The Evolution of the Social System


The way people exchange ideas is constantly evolving.

In the 1450s—during the days when 15th century publisher Johann Gutenberg brought the printing press to light—people communicated by broadcasting their ideas to the public in a one-to-many fashion, explained Mark Bonchek, founder and chief catalyst of thinkORBIT. Fast forward some 500 years, and the birth of the Internet gave people the ability to respond to ideas through a one-to-many dialect. By the early 2000s social networks entered the scene, he said, and people no longer had to take the words of others as law—or even respond; they could form their own communities and bring their ideas to life.

This “Gutenberg-to-Zuckerberg” progression introduced what Bonchek called “the new world of value creation.” Rather than having companies push out their ideas to customers, shoppers now are able to connect and collaborate with each other. And if wise, companies will listen to and then learn from customers’ interactions to better their own businesses.

“How do you enable and empower that peer-to-peer connection in a way that you get to play a role?” Bonchek asked the audience at Adobe’s Digital Marketing Symposium in New York.

And this new world of value creation opens up a whole other solar system for marketers—or what Bonchek likes to call a whole new “social system.”

A brand lives at the center of the social system, Bonchek explained, and all of its constituencies—including its employees, customers, and influencers—orbit around it. These constituencies, he added, have their own communities surrounding them. So, it’s the marketers’ job to pull these constituencies into the brand. How? By enabling them to identify with the brand and become members—instead of just customers—through a series of interactions (other than purchases). Bonchek referred to this concept of pulling customers in as “brand gravity” and called the series of touchpoints O.R.B.I.T.—Ongoing. Relationships. Beyond. Individual. Transactions. If marketers achieve brand gravity, then they’ll pull in not only their own constituencies, he noted, but they’ll also attract their customers’ constituencies.

“That’s what advocacy is,” Bonchek said, “it’s a pull model versus a push model.”

Some brands have already mastered this social system concept. Here are a few examples Bonchek cited.


McCormick’s FlavorPrint solution asks consumers a series of questions about their dietary and taste preferences to identify flavors, recipes, and products that most align with their palates. The more questions consumers answer and the more they interact with McCormick’s food experiences (like its recipes), the more the spice brand is able to fine tune their FlavorPrints. People can also share recommended recipes with their social networks.

All consumers can identify with struggling to figure out what’s for dinner. McCormick provides a solution to this problem and offers a tool that can easily become part of users’ daily routines—even if they don’t buy the necessary spices from the brand.


People can use the Nike+ Running app to map their runs, track their progress, and set motivations, Bonchek said. And if people post that they’re going for a run on social media, Nike will play a round of applause through that runner’s headphones every time he gets a supportive, motivational comment.

“It’s not about Nike’s connection with you,” Bonchek said. “It’s about your connection with people in your orbit.”


The pharmacy’s Balance Rewards program offers members points for syncing up their digital tracking devices and taking actions that help them live a healthy life, like going for a walk or getting a blood test. In some cases, the brand is rewarding members for activities they already do; but the program helps them achieve personal goals, whether losing weight, quitting smoking, or just achieving overall better health.


The beverage brand’s Freestyle machine enables customers to customize their own drinks by mixing up their favorite Coca-Cola flavors. Some machines even have QR codes, Bonchek explained, so that people can just hold their phones up to the machine to request their regular concoctions. Not only does this co-creation allow people to enjoy a drink that’s just to their liking, but it also provides Coca-Cola with a wealth of data that it can then use to come up with new product ideas.

Read on to find out how your brand can strengthen its own social system.


So how can other brands pull customers into their own social systems? Here are Bonchek’s five suggestions:

1. Find your shared purpose. Brands need to identify their missions and find ways to let their customers co-create with them so that it becomes their missions, too. This will prompt customers to share the mutual missions with others. To better determine if a company’s mission meets this shared purpose criteria, Bonchek recommended taking the “T-shirt test”: If the mission isn’t something that a person would wear on a T-shirt, it’s probably not something that he’d be willing to share with others.

2. Find some source of intrinsic value. Marketers must give people a reason to engage with their brands, regardless of whether those consumers end up making a purchase.

3. Look at peer connections. Marketers should not only think about how they can build connections with their customers but also how they can form relationships with their customers’ connections.

4. Consider little data. Most marketers are familiar with the concept of Big Data, but not all of them know about little data. If Big Data is what companies know about us, Bonchek said, then little data is what customers know about themselves. Sometimes companies can even help customers learn something about themselves that they didn’t understand.

5. Value social currencies. Social currencies—like the applause from the Nike+ Running app—are important. As Bonchek noted in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, social currencies help brands express and build relationships with its customers, rather than drive transactions. In the article, he cites the offer of pizza and beer to friends who help you move as a prime example.

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