Who is Your Brand?
"A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well." – Jeff Bezos (CEO, Amazon.com)
As thousands of companies and start-ups are trying to figure out social media—the valuation of LinkedIn soared at its debut, the valuations of Skype, Groupon, and Facebook continue to skyrocket, and the valuation of social gaming giant Zynga continues to rise—people are being driven into a money-making, schema-creating frenzy like the dot-com explosion of the late 90s. But what is happening with brands? Who owns them? Who controls them?
The word branding began simply as a way to tell one person's cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity—it affects the personality of a product, company, or service—but a brand can mean anything. A brand can be an individual, like Al Gore. A brand can be consumer-facing like Nike. A brand can be purpose-driven like OneXOne or Product (RED). A brand can be fueled by celebrity or even a persona. A brand can be you.
Who Holds the Brand Today?
After hearing some amazing speakers at recent conference talk about the new paradigm, where brands are parts of the communities that they serve, you have to wonder: who holds the brand?
Arianna Huffington (President and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group) says, "Self-expression is the new entertainment." When you’re expressing yourself in these new creative channels, you are building your own personal brand. And of course, as she points out, it’s much more fun for people to Tweet or build their Facebook pages than it is to watch TV. We're all becoming publishers and we're all building our own personal brands like no other time in history.
Jeffrey Hayzlett (the former CMO of Kodak and author of The Mirror Test) says that when a brand doesn’t pay attention to its community or the trends of its user base (past, present, and future), and instead holds onto "traditional" ways of doing things (such as processing film versus transitioning to digital), then it can go from a $15 billion company to a $200 million company (like Kodak did) in the blink of an eye. Gaining an understanding of the Kodak community's needs, Hayzlett led them to become a company that embraced “emotional technology” embarking on a turnaround of epic proportions that has garnered them an online community of 75+ million users. Pretty powerful case study.
Spike Jones (SVP Customer Experience Digital/Word of Mouth Fleishman-Hillard, and author of Brains on Fire) says "everybody wants to be part of something bigger than themselves and they want to stand for something: I AM A…". And you want people to love or hate what you stand for, not simply “like” it. What do you stand for? What brands do you love and hate? What communities are you a part of? Today your actions can have a significant effect.
Mitch Joel (President, Twist Image and author of Six Pixels of Separation) looks at it from an ecosystem perspective.He says that all the kooks and haters in the marketplace have the same voice as the brand evangelists, so what are you doing to engage in the conversations that are happening around your brand, because they're happening with or without you.
The Power of Community
Communities can make a difference. Their ideas, concepts, and voices can be heard. "Hey Starbucks: we don’t like your new logo, but we’ve created something that we think you may like. Hey Coke: we liked your new ads so much that we’ve created a few of our very own... what do you think and do you want to use them?"
When communities reach scale, brands need to listen, weigh-in, and join the conversation. For brands, there should be no negatives in a bad conversation about one of their products or services; it should just be great information that can help guide decisions. If Nike has angered the market because they're using a particular plastic that is bad for the environment, and if enough people are weighing-in, Nike should care and Nike should make a change, or acknowledge the issue at the very least.
People are generating “content” everyday centered on brands in the hope that brands will see what they have created. The brands are no longer the stewards of their brand. The global community is now a partner. Brands may still have control over creation, advertising, and direction, but when they do something that their fans don’t like, the fans weigh-in and speak up. When brands do something fans like, the fans advocate and evangelize the brand. Both build loyalty. Both build awareness.
A Fundamental Shift
Call it crowdsourcing, call it mob-mentality, the exploding use of social media is fundamentally changing the way customers go about making their purchasing decisions, how they educate themselves, and why they choose to support certain brands above others. Layering on peer influence and the “audience” can either make or topple the mightiest of brands. So who are the stewards of your brand?