Thursday, June 15, 2006

Where did my brand go?

In this insightful piece on iMedia Connection, Alan Schulman, a chief creative guy (not that there's anything wrong with that) talks about "Putting Word of Mouth to Work".

It's a very good overview of how brands must be aware of everything that consumers are saying, posting and creating about the brand. His thesis is that brands are increasingly out of the control of the owners so the next big idea (for creatives; he is afterall, a creative) is going to come out of this consumer generated cloud of content rather than from a highfalutin room full of creatives. He didn't say that last part, I added that myself. =)

I would take his argument one step further. Today's brand no longer resides with the company. Today's brand has moved out of the house and on occasion may come back and do laundry but don't expect it to be home for dinner every night.

With this in mind, let me present you "The life of a today's succesful brand".

  • Brand infancy - Complete control by owners. Brand message is predominantly pushed to consumers via traditional broadcast methods. "This is who we are, this is what we do"
  • Brand puberty - Moderate control by owners. As the brand gets traction in the market, the message changes to accomodate learnings from consumers' use of the brand. "This is who we are, this is what we can do for you"
  • Brand maturity - Minor control by owners. The brand has become not only accepted but internalized by the target market. "We are who you say we are, we do what you want us to do."
Note that at maturity, the brand really has lost control over the direction it can take. If it were to move too far away from consumer expectations, it stands a chance of losing its consumers. Therefore, the brand and message, regardless of what the suits think, is under the control of the consumer. You can "suggest" something but ultimately, whether or not it sticks is up to your customers.

I argue that this has always been the case, except that it has been opaque to brands in the past. With the brand conversations allowed by the Internet, that opacity has been significantly reduced. You can now find your brand living on messages boards, blogs, YouTube videos, MySpace profiles, and the myrid of other interactive conversation hubs. If you ignore this fact and pretend like your brand still lives with you, you're talking to yourself.

This is why CGM is such an important vehicle to engage with your consumers. You have to get out there, where your brand is at and empower your customers to talk about/with you. It's not good enough to throw messages out there anymore, you have to throw out topics of discussion and an infrastructure to discuss. That's the best way to maintain some level of control and oversight into the conversation. Continuing my silly analogy, it's like moving next to your mature brand. You won't ever have the same control as when it was young but you'll at least know if the cops do a bust next door.

If you don't, the only sign that something is wrong is when your sales go down. By then, you reach the last part of brand growth:
  • Brand death - No control by owners. Target market has left your brand behind. "This is who we are, where did everyone go?"

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