I've just finished How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom, which was both useful and very enjoyable. The basic proposition is built on essentialism and the idea that what gives us pleasure is as much what we know and feel about something as actual physical characteristics or traits.
Which makes sense and explains why people will pay thousands for a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe, but not if it's been washed - it's the fact she's worn it and imbued it with essential Marilyn Monroe-ness that makes it special. Or why we'll choose to pay thousands for a mechanical watch imbued with story and heritage when it won't tell the time as well as a $25 Casio.
It's what we believe about stuff that lends it value and pleasure as much as what it is, which explains why modern is an intellectual and elitist pursuit - you only get pleasure from a Damien Hirst if you understand the idea behind it, whereas the beauty of a Rembrandt is universal: you can see the craft and talent in the execution (also explains why I love Dali, there's idea but you can see the sheer brilliance of the man's talent too). Of course, the link to imbuing a brand with story doesn't really need fleshing out any further, does it? But nice to know the evidence sits in proper psychology.
THE ELITIST ONLINE COMMUNITIES
A quick glance through digital communities reveals that highly successful ones clearly cater to (an) elite base ...
Here are three we found striking:
1. They know their worth. As game mechanics have taken over the world, this principle is regularly forgotten. If a certain group knows their worth, shouldn't they get some form of VIP status others simply can't earn? Although Stickybits is a favourite app here at BBH Labs, they recently shifted their focus from content creation to promotions. It's impossible to say the cause, but from an outsider's perspective, it may be the consequence of failing to acknowledge the VIP base. There was no established benefit for tagging content. Assuming a small percentage of users must be responsible for creating large quantities of content, Stickybits failed to illustrate the reward of such behaviour.
2. They have a low boredom threshold. This one is interesting because "boredom" is so difficult to address. That said, there are clear patterns for those that do it successfully. Wikipedia is legendary because of the exceptionally small number of people that edit the community. A famous article once stated that greater than 50 per cent of the edits come from 0.7 per cent of the community. Editing alone is different from catalytic creative contribution, but it does illustrate the point that a very, very small group will take upon a vastly disproportionate task (we saw this during The Betacup). It might sound boring, but it's clearly fulfilling to those key people.
Compare that fulfilment with Foursquare. Foursquare currently depends on the system to alleviate boredom. The monotony is broken via badges created by Foursquare or its partners, and awarded for activities any user can do (ie. "check-in"). In other words, it's not self-fulfilling. It places an exceptional burden on Foursquare itself, rather than on the community, to validate the catalytic creative contributor. Put another way, Foursquare may have created a barrier to its own success. This is especially interesting in the context of their recent shift toward couponing and rewards.
3. They are well connected. Having a core base of hardcore creators is likely necessary for any digital experience. However, it's easy to lose sight of the other value those content creators bring: a passionate base of advocates and recruiters. It's similar to the idea of Propagation Planning ("planning not only for the people you reach, but the people they reach") and poses an interesting challenge to user-experience designers. Digg and other supposedly "democratic" news systems know this well. A review of the Top 100 Digg users shows what few people likely realise. A minuscule group actually controls what makes it on to the homepage. That sounds like the opposite of Digg's offering but, in fact, those users are sought out by the audience because of their influence and reputation.
MY BEEF WITH CUSTOMER SERVICE
I've been to GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) a few times, I've usually enjoyed it. Food that is nice for a not unreasonable price. However, last time I visited, I had a number of issues with the service that spoilt the meal a bit and made me decide to e-mail its customer service.
That was more than two weeks ago. I have yet to receive any response whatsoever from GBK. My e-mail was polite and constructive, yet I haven't even received an auto "someone will get back to you within xxx days" message.
Is it any wonder people now use Facebook as a base for their complaints and comments if companies are this useless at responding to e-mails and other queries.