Platform Thinking and the New Marketing shares ten tips to transform your marketing, branding, and web design. No one can afford to be Sisyphus anymore. Rolling boulders up mountains to watch them roll back down is a non-starter. Use any two of these tips will change your marketing, branding, and digital communications in ways that will surprise, disrupt, and win.

  • Not “YOU” or even “US” but “WE”
  • Movements not Sales (Warby Parker, Tom’s, One Million Lights)
  • Incomplete and Early beats Late and Perfect
  • When in doubt ASK FOR HELP
  • How did you collaborate today
  • Who did you coach, encourage, or recommend today
  • The 1:9:90 Rule
  • How we modify the 1:9:90 Rule
  • Profiles, Profiles, and Profiles
  • The Communication Pyramid

“We” Not “YOU” or even “US”

Platforms encourage collaboration across content, time, and customer archetypes or segments. Facebook is a great example. We all see, like and support content, people, and ideas on our “timelines.” In fact, Facebook crafts our timelines to create a self-reinforcing “filter bubble.” Watch Eli Pariser’s TED Talk explain the hidden dangers of filter bubbles:

Web sites create “filter bubbles” too. As an online marketer, it is easy to hear what you already believe. Platforms help because they encourage diversity, ask for input and ideas, and reward contributors. Here’s how we define an online platform.

Online Platforms Definition

An online platform is any website that asks for, encourages and values customer, user and advocates feedback, collaboration, and content. This definition means an online platform is everything from a WordPress blog with comments turned on to software and sites engineered to gather, share, and reward user-generated content such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flipboard.

Each part of the user content triptych – ask for, encourage and value – is critical. If your blog has comments turned on, but you never share, respond to, or comment on customer comments your blog isn’t a platform. Thinking must move from “ours” and “us” to “we.” The “new marketing” marries customers, visitors, readers, and advocates with entrepreneurs, designers, coders, and marketers.

Movements Not Sales

The new marketing cares about what you do with “our” money – profits are collaborative too. The “buy one, give one” movement helps deepen the brand meaning and customer relationships. When Tom’s gives a pair of shoes for each pair purchased to a boy or girl who may not otherwise have shoes their transaction – selling shoes – becomes a movement.

When Warby Parker gives glasses to people, who may not otherwise see their online sales grow a movement. Warby Parker even changed the nature of their buy one, give one recently. Things got complicated. Giving away, so many frames and glasses began to suck up too many resources (we suspect), so Warby Parker stayed true to their original values while finding partners to help.

I recently purchased several Warby Parker frames and their buy one, give one movement was a factor in why I wanted to buy. Buy one, give one can’t be the ONLY reason. Your “movement” needs great, innovative, and disruptive products too, but treating your brands, products, and services as a movement of those who share a particular set of values creates loyalty, distinctness, and word-of-mouth.

Incomplete and Early Beats Late and Perfect

Back in the day if I’d told my Procter and Gamble bosses, we needed to launch the new Twix “incomplete and early” firing would have happened. P&G, in those days, believed in invading Russia in the winter. Today, no one can afford to wait that long, be that arrogant, or listen so poorly. Better to plan less and listen more. Watch the last 9 minutes of Joi Ito explaining Nowism to understand how the world has changed.

When you launch early and ugly, you are leaving room for crowd wisdom. Listen, and your customers, advocates, and stakeholders will tell you what to do, how to improve, and what to offer.

Ask for Help

If part of the “new marketing” is throwing off the arrogance of “we know best” then another big idea is asking for help. Even my old employers Procter and Gamble know they must harness crowd wisdom to survive. P&G’s “Developer Network,” asks for help, shares internal needs and research, and creates the next generation of products such as Swifter.

P&G’s asking for help is an 180 shift from when I worked there (the early 1980s). Back in the day, anything not created in-house was suspect, inferior, and rarely considered. If P&G can learn to ask for help and create a platform to do so shouldn’t you?

Read Harvard Business Review post about P&G’s Connect and Develop network (platform).

New Marketing Platform Thinking P&G Network on HBR image


Platforms and Daily Collaborations

NOW, as Joi Ito shared, is the only time the web knows, understands, or processes. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is promised to no one, What is happening in this moment is where online relationships grow or die, purchases occur, and loyalty won. Because platforms are diverse, seek user input and collaborations, and provide a “common ground” they encourage daily collaborations.

Most Facebook users check their profile at least once a day. Facebook and other platforms are gamified to create a gambler-like dependency. I first heard about the serendipitous conditioning as a psychology student. Slot machines use this kind of “never know when or why rewards will come” reinforcement to win your money, time, and allegiance.

Current platforms are gamified so well backlash is happening. Read Anderson Cooper’s Brain Hacking Sixty Minutes segment to learn about what could become a problem for the most powerful reinforcement platforms (Facebook, Twitter). That said, chances your web designs will be so strongly gamified are remote, so listen, reward, share, and collaborate. Your curation of user content is the greatest “badge” few reward.

The New Marketing Platform Thinking Anderson Cooper Brain Hacking image and link

Sharing your user’s ideas says thank you, provides legitimacy for others with the same feelings or ideas. Every user-generated content share by platform creators reinforces the collaborative nature of your marketing efforts. If you aren’t following more than half your followers, you don’t understand the “new marketing” and good luck with that. Think about it; even Sixty Minutes is a platform since they listen to, reward and share their “user mail.”

