“We’ve got to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in!” – Axel Chaldecott, JWT

The idea of branded utility is nothing new. In fact, it’s an idea that has cycled in and out of popular conversations for almost a decade, and yet there is still debate on exactly what it means and whether or not brands can truly provide branded utility in a way that makes a relevant connection to the brand.

(Slide from my Micro-Pulse presentation)

I roughly define branded utility as any way that a brand can truly make the lives of consumers better. Branded utility is something that brands can create in different ways, which are often overlapping. I suggest that there are 6 key ways that brands can look to provide a branded utility:

  • be creative – something new, unexpected and original
  • be helpful – make something easier for consumers
  • be relational – be in a convenient location
  • be interesting – arouse curiosity and hold attention
  • be relevant – do something that makes sense given the context
  • be useful – serve a practical purpose

To make it simple, look for ways to provide value. That’s the key. Instead of looking for ways to shout a marketing message, create situations that add value to consumers so that they desire to engage with the brand.

For many this is the ending point in the discussion on branded utility. The thought is that if a brand can provide value in anyway and connect it to the brand, then they call it a win. I’m not so sure about that, in fact, I believe the Holy Grail of branded utility is found in when the solution is both utilitarian and (most importantly) on strategy. In my mind, you’re wasting your money if you can’t connect your efforts to the brand in a way that makes sense.

So what does on strategy branded utility look like?

This year at SXSW, Chevy brought some fine examples of how brands can provide value and stay on strategy.

(Disclosure: My employer, Fleishman-Hillard, was the agency for record for Chevy at SXSW 2010.)

Gowalla Airport Shuttle

Chevy partnered with the location-based travel game, Gowalla to provide a pop-up to randomly selected people checking in at the airport, offering them a free ride to downtown Austin. It was a fun way to experiment with emerging technologies, provide a helpful service to people (saving them a $50 cab ride) and give them an opportunity to experience riding in a Chevy vehicle first hand.

Read how Mike Schneider, one of the first to find and redeem a free Chevy ride, describes his experience.

Volt Recharge Lounge

During the Interactive portion of SXSW, the Volt Recharge Lounge was like finding a oasis in the desert for attendees desperately needing to charge their smartphones and laptops. SXSW can be draining, on both your body and on your devices. The Volt Lounge provided a great place to relax, recharge and even try some refreshing Sobe.

This made the lounge a great spot to meet new people and power-up community at SXSW. On a recent episode of JaffeJuiceTV, Joseph Jaffe called the lounge both “rescuing and rewarding.”

Catch a Chevy

At SXSW, a majority of the people in attendance have no choice but to walk. Most don’t have cars and if they do, parking fees can quickly add up when moving from one venue another that most choose to walk it. That all changed this year. Chevy provided attendees free rides to strategic stops around downtown Austin, helping them get to their destinations faster and save the souls of their shoes, all while experiencing a 2010 Chevy vehicle.

Do you have any good examples of branded utility?

Where you at SXSW 2010? What do you think of the examples I’ve written about here?