three-ring framework? Which brands bring their customers utility instead of just noise?