community

This tag is associated with 83 posts

A new point of view on why (brand) nations fail


A new book comes out tomorrow entitled Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by MIT professor of economics Daron Acemoglu and Harvard professor of government James A. Robinson.

In the New York Times Magazine yesterday, Adam Davidson wrote a great piece about it. I pre-ordered the book and look forward to reading, but in the meantime, the New York Times article hints at some key conclusions the authors reach. From the article:

“…the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy… when a nation’s institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help… If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer.”

A relatively simple concept: Nations that give citizens opportunities to improve their lives—to create value for themselves—give them the incentive to create value—both for themselves and for the nation collectively.

According to the summary on the authors’ website, the book highlights examples of the theory in action around the world and throughout history, “from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa.”

So how might this theory apply to the study of how organizations can build passionate and sustainable brand communities? If we think of brands as nations, what might make them fail or see great success?

Michael Porter wrote a now-famous piece in HBR last year entitled Creating Shared Value that to me articulates the business equivalent of the principle. Here is how Wikipedia describes Porter’s concept of creating shared value:

“The central premise behind creating shared value is that the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent. Recognizing and capitalizing on these connections between societal and economic progress has the power to unleash the next wave of global growth and to redefine capitalism.”

I think there is a strong connection here, and I would frame it as simply as this:

Brands (and nations) that exist only to extract value from their communities are, in the long run, less competitive and less sustainable than brands (and nations) that exist to create and share value with their communities.

Think about the brands you interact with on a daily basis:

– Which of them are clear value extractors (i.e. they unabashedly exist in order to extract as much money as they can)?

– Which of them are extractors in “shared-value clothing” (i.e. they hide their true selves behind a veneer of shared value)?

– Which of them truly create and share value with the communities that care about them?

If you are like me, some specific organizations immediately come to mind when you see the three categories above. Humor me for a second as I remix the quotes I shared from the New York Times article earlier, but putting them in a brand context:

“…the strength of an organization’s brand community is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average community member shares in the overall success of the organization and community… when an organization prevents the average community member from profiting from its work, no amount of PR, advertising, or charitable giving seems to help… If organizations give even their average community members some shot at becoming more successful — through providing innovative products, experiences, and connections to new people or opportunities — those community members will do what it takes to make themselves, the organization, and the overall brand community richer.”

I suspect that organizations interested in building passionate brand communities have a lot to learn from Why Nations Fail.

And I’ll let you know what I personally learn once I’ve had a chance to read it.

How to connect to key communities with the help of brand ambassadors


Once you’ve identified the key communities you think it is important to engage with, the next step is to identify the people you’d like to represent your brand within these communities. For simplicity, I like to refer to these folks as brand ambassadors.

How to find brand ambassadors

Start by identifying the people inside your organization who have the best relationships with each community. These people are the best candidates to become your brand ambassadors. The ideal brand ambassador is already an actual community member, actively participating in conversations and projects with other community members.

While an employee of your organization, this person shares common values, interests, and experiences with other community members. It is less important what position they hold within your organization and more important how they are viewed by the community itself.

After you’ve identified possible brand ambassadors, reach out to them to see if they are willing and interested in expanding their personal roles in the community to include being representatives of your brand as well. Some might already be playing this role, others might be playing this role and not realizing it.

Don’t force or pressure people. The ideal candidate will be excited to be considered and will be passionate about the opportunity, so if your best candidate doesn’t seem interested, try to find someone else who is.

Creating brand ambassadors from scratch

If you don’t have anyone in your organization who is already a member of the community, you’ll need to have someone join. Choose someone who understands your organization’s story and positioning well but also already shares interests, values, and experiences with the community in question.

Have this person attend meetings, join mailing lists, participate on forums, and otherwise begin to contribute to the community first as an individual. It will take a little longer to get started, but it will be worth it if your brand ambassador has a deep contextual understanding of the community before they dive right in officially representing your organization.

