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IDEAS. STRATEGY. TACTICS. INNOVATION. INSPIRATION.

How to think about brand-based platform engagement

The new brand rules are changing engagement strategies.

Key takeaways:

  • Big idea: a brand-owned platform delivers continuous customer value

  • New idea: There are four types of brand owned platforms: canvas, companion, guide, and instrument

  • What to watch out for: too-fast transitions, adjustment of metrics, and an all or nothing approach

From our interview with Maria Borromeo, to our conversation with Shannon Washington, to our Masterclass with Anna Gong , we’ve been talking a lot about brand.



All of these leaders emphasized the importance of building deeper brand relationships and changing the way that brands interact with consumers. Maria encourages us to think of unmet needs and to truly build for the consumer we have in mind. Shannon encourages brands to evolve with their consumers. While Anna explains how our cash fueled approaches to consumers are the wrong approach, because we are wasting money on transactional relationships. At the core of their teachings is a desire to show how to build a purposeful community where every touchpoint is meant to create and scale a lasting relationship.


Building a purposeful community often requires a brand platform that is more intentional and communal than those in the past. Harvard Business Review in their Sept/October 2022 magazine issue explores how to build a brand platform that meets the consumer where they are.

The article by Julian Wichman, Nico Wiegand, and Werner Reinartz encourages a transition from aggregator sites (Amazon, Walmart) and towards brand-owned platforms. “By leveraging platform structures,… (brands)...can integrate consumers and third-party businesses into the creation of personalized value propositions, going well beyond the aggregators’ formula of offering a broad product range and low prices.” But, not all platforms are created equal. You’ll want to be aware of each type of platform, so that you can discern the best fit for your brand, and the inherent risks of each platform type.


The article describes the four types of brand-owned platform engagement strategies as instrument, guide, canvas and companion.

  1. Instrument– This is a utility-driven platform where the primary emphasis is on transaction. “Functionalities commonly focus on enabling transactions (rating and reviewing products or answering product-related questions, for example) or providing feature extensions to a core offering (such as smart features that track wear and tear on a running shoe).” In response, consumers tend to have a utilitarian attitude towards the branded platform and the brand. An example can be found in Phillips personal care products which are largely geared towards sales and limited customer response.

  2. Guide– Consumers gather value from this platform which provides information intended to help a consumer. This helpful information can include brand tips, brand ideas, and even information from third party sites. While consumers do not contribute to or co-create in this environment, they do derive a huge value from its existence. An example is pet-care brand Whistle which tracks a dog’s activity and provides healthcare advice.

  3. Canvas– These platforms highlight the creative value contribution of consumers and requires the brand to be more laid back in its ownership. It is a valuable model for a creative brand, specifically a brand whose products are the core material spurring creativity. An example can be found in Lego’s platforms where creation and sharing the items created are a central function of the platform.

  4. Companion– These platforms feature both crowd contribution and brand contribution creating a reciprocal relationship where both the brand and the consumer grow. An example mentioned is Bosch’s DIY & Garden platform where consumers can track progress, buy products, and share their updates. Another is Makerbot’s Thingaverse where the crowd and brand expand as each grows their capacity to make.

The article specifically talks about the opportunity for legacy brands to scale and grow their business’ using branded platforms. This is due to their historical appeal and built in customer appeal. However, not all types of brand platforms are created equal: the more community creation invited in, the more moderation is necessary to maintain a brand’s fidelity. For a master class in thinking about brand moderation, check out this interview with Roblox founder David Baszucki whose immersive creation platform has frequently struggled with non-typical usage scenarios. His argument, and that of his $26 billion company, is that “co-creation” even with the burden of moderation creates a more vibrant, dynamic, and viral space for an audience.