Co-operative sets, not competitive sets

The world of social media is all about building relationships with people who – in one way or another – share your obsessions. It’s built on a social model that emphasises progress through co-operation, rather than progress through competition. I’ve been thinking for a little while about how that emphasis on engagement through sharing can be applied to marketing.

Brands usually understand their peer group by creating a clearly defined competitive set; that is, a group of other brands offering a similar product or service, to the same consumers. Everyone within with that competitive set is in direct competition with each other for the attention, engagement and money of a finite group of consumers. They are united by a shared need to defeat each other.

In this social age, defining your peer group as the people you most want to eradicate seems at best rather peculiar, and at worst unnecessarily paranoid. It seems to me more constructive to built a co-operative set, rather than a competitive set, and thus to define your brand by understanding who it can work with to satisfy its consumers, rather than who it must shout against to even begin to claim their attention.

As I said, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. In fact, in my first ever post-graduate job – back at Birds Eye Wall’s, in the mid-90s – one of my favourite achievements was building a relationship with Creda, a natural frozen food co-operator, to ensure that Birds Eye products, and general frozen food tips, appeared in their brochures. In retrospect, I wish I’d developed a broader frozen food co-operative set; it would have been a fascinating, and no doubt very rewarding, exercise.

But this blog post was triggered by a far more current example of a brilliant definition and use of a co-operative set. Here’s a website for Australian energy drink V-Raw. Instead of trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors by going on about why they’re better than them, V-Raw are engaging with their consumers by sharing the benefits of a clearly defined co-operative set with them.

Their website is a forum for music offers, interviews with interesting people, job offers from V-Raw-like companies, and so on. That makes it a genuinely exciting destination to visit; and – I suspect – it does far more to position V-Raw as an effective, constructive, positive and very contemporary energy drink to a very clearly defined group of people than ranting endlessly about why they’re better than Red Bull or its antipodean equivalents ever would.

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