Brand ambassadors as faces of the brand

You should ensure that your brand ambassadors deeply understand your brand positioning so they can live it (not just speak to it) in their activities within these external communities. If you are developing many brand ambassadors at once, consider hosting a brand ambassador bootcamp where new ambassadors can practice telling the brand story and get aligned on the overall positioning of the organization. Also use this as an opportunity to emphasize the key role of these ambassadors in developing the brand experience and keeping relationships with the community healthy and productive.

You may have some communities where there is a whole team of ambassadors, not just one. For example, at Red Hat, a large team of developers represented Red Hat (and themselves) in the Fedora community. Invest as many ambassadors as you need in order to provide the best possible support for and adequately communicate with the community.

As you recruit brand ambassadors, you extend the internal core of the brand. Although it is wonderful to see your core group getting bigger, extending your reach is also an important time to ensure consistency. Be very careful to take the time to educate all brand ambassadors well so the entire brand orchestra stays in key.

Brand ambassador philosophy

Wikipedia defines an ambassador as “the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization.” Usually an ambassador lives and operates within the country or organization where he is assigned.

Your brand ambassadors should channel the same philosophy. While they are members of your organization, they should “live” within the communities they are assigned to as much as possible while representing your organization within that community.

Great brand ambassadors are loyal to the organization and to the community at the same time. They develop relationships of respect, honesty, and trust within the community, which allows them to clearly and openly communicate the priorities, desires, and needs of both sides.

Brand ambassadors are not just mouthpieces for the organization, but should also maintain their own personality, interests, and opinions in the community—often distinct from those of the organization. In places where they are representing their own opinions and ideas, they should provide the proper disclaimers. With a little practice, this is not nearly as difficult as it might sound. The key is maintaining an authentic personal voice while being open, transparent, and human in their communications.

Don’t think someone in your organization has the right makeup to be a good ambassador based on what you see here, even if he or she has good relationships within the community? Don’t make him or her an ambassador. The brand ambassador is a representative of your brand to the outside world, and the job carries a lot of responsibility and requires a high emotional intelligence and diplomatic sensibility to do well.

So take the time to find, train, and support brand ambassadors within your organization. With some attention and focus, you may soon find that your network of ambassadors becomes one of your organization’s most valuable assets.

Was this post helpful?

If so, you can find more tips about how to extend your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

What is a community of passion and how do you enable one?


Click on this image to download the Communities of Passion Hack Report as a PDF.

Over at the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX), part of my role as Community Guide is to test some innovative ways to work with MIX community members to reinvent the culture and structure of management within their organizations. We like to think of what we are doing as hacking management.

It was in this spirit that earlier this year we piloted our first ever MIX Management Hackathon. A management hackathon is a short, intense, coordinated effort to develop useful hacks (innovative ideas or solutions) that can be implemented by organizations to overcome barriers to progress and innovation. We recruited a team of 60 volunteers from around the world to join us.

Our goal with this hackathon? To deeply and quickly explore the concept of communities of passion. What are they? How do they form? What hinders their growth? And how can we overcome these barriers? By the end of the Hackathon, we hoped to develop a solid set of management hacks: “source code” that could be used by anyone interested in overcoming the barriers preventing their own organizations from becoming communities of passion.

As it turns out, our hacking went pretty well. Two of the hacks collaboratively developed by members of the MIX Hackathon team were among the 20 finalists in the recent Harvard Business Review/McKinsey Management 2.0 Challenge on the MIX (see Free to Fork by David Mason, Jonathan Opp, and Gunther Brinkman and Massive Storytelling Sessions by Alberto Blanco, Alex Perwich, Jonathan Opp, and Tony Manavalan).

But perhaps the most valuable result of our hackathon was the common understanding our team developed about communities of passion.

So we took the collaborative process a step further and wrote a report with our findings, which was just published on the MIX last night (you can read Polly LaBarre’s blog post announcing the report here).

