The Rise of Vanity Marketing

Catering the vanities of consumers has always been a tried and trued marketing technique – liquor, luxury goods, automobiles, ... hell ... even cigarettes (and airlines!). However, the web had been slow to adopt these techniques until the rise of “web 2.0” companies. A lot has been talked about regarding community contributed content as the bedrock of the web 2.0 ethos. Little, however, has been written about how web 2.0 companies leverages vanity marketing as the feedback loop that creates incentives for increasing community contributions.

In the offline world, vanity marketing does a few things

1) creates a sense of exclusiveness which

a. improves retention

b. enables self segmentation

c. reduces customer acquisition cost

2) Attempts to invert the price elasticity curve which

a. Enable service provider to raise prices

i. Or even better, get users to contribute something valuable for nothing

b. Improves margins

3) Encourages “homogeneity” within the target segment which

a. Creates community and network effects

b. Creates barriers to entry by preventing segment fragmentation

c. Allows tightly targeted messaging and product marketing without undeserving sub segments

In the online world where member to member contact is real-time and intimate, these effects are even more pronounced. Some companies like Myspace are masters at vanity marketing – letting users modify their own profile pages and encouraging “celebrity” profiles (ever heard of Tila Tequila?). Tagworld wasn’t far behind when it promised one of its members their own billboard in LA. Pierre understood this when he realized the eBay feedback score (and ebay star system) is not just about trust and safety BUT also pride and vanity. Yahoo Answers and Korea’s was successful for that one reason – they allowed heavy contributors a platform to flaunt their expertise and gain standing within the community. Even Pluck’s new BlogBurst leverages (take advantage?) the vanity of bloggers to give their content away for free.

So what do you do if you want to leverage vanity marketing for your own web 2.0 project? Off the top of my head...

1) On your homepage prominently feature a few “top users”

2) Enable consumers to customize their presence to show off their tenure

3) Create reputation systems that give graphical prominence to top users

4) In a related point, create “casts” system for your user base

5) Create new functionality and services only for your highest “cast”

a. And a way for the lower cast members to taste these services temporary

6) Create functionalities for users to measure and compare their progress through the cast system

a. Clearly publish metrics with which they can see and act on to improve their standing in the community

7) Allow the maximum possible transparency for member to member communication and interaction

a. Which enables socialization of these vanity norms

8) Create a jargon/language system for your community

9) And lastly, don’t be afraid of kicking out or refusing entry members who does not contribute positively to your network or does not fit your target segment (defined broadly)