What does a mobile phone virtualization software company like Open Kernel Labs have in common with a small green iguana? Pretty much everything, as it turns out.
Previously a software release codename, "iguana" would prove to be the perfect corporate mascot for OK Labs. Today, Iggy Wanna plays a starring role in the company's branding efforts, building and engaging its community through on- and offline social media.
Though small in size, OK Labs develops technology that operates in over 300 million mobile handsets all over the world. Like its parent, the well-traveled Iggy has racked up some serious frequent flier miles in the two years since his introduction. From Boston to Berlin and back, Iggy has been captured on film: drinking a pint in an Irish pub, rubbing elbows at an OK Labs meet-up in Sydney, hanging out in the booth at an Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, and everywhere else in between.
Founded in 2006, OK Labs develops open-source virtualization software for mobile devices, consumer electronics, and embedded systems. Virtualization extends the capabilities of isolation, portability, security, and hardware efficiency—typically associated with the server and PC markets—to mobile phones. OKL4 technology allows handset OEMs and semiconductor suppliers to incorporate the next must-have features into new mobile device designs, faster and cheaper.
OK Labs was spun out of the National Information and Communications Technology Research Centre in Australia. The Chicago-based company's employee base of 40 people includes a team of executives and a sales and marketing group in Chicago, as well as a research and development group in Australia.
OK Labs software is designed into the mobile solutions upon which it runs. This means the company must connect with and educate embedded systems developers on the front end of the product development cycle.
So when OK Lab's vice president of marketing, Marti Konstant, joined the company, she had a very clear goal: To build a 1,000-member community of embedded system developers with which to engage, influence, and build the OK brand…within one year.
"Our software is deployed in mobile phones—HTC, Motorola, and Samsung, to name a few," says Konstant. "However, the genesis of our company depends on engineers researching us online and learning about what we bring to market.
"As the head of marketing, I needed to understand the behavior of these key influencers," she continues. "How do they use technology? What sources do they tap to get product information when designing a handset?"
A Google search led Konstant to a prospective vendor…but a partnership was not to be. "After further research, we determined they were more focused on technical community development systems and platforms than on community development strategy," she notes.
Fortunately for OK Labs, the vendor referred her onto Cerado, which offers mobile and Web-based solutions and services to help organizations better understand and engage with their customer communities. It proved to be a perfect match.
"When I first met the Cerado team, I knew instantly that these guys had the creative savvy to do what I needed," Konstant recalls. "In addition, they had experience with complex firms like Accenture and Xerox, so I was confident that they possessed the right pedigree to tackle our situation."
The first strategy session between Cerado and OK Labs was held in Chicago in late 2007. The purpose was to conduct an internal audit of what OK Labs had done to date to build a community. Cerado's approach in helping OK develop a social media strategy was to engage the 3 Ls: listen, learn, and leverage.
During that first meeting, Cerado took a careful inventory of OK's existing internal assets. To get the right input from the right players, Konstant made sure every group within OK was represented at the two-day meeting, from engineers to the CEO.
After the session, Cerado presented OK Labs with a list of 25 recommendations, based on leveraging those internal assets that best represented the company. One of the suggestions was to inject social objects into the marketing mix and make them viral. And thus, Iggy Wanna was born.
Iggy portrayed OK Labs as an emerging growth company with a large footprint. "Since we traveled all over the world, it just made sense to adopt a little mascot like Iggy that we could take along with us and photograph," says Konstant. "Iggy is a playful guy who likes to experience the world. He represents a serious product like ours in a fun, organic way."
Another Cerado recommendation in the world of social objects was the introduction of the tagline, "I operate in Privileged Mode" in bold white letters on black t-shirts. Privileged mode is a technology term pertaining directly to the software OK develops; It also works beautifully as a t-shirt slogan. The tees quickly became the OK Labs signature uniform at trade shows and meet-ups.
Taking the t-shirts one step further, OK ran a blog contest where members of the community could win a free shirt if they guessed what one of the executives ate for breakfast—a great example of OK branding itself by engaging its community in a fun, collaborative way.
At Cerado's suggestion, OK has videotaped many of its employees wearing the tees and doing outrageous things, like discussing the benefits of the company's flagship product OKL4…while talking to and feeding an alpaca.
The shock value of these zany acts is high, and certainly not what one would expect from a shy engineer type. Aussie accents contribute to the interest factor in a big way.
OK has also introduced "GeekTV" where engineers provide informative tutorials on topics like, "What is Paravirtualization?" The company's CTO, Gernot Heiser, is a colorful personality who often lends his opinions to the segment.
In addition to social objects, OK Labs also posts an active company blog with over 10 employees participating in the discussion. Heiser is one of the company's most prolific bloggers, and like Iggy, travels all over the world. There's a section on the website called "Where in the World is Gernot?" where people can literally track his travels at any point in time. Again, a simple effort on OK Labs' part to connect with its community in a fresh, informative manner.
Another way OK stays connected to its community is by sending out alerts to subscribers on a regular basis. Alerts are opt-in and include information on company news, upcoming Webinars, and blogs.
There's also an OKL4 Developer's Mailing List for which researchers and developers can sign up. Alerts offers immediate answers to pressing developer questions about the company's products. It's a place where developers can share knowledge about issues such as work-arounds, as well as learn tips and tricks in an open environment.
What Cerado has encouraged OK Labs to do is to push the envelope in brand new ways, creating opportunities to meet up (both on and offline) in an authentic way. By validating OK's existing internal assets and turning them into virtual objects, OK has developed a hugely successful social media strategy. The company achieved its goal of creating a 1000-member online community two months earlier than projected.
Simple and inexpensive, OK's social media efforts have been heartily embraced from the top down, fueling their success. Iggy and other initiatives have humanized the high-tech company, and in spite of the down market, have resulted in innovation and profitability.
Note: To learn more about OK Labs, visit www.oklabs.com. For more information on Cerado, go to www.cerado.com.