If the subject or the process sounds interesting, you can download the report as a PDF here.

Or, if you’d like to participate in a hackathon yourself, you are in luck! We just announced a new Management 2.0 Hackathon here at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara yesterday.

Read the details and sign up here.

I want to thank the each of the members of the Communities of Passion hackathon team for their meaningful contributions. I’d also like to do a special shout out to those who took the time to collaboratively author this final report, which I believe will be a helpful resource for anyone interested in enabling communities of passion in or around their organization.

MIX Hack Report Authoring Team:

Alberto Blanco
Silvia Colombo
Josh Allan Dykstra
Rebecca Fernandez
Sam Folk-Williams
Paul Higgins
Michi Komori
Deborah Mills-Scofield
Jonathan Opp
Alex Perwich
Madhusudan Rao
Susan Resnick-West

MIX Communities of Passion Hackathon Contributors:

Jack Aboutboul
Sinan Si Alhir
Aaron Anderson
Doug Breitbart
Gunther Brinkman
Terri Griffith
Lisa Haneberg
Shaikh Haziali
Vlatka Hlupic-Vidjak
Zaana Howard
Peter Hunter
Aly H-Jones
Erika Ilves
Jon Ingham
Kutlu Kazanci
David R. Koenig
Anil Kumar
Anish Kumarswamy
Bryanna Kumpula
Ross Liston
Tony Manavalan
James Marwood
David Mason
Chris McDuling
Andy Middleton
Nazanin Modaresi
Dan Oestreich
Milind Pansare
K.C. Ramsay
Peter Robbins
Andres Roberts
Rudi Sellers
Ross Smith
Bruce Stewart
Kartik Subbarao
Anna Stillwell
Juan (Kiko) Suarez
Stephen Todd
Simon Waller
Ellen Weber
Alice Williams
Ben Willis
Deirdre Yee
Gianvittorio Zandona
Michele Zanini

Thanks to Eugene Eric Kim and Terri Griffith


In the last month, two new friends of mine took the time to write reviews of The Ad-Free Brand on their blogs.

I thought I’d take a few minutes today to say thanks. As someone who reads a lot of books, I know that it is a big investment of time to read someone’s book. But then, on top of that, to make the time to collect and write down your thoughts to share with others is really meaningful.

So, in saying thanks to Eugene and Terri, I thought I’d share a bit about each of them here. They both do great work, and if you enjoy reading what you see here on my blog, you might enjoy hearing more about their ideas and projects as well.

First, a few words about Eugene.

I met Eugene after writing about his work leading the Wikimedia Strategic Planning project (articles here on the MIX, Fortune, and opensource.com). I was truly blown away by the open, collaborative approach that he and Philippe Beaudette of the Wikimedia Foundation took to the project, involving over 1000 volunteer contributors in the effort.

Over the past few months, Eugene has been hard at work building his new company, Groupaya, which often works on massively collaborative projects like the one he helped the Wikimedia Foundation run. Here is the positioning statement from the Groupaya website:

“Groupaya specializes in helping groups, be they teams, organizations, networks or nations, more skillfully work together to create their desired future.”

If you are interested in learning more about the the sort of projects Groupaya is working on, you can follow their blog here. And if you happen to live in the San Francisco area, consider joining them to share ideas at one of their informal Thursday brown bag lunches.

I met Terri Griffith through her contributions to the MIX Hackathon Pilot project (which we just finished, I’ll be sharing the final report on it in the next week). Terri is a professor at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, and takes a particular interest in what her bio refers to as the “technology of work” (a phrase I loved).

As it turns out, she and I were both working on writing books at the same time, and her new book The Plugged-In Manager was just released a few weeks ago. I read the book a few days after it came out and the concepts in it really resonated with me. Here’s what I said in my review on Amazon:

The Plugged-In Manager is one of the most thought-provoking and *current* management books I’ve read in years. Terri Griffith’s position as professor of management at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley puts her in an ideal location to learn from and connect with some of the top management innovators in the world today.

