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Posted by Marie Taillard - @marietaillard at 10:53 - 0 Comments

Several of us at the Creativity Marketing Centre have been working around the idea of Brand Ecosystems for some time now. The notion of ecosystem has been around the marketing and strategy fields for some time, but never sufficiently explored. The age of co-creation, crowdsourcing, communities and C2C challenges brands to think beyond the natural boundaries of the firm and its traditional value chain and makes it more urgent for this idea that many different types of people contribute to creating value, to be fully fleshed out and turned into a productive framework for managers to exploit.

I like to give students in my Consumers and Consumer Value class a 6-page sample of data taken from one of the very rich and fun forums on the epicurious.com site. I was a real fan of the now defunct Gourmet magazine, and love using the site that carries the old Gourmet recipes. The forums are a huge bonus for amateur cooks as people share tips and ideas, resolve each other's problems (how to roast enough turkey for 20 Thanksgiving guests if your oven isn't large enough for 2 birds), and in general, share their love for food, cooking and entertaining. The thread I assign to my students is about a roast chicken recipe originally developed by celebrity chef, Thomas Keller. Most forum contributors love the recipe although it seems to result in a smoky kitchen and a dirty oven. The several comments from consumers whose birds were less than tasty elicit empathetic responses from enthusiastic contributors urging them not to give up or feel bad, but to try again and keep their chin up in the face of adversity.  

In class, I ask my students to spot evidence of "value" created for consumers both in the kitchen and through the forum - they quickly come up with a long list: self-esteem, status, creativity, fun, good food, belongingness, closeness to a celebrity, sense of achievement, empowerment, social acceptance, expertise etc. Then I ask them how this value for customers translates into value for Condé Nast, the owner of the site. We spend some time thinking about the actual financial value created, by comparing it to the cost of developing new recipes, promoting them, delivering a highly targeted audience to advertisers, etc. We also itemize value created for employees of Condé Nast, celebrity chefs, advertisers, suppliers etc.

This simple exercise quickly points to a complex network of value-creating relationships and interactions.    Time permitting, we start developing a visual rendition of this multi-layered network, starting with each individual's own emotions, motivations and cognition; micro-level dyadic exchanges; macro-level roles such as supplier, employee, customer; meso-level dimensions encompassing the norms, processes and other procedural aspects; the "exo" contextual layer; and finally the meta-perspective which is the one that allows us to analyze the system or Condé Nast managers to think about it as a value-creating product. This is the ecosystem.

With enough time, I would have them start analyzing "resource integrating" touchpoints along a customer's journey with the epicurious site - what and whose resources are being integrated and how: cooking know-how, the right ingredients, a need to share, a well-designed platform, a beloved and authentic brand, a chef's reputation, time etc...Documenting how these resources are integrated creatively into value along the way and throughout the ecosystem is to me, the best possible way to bring to life the still very theoretical, but highly insightful and productive Service Dominant Logic introduced by Steve Vargo and Robert Lusch in 2004. We are combining this approach with our own Creativity Marketing framework to shed light on a range of interesting phenomena and develop new ideas for some of our corporate partners.

Later this Spring, several of my colleagues from the Creativity Marketing Centre and I will be presenting papers on this general topic at some of the top international marketing conferences. We look forward to feedback from academic as well as corporate audiences out there on this exciting new stream of research.

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