Community marketing with an offbeat twist

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Marti Konstant's years in technology marketing have made one thing abundantly clear to her: Engineers aren't like the rest of us.

“If it's got marketing written on it, they don't want it.” said Konstant, VP-marketing at Open Kernel (OK) Labs ( in Chicago. “They get their information from each other and from thought leaders.”

So when Konstant set out on a yearlong campaign to build a 1,000 engineer community around OK Labs' embedded software for mobile devices, she knew she needed to be offbeat and memorable. Konstant hired Cerado, an agency that specializes in customer communities, to come up with ideas. Among its 25 recommendations was to use “social objects,” or distinct icons that create a memorable company association.

The first of those objects was Iggy Wanna, a stuffed iguana named after an early pilot project. Iggy now accompanies OK Labs people on their travels around the world, with his stops recorded on an ever-expanding Flickr photo stream. More than 200 photos of Iggy have been posted, and his exploits are a regular feature of the company blog and newsletter.

Engineers also love T-shirts, so a few wearables were emblazoned with the slogan “I Operate in Privileged Mode.” While that phrase may not resonate with the average human, it's a badge of honor for OK Labs' techie audience. The shirts are now widely distributed at trade shows and through giveaways on the company blog. Employees have been videotaped wearing the white-on-black slogan while discussing technical topics and simultaneously feeding an alpaca.

There's more, including a Google Maps mashup that tracks the wanderings of Chief Technology Officer Gernot Heiser. The mashup's title: “Where in the World is Gernot?”

Far from frivolous, the tactics are working. Driven by a combination of low-cost e-mail marketing and developer word-of-mouth, OK Labs met its 1,000-member goal two months early. According to Konstant, the key was to make interaction personal. “It's been a way for people to feel that they know the company before doing business with the company,” she said.

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