There is nothing traditional about her worldview. Terri marries some of the core principles that define success in a world shaped by the Internet–transparency, sharing, collaboration, rapid prototyping–with a deliberate and repeatable approach that current and aspiring managers can use to ensure they make effective decisions in a rapidly-changing landscape.

A few particular strengths of this book: 1) it provides a set of well-designed, repeatable practices that will allow managers to quickly and easily begin to put theory into practice 2) it shares detailed, personal stories from managers at some of the most innovative organizations in the world, including Zappos, Nucor, IBM, Cisco, and Intuit 3) It includes a series of scenario-based assessment tools that will allow you to test how well your current approach matches that of the “plugged-in managers” she has researched. Quickly learn how far you’ve come (or how far you have to go).

If you are looking for ways to be a more effective manager in an Internet-enabled world, spending a few hours reading this book will be an excellent investment of your time.

So thanks again to both Eugene and Terri for taking the time to read and review The Ad-Free Brand. If you’d like, you can read Eugene’s thoughts about the book here and Terri’s thoughts here.

What is a brand story and why does it matter?


There is no more important tool for rolling out brand positioning than a great brand story. The best brand stories can create gravity around a brand and also help build a strong brand community. They show the concepts behind the brand positioning in action, making it more than words on a page.

Does your organization have legends or stories that have been told and retold over the years? How the brand got its name? How the founders of your organization first met? The original problem they were trying to solve by developing your product? Perhaps your particular worldview or internal values became very clear at one moment in the organization’s history. Most organizations have internal legends, stories, and fables that are already being told. Your existing stories and legends are powerful because they are illustrations of who you are and why you do what you do. Often, these stories serve as building blocks for a larger brand story.

A brand story is an attempt to articulate the brand positioning by answering the deepest truths about the brand, things such as:

– Who are we?
– Why are we here?
– What do we care about?
– What do we do?
– Why does it matter?

In all likelihood, your brand story is already partway being told in the form of these stories and legends that follow the brand around everywhere it goes. Consider collecting as many of these stories as you can as background research and inspiration. An authentic brand story won’t just be made up on the spot. Great brand stories have a lineage and a heritage that are built over time and with the hard work and perseverance of many people.

In attempting to articulate the brand story, your job will be part historian, part archeologist, and part sculptor, taking the existing building blocks that have been provided to you by those who built the brand and merging them with the new brand positioning you’ve developed. You’ll need to mold these two views together into an overarching brand story that is both authentic to the brand’s past and relevant to the brand’s future at the same time.

It is hard work creating a great story that will get passed on from person to person. You’ll need to recruit the best storytellers you can find to the cause, including your organization’s top writers, designers, and poets (or if you work with an outside firm, bring their best folks in, too).

But based on my experience helping develop brand stories for organizations over the past decade, I can tell you that the effort is worth it. A great brand story will not only help you attract new people to your brand community, it will become a powerful guiding force within your organization as well.

If you’d like to learn more about the brand stories we created during my time at Red Hat, take a look at the following posts:

Sharing your brand story (and here’s ours)

Truth Happens

And here is an example of one of the original Red Hat “legends” that we collected during our time building the brand.

If you found this post helpful…

Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

We’re awesome! (you suck)


The best 21st century brands won’t be built on advertising alone. Here’s why:

In a world where everyone has a voice, the biggest brands in the world with the biggest advertising budgets can be quickly repositioned… whether they like it or not.

Ask Delta Airlines.

Or ask BP.

The problem isn’t your marketing. The problem is that, when it comes to your brand, your customers aren’t just listening to you anymore; they are listening to everyone who is talking about your brand.

You know this.

But if so many people are aware that the world has changed, why has the way most organizations allocate their marketing and communications time and money not changed?

