All Brand Power to the Consumer

Remember what your brand manual looks like? You probably haven’t looked at it in years. After all, the days of being able to explain your brand in terms of the brand manual’s pages of detail are long gone, and so is the manual’s capacity for predicting the brand’s behavior.

These days, consumers are in charge of your brand. Since the Internet began, the power in the brand game has shifted. In the old days, marketers were in full control of the brand. Now the majority of brand impressions are initiated and promulgated by consumers. Consumers have become brand masters, leaving marketers to merely fuel the game, rather than play it. In a trend I call the Me Selling Proposition (MSP), consumers are in charge of your brand.

Five years from now, almost every successful marketing activity will be created and driven by the consumer. What do you do to survive in such a world?

Prepare now!

Here are three tips that may help you prepare your organization for having the consumer behind the brand steering wheel.

Address the Decision-Making Process

First and most important: address your organization’s decision-making processes. Your company will need to acknowledge it can no longer be on top of every piece of brand communication. This acceptance must be at board level. You must persuade the board to begin developing marketing and communication materials that will be carried by consumers and that, in 50 percent of cases, are likely to change the way you intended to represent the brand. Because it will happen.

Some of the most successful brand campaigns are run by consumers. You know you’ve succeeded when consumers create sites and blogs about your brand. When you search on your brand’s name on Google and find the majority of traffic is consumer dialogue about your brand — all positive, of course!

Or is it? The reality is there’ll be negative opinion as well. But this is where the mandate you won from the board comes into play. The board must be aware, from the start, that 100 percent positive discussion about your brand is impossible. The environment must be open and receptive to all comments; consumers won’t be interested in participating in a controlled debate. Your role is to kick-start the debate, to fuel the dialogue and make it interesting.

Some sites have done this beautifully. Last month, I mentioned, a Web site powered by Dove and open to consumer debate. All comments, negative and positive, are shared.

Break the Controversy Ice

The second factor to consider in preparing for the brand power shift is breaking the controversy ice. Your brand can no longer afford to be squeaky clean and uncontroversial. To encourage consumers to talk about your brand, you have to give them something to talk about. The brand has to be edgy, provocative, and opinionated.

Tomorrow’s brands must have opinions, or they’ll be perceived as bland. Many companies think viral marketing campaign success is about creating a :60 video and sending it out. Wrong. It’s about making that video so extraordinarily different, so provocative, so edgy, so funny, so extreme in some way that consumers can’t resist sharing the experience. You must question how far you’re prepared to go — and rely on the board’s mandate you achieved at the outset.

Participate in Instant Branding

The third factor is “instant branding.” Things no longer happen according to a 24-month deadline. You might be lucky and have a deadline stretch to 24 hours. Brands must prepare themselves to be able to react within hours to trends. Consumers will love you for it.

Most consumers see the Fortune 1000 brands as boring, slow, and old-fashioned. If you can turn around a witty response to some event or newly emerged trend within hours, people will most likely be positively surprised. The challenge is such rapid response will be expected in both positive and negative situations. And whereas in the old days your PR and legal departments would need to review your responses, there’ll be no time for such processes. You’ll need to set up teams that can react instantly when required and show consumers your brand is an entity with opinions and confidence.

The brand manual can’t do the work any more. One-way communication can’t do it either. TV commercials are about to die. Print and radio are suffering immensely. The only steadily growing brand-building media is interactive. Two-way, multiway, reactive, responsive, receptive, and active communication is the future for brand communications. The consumer is ready to talk. Are you?

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