I have never heard anyone talk about brands in terms of networks, but it would be useful to do so. In economics and business model strategy, "network effects" refers to the added value to certain types of businesses when more people are networked into them. 4G LTE networks become more valuable to their customers with each customer that they add, especially when they offer free "friends and family" plans. Social media platforms also have positive network effects. Consider the increased value of LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms as they add more people. The same goes for a variety of online commerce websites. Consider the power of network effects for eBay. And consider how important network effects are for Airbnb, Craigslist, Angie's List and others.
In what ways can brands benefit from network effects? Certainly in the way that I describe above, when the business proposition itself improves with more users. But here are some other networks to consider:
- A brand's communication/media networks. Are they creating greater brand awareness? Are they getting to people who will act as brand advocates? Are they connecting with people who are "network hubs" and who can substantially extend the brand's reach to a large number of others?
- A brand's distribution networks. Are they extending the brand into new markets or they limiting the brand's chances of success? Are they creating additional visibility for the brand with key target markets? Are they proactively introducing the brand to new markets or are they reducing the brand's value by extracting too much profit without a commensurate increase in brand value?
- A brand's delivery networks. Brands and their products and services can be delivered in a variety of ways - in person, through software, over the telephone, over the Internet, through ATM machines, through other companies' products, through other companies' services, etc. Some of these networks have great reach, while others are more limited in their reach. Some get to key influencers. Others don't.
Reaching one person who is well thought of, highly networked, and outspoken through multiple communication platforms to the right audiences will have a very large impact. Consider me, for example. If you want to get your message about brand strategy out, if you can get me to say something about it, I could do so through one of my two blogs reaching close to 50,000 marketing professionals, or through my Brand Aid book, available in many languages throughout the world. The book is available in hard cover, an eBook version and an audio version. To date, more than 20,000 hard copies have been sold to marketing professionals. It is used in dozens of business schools across the world, influencing thousands of future marketing managers. And, I am highly active on social media, with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other accounts. Finally, throw in dozens of speaking engagements and dozens of new clients each year, enabling thousands of other people to hear what I have to say.
Another thing to consider is that some networks are more appropriate for your brand than others. And some are more credible than others. Some have higher quality perceptions. Some target more upscale audiences. Some are faster than others. And some are better at reaching the target audiences in the most effective and efficient ways.
Clearly, considering and managing what networks your brand is tapping into will have a big impact on its success.