My advice? Instead of focusing only on customers and prospects, take a more holistic approach where you engage all of the people who care about your brand: what I refer to as the brand community. (I spend a lot more time sharing ways to do this effectively in The Ad-Free Brand.)

In a world where every person on the planet has the power to change the fate of your brand (whether they spend money with you or not), the brand community has to be seen as more than just customers.

For some more from me on this subject, check this out:

If you found this post helpful…

Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

How to *really* help the communities your brand interacts with


Organizations have a lot more to offer the communities they interact with than the products they sell. When these organizations unselfishly offer assistance to the communities around them, they can build powerful relationships based on trust and shared value rather than just on transactions.

Sure, building this foundation will often mean that people in these communities would be more likely to consider buying products or services from you down the road (in case the marketing types ask). But if that is central to your thinking, community members will smell a rat. It is not enough to simply seem selfless while remaining selfishly motivated by your own bottom line.

You must actually care what happens to these communities. You must want to help them be more successful at achieving their own goals. Although this approach seems so obvious, my experience of working in the business world for the last 20 years indicates that it’s not.

Usually when I begin to talk about helping the communities that surround a brand, people immediately assume I’m just referring to typical organizational philanthropy or corporate citizenship work. While in some cases, a community-based brand strategy will dovetail nicely with these efforts, they have very different end purposes.

By carefully considering how you can help the communities of customers, partners, prospects, friends, neighbors, and others that interact with your brand every day, you can not only create value for these communities, you can develop deeper non-transactional relationships that will also benefit your organization in the long run.

If you need help shifting your thinking to a community-based approach, consider the following types of things your organization might do to help the communities around your brand:

Funding

Consider investing money in projects that help the community achieve its goals. Bonus points if the investment will also help your organization achieve its goals or further your brand positioning. Red Hat and other open source software companies have done this extremely well, investing in projects that later become the heart of products they sell while also creating value for community members at the same time.

Gifts

Many communities are in need of assets that individuals can’t buy on their own. Are there assets you already own or could buy and then give to the community as a gift? Red Hat bought many companies over the years with useful proprietary source code and then gave away the code for free. The community was able to innovate more quickly, and everyone—including Red Hat—reaped the benefits.

Your organization might have other assets that would be of value, such as a conference facility that could be used or land you haven’t developed. You could donate your products, services, web server space, or other supplies and materials that might otherwise go to waste.

Time

Your organization probably has knowledgeable people who might have a lot to offer. Consider allowing employees to spend on-the clock time helping on projects that further community goals and support the brand positioning.

Connections

Who do you and others in your organization know, and how might these relationships be of value to others in the brand community? Perhaps you can make connections that not only help the brand community, but also help your organization at the same time.

Brand power

Could you use the power of your brand to shine the light on important community efforts, drawing more attention and help to the cause?

The bottom line…

When organizations begin thinking like members of communities—when they are of the community, not above the community—and bring value in the same ways individuals do, they can fundamentally alter the relationships they have with members of the community.

This means that organizations have to stop thinking selfishly about what they want to get the communities to buy from or do for them (what I call Tom Sawyer thinking) and start thinking about what assets they bring to the table that could create real value for community members.

Faking it will get you nowhere, but when you really bring some tangible value to a community and the community becomes better for it, your brand will reap the benefits down the road.

This is the ninth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.

Where should you focus brand efforts? Community or customer?


It has become a truism in marketing that you should stay focused on your customers. In most of our organizations, we are attempting to sell something to make a profit. We need customers.

But I often use the word community in places where most people would use the word customer. Why? Am I just being naive about what pays the bills for our organizations to continue to thrive? Am I committing heresy by not staying focused on just customers?

I don’t think so.

I believe that the dogged focus on marketing to customers alone has created a myopic view that makes us ignore many of the important people who interact with our brands.

Customers are important; most organizations couldn’t exist without them. So what is the issue?

Customers are not just listening to us anymore.

