Can Truth Kill Brands?

A free voice has always been sought-after. Just think about the Second World War and the resistance movements’ creation of independent radio.

Each time freedom has been squeezed into a box, it has triumphed.

Now it has become a business. A new generation of Internet sites have geared up for what could be the most interesting race for market share in months.

The race was established by ThirdVoice in May 1999 when it was the first to enable people to speak freely on other web sites via a “sticky notes” system.

The concept was not only interesting, as people could post their true opinions on every site in the world, but it also managed to open the eyes of those managing brands. They realized that they could very easily become the victim of this new technology.

Suddenly brands were more or less forced to start listening to consumers’ opinion — a change that for several brands could be almost life-threatening.

The Second Net – The ThirdVoice

ThirdVoice created the first concept, and has been quickly followed by similar concepts. For example, Utok.com, Zadu and Hypernix are currently launching software that follows the same idea.

These concepts give the consumer an opportunity to talk freely about what they find interesting.

This is the birth of a new layer of the Net, a layer that represents a “community of web” commentary that is separate from the web we know today.

Hypernix offers realtime chatting as part of its sticky notes system and enables people to enter into live discussions re content on the site.

Utok offers the consumer a rating system that polls visitors to any given page. It has recently launched a new facility that not only allows consumers to put their opinions on live, but also find like-minded people and exchange opinions with them.

Freedom has suddenly become a lucrative business, in some ways reflecting what the original Internet was all about – the ability to share opinions without limitations.

The battle has, however, already started to dilute the value of these site concepts. Several companies are currently working on software solutions that compete with the original concept launched by ThirdVoice. Not surprisingly, ThirdVoice has already launched new versions to maintain its position.

But where does this leave us?

It is, in fact, all a reflection of a current need among consumers for honest and fair discussions.

The big question is whether brands are ready for this type of dialogue.

Just think about Nike’s crisis in the USA and how the discussion could have been reflected on the Nike.com site if ThirdVoice was present at that time.

Or Coca Cola’s major crisis in Belgium where more than 500 kids went to hospital because of a production error. The site would probably have been covered with consumer feedback.

These major brands are not ready for open dialogue. Why? Because they do not have a strategy in place for the freedom of opinion that the web enables.

This will lead the way into a new role for brands — a role where the brand also starts to show weaknesses. A brand is very similar to a friend. You trust it, it’s fair, and it tells the truth.

Remember when Swiss Air crashed with SR111 almost a year ago. The Swiss Air site revealed that a brand can handle crises like this in a very professional and honest way.

The site had, during the period after the crash, daily updates on the status of the crash, what to do if you were related to one of the persons on board, and information for the media. The site was informative, honest and fair, despite the news being incredibly sad and certainly not favoring Swiss Air.

By handling the crisis in this way, Swiss Air probably managed to maintain its very loyal passengers. They felt they could trust the brand.

The days when only positive news is distributed from the brand marketing department are over. People are more skeptical. Concepts like that of Hypernix, ThirdVoice and Zadu will force the showing of a complete brand picture.

You could almost say that the brand finally has to mature, and there’s only one entity you can thank for that — the Internet.

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