Every brand needs to manage its digital ecosystem. Like a jungle ecosystem, it is a wild, complex and sometimes dangerous place. The web is just one part of that digital ecosystem; it is as wide as it is deep and continues to grow. Nobody knows how big the web is and there is no real map.
Your brand is being talked about throughout its nooks and crannies, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. Whether you are hosting the conversation, observing the conversation, or completely oblivious to its existence, it is affecting brand equity, sales, and loyalty.
The greater digital ecosystem is multi-layered. However, unlike in archaeology where today’s living layer sits on yesterday’s fossilised layers, the digital ecosystem’s generations co-exist.
The first layer of the ecosystem is its foundation, and is the network of computers that links us all; we call this the internet. Selecting what hardware you buy and rollout, and deciding how that infrastructure is managed, structured, linked, and maintained are the key questions for this layer.
The second layer links documents together in a web navigated by hyperlinks; we call this the World Wide Web. In web 1.0, we focused on online banners, virals, websites, traditional search engine optimisation, and search engine marketing, as the main tools for driving success. Brands and media owners controlled the conversations here.
The third layer is a graph of people connected by social media platforms, in what Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook calls a social graph. This is web 2.0 territory and the key to success here is to understand how to create contagious ideas that change the conversation and manage communities of interest towards advocacy, whether they be in the blogosphere, on Facebook, Flickr, Youtube, Linkedin or MySpace.
A fourth layer is in its infancy. This is the internet of things, where things like cans, books, shoes or parts of cars are equipped with minuscule identifying devices. This is where we bridge the gulf between the virtual and real world.
The fifth layer is the semantic web. Largely still in the realm of science fiction, it’s a place where all things will have a Uniform Resource Identifier, meaning that they will be identifiable and open to manipulation by machine based intelligent agents.
This rapid evolution points to the idea that this is marketing’s Cambrian Period. In archaeology, the Cambrian Explosion was the period on Earth which saw a rapid increase in the number of complex animals. Marketing’s Cambrian Explosion is the period when we will see a rapid increase in the complexity of the media landscape.
To successfully manage your ecosystem, the smart marketer needs to build an engine with a strong brand idea at its heart. However, this idea is less about an image, and more about an experience centred on branded content and branded utilities that sell by helping or entertaining the audience.
This content and these utilities give the brand permission to engage right across the ecosystem – reaching from areas where people are unaware of the brand, all the way up the purchase funnel to places where your most loyal customers inhabit.
Perhaps most importantly, with the measurability of digital technology, each engagement must be optimised, so the brand works out which parts of the ecosystem are most profitable places to hunt and which tools contribute most to these profits. Brands now have a choice: create an engine that allows you to glide through the ecosystem; or end up as a fossilised dinosaur. The choice is that stark.