When organizations focus on only interacting with customers rather than taking a holistic view of the entire brand community, they forget that in the twenty-first century, the version of the brand represented by the organization might only be a small percentage of the brand the customer sees. Where is the rest of the story coming from?

Everyone else who interacts with the brand: the brand community.

When rolling out brand positioning, ad-free brands understand that it matters what everyone thinks about the brand—not just the customers. By understanding and planning your interactions with all of the communities around your brand, you have a chance to impact the customers’ views of who you are in a much deeper way than if you were just speaking to customers directly through marketing and advertising.

And that’s just if you are only concerned with the success of your business itself. If you are a nonprofit or a member of the growing breed of socially responsible businesses interested in benefitting the communities they serve while remaining for-profit, you’ll see even greater benefits from this approach.

So should you be focused on customers? Absolutely. But just remember that you aren’t the only folks talking to your customers about your brand. When you build a brand strategy that ensures the positioning resonates with all the people around your brand and not just customers, you’ll be on the path to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships with the communities surrounding your brand–and you’ll probably be heard by potential customers who would have never given you the time of day otherwise.

This is the eighth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.

How is your organization faring in the war of control vs. freedom?


In October 1969, when experts at the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) connected the first two nodes of what has now become the Internet, they probably weren’t considering the ramifications of their actions on future organizational cultures. But while these DARPA folks likely wouldn’t have considered themselves management innovators, the Internet they created has rocked the traditional management science to its core.

Sure, organizations have embraced the technological changes that have come with the Internet (or they have not, and have since disappeared). But fewer organizations have truly embraced or even begun to understand the cultural changes that the Internet has ushered in.

We may live in 2011, but given how many of our organizations are structured, we might just as well be working in 1911.

Fundamentally, traditional management and the Internet are at odds over one simple thing:

Traditional management is designed for control. The Internet is designed for freedom.

That’s why the principles used to manage assembly line workers in 1911 are often rejected in 2011 by a new generation of employees who have grown up enveloped in the freedom of the Internet. To them, the old management model is an anachronism; a legacy system held onto by an aging generation of leaders who are unwilling to give up control because they see freedom as a threat.

In volunteer-based community settings, efforts to exert control are often poisonous. Volunteers will simply quit before being forced to do something they don’t believe in or value. Yet in traditional organizational settings, control—over people, resources, and information—is a fundamental lever.

If you’d like to see your organization become more aligned with the spirit of the Internet than the legacy of traditional management, consider looking for places to replace control-based practices with freedom-based practices.

If you manage people, start thinking of your staff members as volunteers in a community. By giving them more freedom to choose things they’d like to work on while giving them additional say in their own futures, you stand a better chance of keeping them feeling like… well… paid volunteers.

When employees are forced to work on projects they haven’t chosen, and don’t believe in or value, they may not actually quit their jobs, but they will often quit in every other way—doing just enough to get by and keep their job safe, or in some cases even undermining the effort.

Often this is a fate worse than having them quit. They become organizational drones, complacent, indifferent, and dispassionate. They’ll stop contributing ideas because they think no one cares. They’ll stop giving full effort because they think it doesn’t matter.

Replacing control with freedom is a great way to inspire your employees to view themselves as volunteers, deeply engaged in achieving the organization’s goals, rather than drones or mercenaries, who seek only safety and a regular paycheck.

Moving from control to freedom is one of the most difficult transitions an organization (or even just a manager) can make. This transition requires much more than simply a good strategy for change—it requires a will to change. Those in charge—the very people who have the most to lose by giving up control—must make a decision that granting freedom is a strategic imperative. The competitive landscape is littered with the carcasses of formerly successful organizations whose management team did not know how—or didn’t have the will—to make the leap.

The strategic decision to change a control-based culture into a freedom-based culture is not one that leaders should take lightly, and it is not necessarily right for every organization in every situation. But in order to compete with companies born in the age of the Internet, employing the children of the Internet, and built in the spirit of the Internet, in the long term there may be few other options.

