GiffGaff (Wiki-entry)has been around now for over year. If you’ve never heard of the name then don’t worry, they spend £0 on marketing, about £50 on branding and £0 on sponsorship. The basic idea is brilliant, take a product or a service that has lots of consumers and a continual or long buying cycle (GiffGaff is a virtual mobile network operator using the O2 network) and then start a community with the aim of giving that community what they want. In the case of GiffGaff there was no upfront sales and marketing plan, just the idea that if you do enough good for enough people then the people, the customers, become the marketing department, the support department and the deciders of future direction.
This is what it’s web-site says about the approach.
“Our members play the most important role developing and shaping giffgaff into what it is and where it’s going. Not only do our members do a great job of running the forums, inspiring the community, and generally spreading the good word of giffgaff far and wide, they’ve also given us our best ideas, from how they want their mobile network run, to what they want in the future.
Have you got an idea? Share it with our community here”
It’s a fascinating experiment and if you dig a little deeper you will find it’s 100% funded by O2 and although they have been accused of being a little less than entirely open and transparent, the basic premise is right. Why do you need a marketing department chocked full of expensive people making sweeping decisions about products, services and price-points when you can gather together a real community of real people and let them tell you what they want (you will note that I didn’t say “ask them what they want”) and how much they are prepared to pay for it. Better still, the community should come up with good ideas, for free(ish).
Run very much along the lines of local government in the US, Giffgaff have a manifesto which they adhere to and is unique. By sharing the profit via a pretty good rewards programme they encourage the word to be spread and also get regular people in the street to help with technical, community and service problems.
I predict we’ll see a lot of this style of organisations starting up in the next few years. Critically, this gives lots of space to move in; different versions of the GiffGaff model would work in the same mobile phone space as each community has differing needs so naturally evolves to meet he needs of the majority.
Better still would be the introduction of portability inbetween these (non)competitors. The mobile phone needs of people as they change over time; students needs are different to mature adults, families and grand-parents so either the model follows it’s community as they change as stays put and hands off smoothly consumers as their need change.