Coaching, Encouraging and Mentoring

Platforms create easy ways to coach, support, and mentor. As marketers we have ideas. We want to share unique features or what we are building now. If your platform rewards, values, shares, and listens to customer ideas, feedback, and comments you are on the right track. If you spend time each day finding great examples of what you want to be SHARED you are a “new marketing” pro.

Remember we suggested going early and incomplete. Even if you have complete ideas, we recommend taking a few pieces out so customers, advocates, and stakeholders can confirm if those are the right parts. But there’s a problem.

Customers don’t share unless they trust sharing will be valued, appreciated, and used. Customers don’t share unless you take the time to mentor, encourage, and say thank you. One of our friends created a psychology website. We suggested adding comments as a first “platform” step. He did, and nothing happened.

Nothing happened because his environment didn’t encourage, mentor, and create the feedback he wanted. Sometimes we “seed” conversations – ask friends to share something. Seeding helps get conversations started. No one intends to sit in front of the classroom, and the online equivalent is few will provide the first comment, user-generated feedback or ideas.

Develop close relationships with “ambassadors” and then ask this particular group of customer collaborators to help you get the right conversations, interactions and engagements started. Just don’t abuse the privilege or trust your online communications must earn the hard way – one-day-and-one-interaction-at-a-time.

The 1:9:90 Rule

Years ago in a book entitled Citizen Marketer, we learned a rule we’d already observed. We’d noticed roughly 10% of our web visitors were exceptional, engaged, and easier to learn from and listen to than the other 90%. Citizen Marketer put our observation into perspective with their 1:9:90 Rule.

  • 1% of a site’s visitors will contribute something of value (user-generated content UGC)
  • 9% will share a site’s content especially when it comes from the one%ers
  • 90% of a web’s traffic reads and more passively consumes its substance

As we became consultants, we used to recommend waiting before setting up customer segments and asking for help. We’ve changed our thinking. There will be 10% of people visiting your site who want to help the day you publish – so ask for their help. Post a page similar to’s Ambassadors Page asking for those who care about your cause to join, contribute, and collaborate.

Know what you’re asking for and pay attention to your Ambassadors daily. Once you’ve identified your Ambassadors give them tasks, listen carefully to their feedback, and find ways to share their content, ideas, and comments. Build a platform so they can create and share profiles, content, and communicate with each other.

Our 1:1:9:90 Rule

We thought “viral marketing” could happen by daisy-chaining thousands of customers, ambassadors, and advocates together. Don’t think that anymore. We researched viral ideas of ours and noticed a “prime mover” in every case. Whenever something of ours blew up, there was a big advocate with lots of followers sharing, boosting, and promoting. Here is Mastin Kipp explaining how a “prime mover” make the difference on Super Soul Sunday:

So we modify the 1:9:90 Rule to the 1:1:9:90 Rule. Inside of your one%ers, those willing to share something of value, there are a handful of “prime movers” – advocates with big following, lots of influence, or both. Finding the 1% of your 1% is a CSF (Critical Success Factor) in the new marketing.

Knowing your “prime movers” is the beginning, but you need to strengthen that relationship and Mastin is demonstrating our favorite way – saying thanks publically. If Kim Kardashian saves your life, business, and website, please be smart enough to say THANK YOU often and publically.

Profiles = Platform’s Foundation

Allowing customers, advocates, and stakeholders to create an individualized profile creates the foundation for an interactive marketing platform. Yes, any website asking for and rewarding help is a platform, but not all platforms are equal – when your customers can create and share profiles collaboration and cooperation increase as control decreases.

Control is an over-hyped illusion. In a digital time like this who has “control” of anything? If NOW is the only time that matters and you aren’t really in control then allowing customers to build, share, and promote profiles creates a foundation to build an interactive, responsive, and engaging online experience. Here are examples of favorite profiles:

Communication Pyramid

As the illustration below shows, we suggest asking for help immediately. No one will trust your initial ask, but asking says a lot about your intentions. Asking for help BEFORE you craft your About Us page provides an opportunity to incorporate some of what you hear. Don’t wait for a year, but after you publish your ASK FOR HELP page (see Moon Audio Ambassadors), craft a flexible and easy to evolve About Us page.

Be sure to include pictures and biographies of your team. Share your creation story. Explain why you started your business and website. Begin to build your movement. Is there something you can “buy one, give one” to help change the world? Share emotions, stories, and love. Don’t hold back.

As you listen, share, and reward conversations, customer feedback and engagement trust builds. Once you have a group of about 100 ambassadors profiles should be your next step. Profiles are a form of listening and generosity. You’re giving a piece of your website to users, ambassadors, and customers and encourage them to create, collaborate, and communicate.

You know your platform is working when ambassadors, customers, and advocates are speaking with each other much more than with you the founders and developers. Don’t disappear. Continue to curate examples of ideas, values, and content consistent with your values, ideals, wants, and marketing needs. As time and trust build look to relinquish your job as prime curator too.

Find the 1% of your 1% and ask them to help edit, curate, and share content, your marketing campaigns, products, brands, and services. The new marketing has a huge irony – you get bigger faster when doing less and less. The more you can give to ambassadors, customers and advocates the faster you’ll grow and grow quickly by doing less and listening more is the new marketing.