7 Questions with Justin Cooper of Passenger


I’ve been running into Jessie Cooper from Passenger at multiple conferences lately, and I have been really impressed with the direction that Passenger is taking with their customer collaboration toolset. As a full-time community manager I struggled to find tools that would help me do my job, rather than services who offered to do all the hard work of building customer relationship for me.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about my opinions of the industry players in the customer collaboration space. I believe that most of these service providers are trying to create a “safer cigarette”; they are playing off the traditional desire of marketing managers in a campaign-based, 1.0 world to write a fat check, check out, and be updated via weekly report on success. The Passenger toolset, however, strikes me as the “anti-smoking campaign”, sending a clear message that the way marketing managers must work today is different and there needs to be a tool that honestly helps them engage and manage the flood of communication and interaction.

It is my pleasure to post the interview below with Justin Cooper (no relation to Jessie). Hopefully we can have Justin come back again soon – I want to hear more about what they’re up to.

1. Who are you?

I’m Justin Cooper, the Chief Innovation + Marketing and Co-founder of Passenger. I consider myself a student of customer experience design, brand strategy and customer collaboration, because my perspective evolves every day. Over the last 6 or 7 years, I’ve worked with dozens of globally recognized brands with focus on bringing them to the table with their customers for purposes of innovation. I have an enduring love for my family, my friends, the arts, technology, the collective intelligence, surfing and sushi.

2. Tell us about Passenger – what is it and what makes it different than the competition?

There’s a lot of noise out there surrounding ‘community’. The notion of community means very different things to different people. For Passenger, ‘community’ is the venue for very purposeful interactions between a company and there customers, employees and business partners. ‘Community’ is also an inherent byproduct (a sense of ownership in the process) of inviting customers to contribute to meaningful change from outside the confines of the corporate walls. We’re different because we understand the subtleties of the word ‘community’ and how we focus on enabling companies to innovate with their customers in a very transparent way. We also believe that the design of the member experience is critical to the successful collaboration. We spend an incredible amount of time understanding how we can improve the member experience within the Passenger platform, so that brands can continue to optimize these interactions. The experience too often gets overlooked, which should be counterintuitive to and environment that is designed specifically to discuss how to improve the customer’s experience with a brand. We’re also leading the ‘no incentives’ charge, because the only incentive for people wanting to participate should be access to the brand and the social currency that comes along with being able to tell your peers, “you’ll never believe what I talked to Adidas about today.”

3. What do you consider to be the unique features of your software? Which feature are you most proud of?

Passenger is not focused on features as much as we are on delivering only the features that are necessary in order to optimize collaboration within the community. The platform consists of collaboration, networking and analytics technologies. We’re focused on involving as many people within an organization in customer collaboration as possible. For this reason, we don’t pretend to be able to provide you with reports highlighting the things that we think may be important to you, we put you in the conversation and provide you with a Dashboard that enables you to synthesize all of these conversations into action that YOU feel is important. Aside from the tools that we provide for you to get in on the mix, our ‘Sessions’ feature is pretty powerful. Sessions enable the community to come together synchronously to view rich-media (things like television pilot rough-cuts, new shoe ideas, new vehicle designs) and to discuss both with participants from the brand as well as with other members the feelings surrounding these topics or ideas – a very visually stimulating experience.

4. I’ve been pretty hard on your industry lately, mainly because there’s a trend to let clients write a check and check out of the process. Have I been too hard on the industry?

I would appreciate you keeping the heat on! Customer collaboration requires a fundamental redesign of the way that brands have traditionally approached the market. You can’t just build it and they will come, you have to show-up and actively participate. This takes commitment. Collaboration dies if the brand is not participating. You have to not only listen, but respond AND anticipate customer needs. You’re also grooming and recognizing champions both internally and with your customers. Recognition for contribution carries a lot of weight and ultimately drives the community’s momentum.

5. Do you empower customers to move beyond the confines of the small groups and into the larger community? If so, how?

Empowerment comes from involvement in the process of bringing the most salient ideas to life. It’s the sense of “I helped build this”, which translates into advocacy as I had mentioned before. Beyond that, people are already involved in the larger groups anyway, technology enables this. The best part about this information being delivered back to the larger community is that it is coming from a trusted source in a time when people no longer trust companies.

6. How do suggest that customers translate the private, behind closed doors activity into the rest of the community or customer base that doesn’t get to see this private activity?

This activity is simply transferred by the customers themselves. People can’t wait to talk about things that happened behind closed doors. The rest of the community or customer base will realize the effects of collaboration in the form of better experiences, products and services going to market.

7. As more and more companies become interested in, and perhaps even start community engagement projects, what do you think is the biggest potential danger zone?

Danger zones include:

  • Not having objectives.
  • Being absent. You must show-up.
  • Not recognizing contributions.
  • Not being conversational.
  • Not being transparent.
  • Not demonstrating action.
  • Treating people as respondents to research.
  • Paying people to participate.
  • Not having the Passenger platform and team in your corner.

For information about my Community Consulting, Training and Speaker services, or to find out more about Dinner5, my unique community for community builders, contact me today.

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