Brand and Branding

Who owns your brand?

I don’t mean this in a “does you consumer now control the brand?” kind of way. I mean it in a, “where do people go to connect with your brand?” kind of way. I was flipping through an in-flight magazine yesterday and noticed a two-page spread for a diaper company. There was a massive call to action in the bottom right-hand corner of the print ad that said something like: “to lean more, please follow us on Facebook.” I found myself asking a very simple question: “what is this brand of diapers doing on Facebook that is so unique to the brand experience that it can’t be done on their own website?” The answer (after a quick review) is nothing. This brand’s Facebook page isn’t doing much to leverage the power of the social graph or use Facebook’s functionality to extend the brand narrative in a unique way. They’re just using Facebook as a place to have a less-interactive and less-branded website.

Why is it less-branded?

What’s better: one clear message or five messages on the same page? When you have you own website, you control the amount of messaging and the engagement. When you have your brand page on Facebook (and I’m using Facebook as a euphemism for any online social network, be it Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn or whatever), your brand is housed within the Facebook branded experience and there could be ancillary brands (or advertisements, whatever) in the mix as well.

The tough question.

Brands have to start asking themselves one very tough question: are we on Facebook because it makes our brand experience better and leverages the power of these millions of connected people, or are we on Facebook, because there are a lot of people there and we have been unable to garner that level of attention with our own digital experiences and spaces? Facebook isn’t bad. Facebook is great. But, