Hold Tight or Let Go?

In today’s brand landscape, brand managers have an increasingly difficult role in controlling how the brand is positioned in the hearts and minds of the consumer.


Much to the dismay, but sometimes the power of the brand manager, consumers are now in command and taking charge of public discussions about the brands they use through Facebook, Twitter and even Youtube. It is now more than ever that marketers ask the question: do we hold tight or let go in order to build a successful brand? Well, lets take it back to basics.

Consistency is key

Having a consistent brand positioning and communications that demonstrate the brand’s values at each level is key to the success of a brand. Consumer’s want brands they know, can believe in and trust. They expect to receive the same level of quality at each touch point with the brand and no one wants to deal with a company they can’t rely on for consistency. So maintaining control at this level is imperative.

Public tweets demonstrate the growing power of consumers.

However, with the advent of social media, brand communications are becoming increasingly blurred. Gone are the days of just the one-way ‘We tell you who we are, what we stand for, and what you’ll get’ communications brands used to send through tv and print advertising. Consumers are now not only able to interject and talk back to the brand but also share what they think of the brand and it’s communications in a public forum of consumers listening and ready to join the conversation. Many a time I’ve seen friends, what I like to call “out” a brand about their poor service on twitter, and then read the awkward reply said brand tweets in an attempt to minimise the potential damage of the tweet already sent out to thousands of followers.

Open-Source Branding

However, whilst keeping a tight hold of a brand’s positioning and the communication that is sent out to consumers is key, we are seeing a new brand approach to dealing with this rocky brand landscape. With the power shift from marketers to consumers, brands are proactively harnessing the power they do have to create a landscape in which consumers not only discuss and disseminate branded content, but also create it. What Harvard Business School’s Jill Avery likes to call “open-source branding”.

So let’s take it back again.

Belonging

Brands help to facilitate a sense of belonging. For consumers, buying into a brand is like buying into a club of individuals who all share the same values, interests and sometimes challenges as they do. In adopting this “open source” approach, brands encourage consumers to take an invested interest in the brand, and provides the consumer an opportunity to really make the brand their own.

“Create Airbnb is a recognition that our identity simply cannot be separated from all of you. This is a shared brand identity.” — Airbnb

Great examples of brands harnessing their power include Coca-Cola back in 2008 with their fan-managed Facebook Fanpage, and more recently Airbnb relaunched their brand with an element called Create Airbnb, in which consumers can customise the new Airbnb logo and tell their unique stories whilst doing so.

So Hold Tight or Let Go?

Whilst lack of control can be scary to a brand manager, I can’t help but think of the saying that goes something along the lines of ‘Focus on that which is in your control, and worry less about the things that aren’t.’ So while it is important to maintain a tight hold on a brands core positioning and the communications it sends out into the brand space, it is no longer enough to solely live in brand strategy land. Consumers have greater power today, and a brands success is increasingly proven to lie in it’s ability to adopt a pro-active and agile approach, in which the brand is flexible and able to respond to today’s market conditions.

So the key to brand success may just be to loosen up, even if just a little.


I’d written this article as part of an assignment for ‘The Secret Power of Brands,’ an online course run by Wolff Olins x University of East Anglia. You can find out more about the course at Futurelearn.com

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And you can follow me on Twitter: @_naomiclarissa

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