The DNA of a Recommendation

Last week I shared my thoughts on the "Recommendation Economy" at The Late Late Breakfast Show and here on the blog - and I must say I was a little astounded at the response. After sufficient prompting from you lot I thought I would explore this a little further by examining the DNA (more on that in a moment) of a recommendation. First of we must understand that there are several factors, as with any economy, that make up the Recommendation Economy - markets, currencies and goods. Over the coming weeks I'll be exploring these other elements, but today - we focus on the currency of the recommendation economy - The Recommendation itself.

What's in a Recommendation?

As we began to explore last week, I can see there is a new kind of consumerism breeding in the underbelly of the digital world. One where the sale and purchase of goods continues to flourish, but can go mostly unseen as we bring more and more of our purchasing, leasing and renting into the comfort and privacy of our own browsers. Yet brands and increasingly as the weeks go by enterprises are seeing the need to breed a culture of recommendation, where every consumer becomes the evangelist for his or her shop/barber/SaaS Provider/Consultant/Frisbee Manufacturer.

This new culture's currency, the recommendation, when automated, facilitated and propagated efficiently can become a very powerful tool - one that can move financial markets as well as social ones. The recommendation has it's own DNA - a very particular makeup, which has positives and negatives for both sides of the equation.

What is the DNA I here you cry? - Direction, Naming & Association

Let's take each of those in turn. (and here's a handy diagram!)

DNA of a Recommendation Infographic

The first part of the DNA of a recommendation is the direction. This direction in an offline world may sound like "I saw this new paint in the XXBrand Catalogue, you should check it out" - which in many ways has not changed online, however the direction is far more precise. When we choose to say "Check out Dulop's new colour range - Flacid Yellow!" we are not only directing people to a destination but giving them the tools to reach that destination instantly through a link.

This direction element is the most key for companies who want to become major players in the recommendation economy, as this is the element which is most easy for them to faciliate, through automating these sharing actions from their own online stores, social pages and mobile applications. The direction of a recommendation clearly benefits the subject of the recommendation (i.e. the brand) the most - however this value is also shared with the person who uses this recommendation to get a good product or service.

N - The Naming of a Recommendation

This may seem fairly obvious - a recommendation that didn't name the thing it was recommending would appear to be pretty worthless. However the second element of the recommendation's DNA - the naming of the recommendation has a lot more intrinsic value that one my first think.

We are awefully precious about our names, both personally and corporately, and in my experience particularly so when it comes to big companies. So why do we get so hung up about the names we use? Well - our name holds a lot of significance to us, names are one of the only things we can truly claim as our own, even when others may even share the same name - and so they carry a lot of inherent value for us. Not only do they signify who we are, but where we have come from, and the values we hold- they are the badges of our reputation, and when we recommend someone it is that reputation which we are putting into the spotlight, that history, those values - that name. Test this on yourself - when you think of Coca-Cola, Virgin America, IBM, Tony Blair, Melinda Gates, Will.I.Am - what do those names conjure up for you?

This is why so much time and effort is spent by marketeers trying to reinforce and create identities that we as consumers will associate with different names, brands, icons and monikers that we see and here everyday. The value in having these names passed on and recommended reinforces and amplifies these efforts - the more we share the more the reputation is brought to light, where it is either built up or torn down.

Of course the naming of a recommendation plays an important part for the one who recommends also - the association with that name.

A - The Association of a Recommendation

This third element of the DNA of the recommendation is the one that has most value for the one who recommends, and is the key driver behind the currency of the recommendation, as it is the payoff for recommending. The association of the recommendation is what we as the original consumer of the good or service get out of the process of recommending (often referred to as social capital). By saying "check this out", "this is good", "has great service today from...", "James Liked XXBrand" we are associating ourselves with these services - in part to say "try them out" - but I would argue far more that we are shouting - "here I am", "this is what I'm about", "these values are my values".

We know that broadly speaking we are moving a large proportion of our social interactions online, making it harder for people to spot the books on our shelves, the DVD's in their cases, the holiday brochures that once littered the coffee table have been replaced with browser histories, HTTPS shops and next day delivery (or more often than not instant downloads). So by liking, tweeting, sharing, posting, blogging and emailing these recommendations we are beginning to rebuild our own name/brand/identity by means of association with these social goods, traded through these social markets using the currency of the recommendation.

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