[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]

Why is this blog called Dark Matter Matters?


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me why my blog is called Dark Matter Matters, and since I haven’t told that story in a while, I thought I’d share an excerpt from The Ad-Free Brand explaining it (and appending some more recent information). Here goes:

In late 2008, I was struggling mightily with the question of how you measure and quantify the value of brand-related activities. As someone whose father is an amateur astronomer, I’d long been intrigued by the concept of dark matter in the universe. If dark matter is new to you, Wikipedia describes it as “matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy.”

In other words, it is matter out there in the universe that is incredibly difficult to see, basically invisible, but that has a large gravitational effect. What’s particularly interesting about dark matter is that, apparently, there is a lot of it. Again according to Wikipedia:

“Dark matter accounts for 23% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe. In comparison, ordinary matter accounts for only 4.6% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe, with the remainder being attributable to dark energy. From these figures, dark matter constitutes 83% of the matter in the universe, whereas ordinary matter makes up only 17%.”

I find this fascinating.

And dark matter is still a theoretical concept. Again from the Wikipedia entry: “As important as dark matter is believed to be in the cosmos, direct evidence of its existence and a concrete understanding of its nature have remained elusive.”

But it was actually reading about all the problems with the Large Hadron Collider in 2008 (at the very same time I was having my own problems figuring out how to measure the value of brand-related work) that helped me make the connection between what I do for a living and this concept of dark matter.

The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It was built on the border of France and Switzerland and is about 17 miles wide. One of the things that particle physicists hope to prove with this enormous project is the existence of dark matter.

I’m no physicist, but as I understand it, the accelerator shoots protons at super-high speeds around the collider, and, if these scientists are lucky, the collisions eventually might produce a few particles that will exist for only a few milliseconds and then disappear again. And these particles might prove that dark matter isn’t just a theory.

Might being the key word. In fact, noted physicist Stephen Hawking bet $100 that they won’t find anything (a bet which he may soon win). The cost of building a collider to maybe prove the existence of dark matter? About $9 billion dollars. (And as of this post, written in September 2011, three years since its was first fired up, we are still looking for evidence.)

Another attempt to prove the existence of dark matter used the Hubble Space Telescope. This image below (which I also used for the header of the blog) was taken by Hubble and first shown by NASA in May, 2007.


In this picture, you are looking at many galaxies a really, really long way away. But you can also see fuzzy gray areas all over that look like clouds. When the astronomers first looked at this photo, they thought the fuzzy areas were a problem with the image. But after analyzing it for over a year, they realized that the fuzziness might actually be evidence of dark matter.

Their reasoning? The fuzziness is actually a gravitational distortion of the light rays from distant galaxies that are being bent by dark matter on their way to Earth. The effect you see is kind of like looking at the bottom of a pond that is being distorted by ripples on the surface.

So finally, scientists had discovered some real visual evidence of dark matter.

I believe the type of activities I talk about in the book and on this blog—those related to building brand, culture, and community—are the dark matter within organizations. Often brand, culture, and community are extremely difficult to measure well, and sometimes accurate measurement is simply impossible.

That’s not to say we don’t try anyway. I’ve seen and even tried many formulas, processes, and products that attempt to measure the value of brand, community, and culture-related efforts. Some of them can provide valuable information.

Others, not so much.

Yet here’s the kicker: brand, community, and culture are having a huge impact on your organization, whether you can effectively and cost-effectively measure that impact or not.

Just as dark matter is a strong gravitational force within the universe even though it is notoriously hard to see and measure, so are many of the things that will lead to the long-term success of ad-free brands.

So that’s how the blog got the name.

One last thing: I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the name at some point down the road, perhaps re-naming it The Ad-Free Brand and simplifying things. If you have any thoughts on that, or if you like the dark matter analogy and think I should keep it, I’d love your opinion. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at chris(at)newkind.com.

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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