10 Platform Design Principles for Brands

After writing about Brands as a Platform I thought share some design principles to help start to build your own platform. Over the past few years we’ve been focused on building platforms for brands that bring ideas to life. After being involved in some successes, Victors & Spoils, Local Motors, Gloo, the Harley Davidson Fan Machine and some that didn’t get as much traction, Pearl Street Marketplace, Havas Crowd, etc. I’ve started to notice some core pillars of what makes a platform successful. I’ve culled the list down to 10. Over the next few weeks, I’ll take a deeper dive into each. So you can get going on applying to your brand them, here are all ten. They are our defining principles at Speakeasy and we continue to iterate on how best to implement. Rip them up, test them. Do they work for you? How can we improve them?

Enable Digital Transformation — A platform is not just a tactical tool to allow new ideas into an organization, it is much bigger. It is a pathway to digital transformation, one that starts as a footpath but accelerates into something much larger that can transform a team, a company or an industry. The first step is your declaration of embracing and enabling the change in the mental model for your brand.

Start Where You Are — It’s difficult to reinvent things. New systems need to use language that deeply integrates into the current business systems and helps them evolve. Every customer will start somewhere differently on the journey. A platform needs to allow for multiple entry points along the pathway to digital innovation through open systems.

Modes not Roles — Most platforms are built on the philosophy of roles. She’s a user. He’s a consumer. She’s an engineer. He’s inside. She’s outside. A well architected platform must be built on the realization that we all toggle between modes. Everyone on the platform should be able to switch modes and be more true to who they are. In one interaction they are a creator, in the next a curator, and maybe even an administrator. Particular attention needs to be paid to discovering and defining each mode. Then, make it easy for anyone to switch modes on the platform with fluidity to achieve positive growth.

Demand Side First — While most platforms are focused on the supply side; the size, complexity, and technology of the community are distractions. Demand comes first, meaning those using the platform in the customer mode. What do they need? What questions do they have? What tensions exist inside their organizations in regards to digital innovation, community building, etc. From answering these questions will emerge a pathway to building the right community and the most appropriate technology.

Go Were the People Are — When building a community, go where people are. Instead of thinking about building our own community, find other communities that you can API in. Is there an internal community inside your brand? Is it worth tapping into your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram community? By tapping into existing communities, the platform can build its user base. People are up to their eyeballs with digital communities already. Nobody needs another community to join.

Build an Emergent Model — To be truly scalable the platform needs to be based on an emergent model. Hence, systems need to be put in place within the platform that allows it to be adopted not sold, integrated not implemented and allowed to evolve instead of being versioned.

Thin and Open — The technology that you build needs to use the power of API’s, focus on doing what you do best and integrating the rest. At the core of any co-creation platform is the power of connecting, not the power of doing.

Reintermediation versus Disintermediation — The platform needs to have a set of tools that allows for internal teams not to feel threatened by the platform. How does the platform allow everyone’s job to be easier through its use? Can an internal client creative feel less threatened because there are tangible ways for them to participate even though the core of the platform might be threatening to their very existence. The focus needs to be on building bridges from the old way of doing things to a new, more digital, collaborative way of working.

Eat Your Own Dog Food — Open is a philosophy that is bigger than any platform. Too many times platforms are started by companies that are built on closed systems. This creates a cultural misalignment and dissonance. Open is open. Even if things happen off platform, companies building platforms must play on other platforms and look for ways to transform themselves as they build the platform itself.

Internal Alignment — A platform must acknowledge that any new system of working will require a realignment of current internal structures. Some will have a clearer path to the future while others will disappear. A platform must not try to solve for this tension but create enough space and a set of tools that allow for the tension to exist and use it to fuel innovation. At the core of alignment is a dedication to radical transparency. This might manifest itself through individual dashboards that give everyone insight into larger activity on the platform but also context to understand their own activity and how it relates to the bigger picture.