Head of Strategy, APAC
Observers of Indonesian business will not have failed to notice the meteoric rise of the platform brand. Brands such as Traveloka, Go-Jek and Tokopedia have expanded rapidly, building levels of equity that took old-economy brands many years to establish. It’s easy to brush off their success as being in the right place at the right time, as the digital wave sweeps the nation. But that would be doing a disservice to the real reasons behind the rise of these brands.
The Indonesian customer has clearly shown their willingness to engage with platform businesses. These are businesses that create value from networks that bring people and resources together in ways that are mutually beneficial.
What’s interesting is how business valuations and brand equity have risen in tandem at a previously unfathomable pace. Many are heading towards “unicorn” value (valued at US$1 billion or more). Actually, with so many of them around now, perhaps “my little pony” is a better description, as investors surely expect them to grow into champion thoroughbreds! I digress, but just as fast as valuations grow, these businesses are also building strong brand affinity and in some cases even loyalty. Interestingly, not all of them have relied heavily on above-the-line advertising, either.
Clearly, as they’re disrupting the rules of businesses, these companies are also changing the rules of brand building. These brands are fundamentally different from their predecessors. That difference is the platform mindset.
The platform mindset is characterized by a few key aspects:
1. A strong focus on what the user (“member community” is probably a more apt term) can do through them as opposed to a chest –thumping, inward focus on the various features and attributes that make them special. For example, Go-Jek could inundate audiences with messages about the number of riders on their network, how many rides that they facilitate every day, and so on, but they don’t. Instead, they focus on sharing individual stories showing how access to Go-Jek has allowed people to take more control of their lives in various ways that suited them. This authenticity ultimately endears brands to today’s cynical audiences, who have their antennae up for sales spiels and inauthentic messages. This is what ultimately makes a mass movement of epic proportions still feel uniquely individual.
2. Platform brands are built on a strong feedback loop and continuous improvement. We’ve all heard of epic pivots like Instagram, which started off as Burbn, a location-based app, before transforming into an image-sharing platform. Inherent in that is a willingness to put the user at the center and a willingness to change as per their expectations. And while the transition required may not always be this drastic, an ongoing focus on user-driven innovation goes a long way toward endearing these brands to their communities. So when Traveloka launches a new feature that allows users to reschedule tickets on the app, it garners huge goodwill because it has its ear to the ground and has reacted accordingly.
3. If you can improve your users’ lives in many ways, why stop at just one product or service? Platform brands understand their communities intimately, and look at their platform not as a singular service but as an ecosystem that simplifies their users’ lives in numerous ways. It’s no longer accurate just to call Go-Jek a ride-hailing app, considering its many services and rapid foray into the digital wallet space. Similarly, while Traveloka started as a ticketing service, it is steadily appropriating the entire travel experience.
4. A critical aspect of the platform experience is the willingness to hand over control to the community members as opposed to dictating behavior. Most platforms create self-guiding mechanisms such as ratings, which ensure that the community polices itself. Being dictated to is anathema to the all-powerful consumer. Platform brands rely on orchestration, not control.
5. Platform brands realize the role they play in the life of their customers is that of a facilitator. This often implies that they may not be able to offer the desired customer experience alone. They inherently tend to be open to partnerships that add value for their customers. Uber tying up with Spotify to offer customer a seamless listening experience in their car rides is a great example of this. Simply put, platform brands are known by the company they keep.
6. Perhaps most importantly, platform brands manage to evade the trap of overpromise and don’t bait audiences with the lure of the perfect world. A price that the customers sometimes pay for rapid prototyping and continuous improvement is an imperfect, evolving experience. Platform brands have the authenticity and maturity to understand that and never claim to be perfect. Which is why, often times, you find users actively defending them when things go wrong. These brands put themselves out there and in doing so come across as real, human and irresistible.
As you read this you’ve probably arrived at the conclusion that I did. You don’t have to be a digital-only business to be a platform brand. As long as your organization can authentically live up to these principles, and the brand isn’t just the shiny thing that the marketing department is responsible for but a true guiding principle, the North Star that drives decision-making across different departments and different levels of the organization, you have what it takes to endear yourself to your audiences and community members.
I look forward to writing about your platform brand next year.