19 Sep Who really owns a brand?
As we move further into the post-modern marketing landscape, it is becoming increasingly clear that brands are not owned by the companies from which they originate, but rather with the people who buy them and give them life on a day-to-day basis.
As brand owners, agencies, marketing consultants and other stakeholders we spend 40 hours a week (and often much more than that) thinking, planning and worrying about the brands we represent in the market. We pick apart their every move, think about the words that will represent them and discuss the ideal spaces in which they should operate. Every single second of every day of a brand’s life is pored over. And the irony is that much like a football coach who can do everything possible on the training pitch, once the team is on the field it’s entirely out of his (or her) hands. Once the brands we look after are out there in the market, they are with their true owners – the people who buy them and interact with them on a daily basis. It is these relationships and interactions where brands are truly alive and with their rightful owners; they live and die in the mouths and minds of the people who consume them.
If this is the case we must ask ourselves what we can do to ensure that when they’re out there, our brands have the best possible chance of succeeding. We like to break it down into three main steps that can keep brands consumer-focused and relevant.
For a relationship to work, there needs to be two-way communication. That means both listening and speaking. Many brands are very comfortable with the ‘speaking’ part of this equation, but battle with the ‘listening’. If we consider that almost any brand has a fan somewhere, with a valid opinion; shouldn’t we be speaking to those people about their feelings and opinions? Shouldn’t we be listening to what they have to say about their favourite brand in the world? If we actively listen, keeping our ego at the door (which is difficult to do as both a brand and a human), we will find that people will share unexpected things with us that could radically alter our brand’s course. We help brands do this through our proprietary unfocus group methodology, as well as our in-depth ethnographic interview style.
We put our peg in the ground fifteen years ago when we started Instant Grass International and called it ‘The Consumer Collaboration’ agency. Collaboration is the next step after simply listening. It’s about sitting down with real people (from those who love you to those who hate you) and working together with them to see what you might create together. This shift toward collaboration is not just a feeling we’ve acted on, but a proven trend amongst business leaders.
In 2013, IBM conducted “The Customer-activated Enterprise” study and found that “90% of leaders expect consumer collaboration practices to increase in the next 3-5 years.”
We are now very much in that time frame, and consumer collaboration is something more and more of our clients are asking for and wanting to become involved in. It’s never easy to hand over the reins and allow consumers to call the shots, because we know how tightly we have to control the brands we look after – but the more power you give away and trust consumers, the more you’ll find results that could unlock ways of thinking or parts of the market you never considered before. With our Innovation workshops, we’ve helped brands and consumers sit at the same table and create some amazing products, advertising campaigns and new ways of thinking.
Large organisations move slowly. It is in their nature. And if we thought listening and collaborating were difficult, assimilating this feedback into your organisation and helping drive it through is even more so. It is only by encouraging your colleagues to become more consumer-focused and reminding them of the real people out there in the world, that they can start to make this part of their practice. As a business, we’ve collaborated with a number of consumer-focused companies to help them bring these people to life; even going so far as converting part of one of our clients’ offices to represent the average home of their customer across the African continent. The act of walking through that space every day reminds those people who work there who they are working for and helps keep them top of mind when big decisions are made.
While the ‘good old days’ of branding were perhaps simpler, with fewer opportunities to engage in two-way communication, we know that we will never go back – only forward. This level of consumer focus as we move into the future will only become more important as the ways in which we can communicate with consumers become more complex. The only question you need to ask is: Are you adequately prepared for it?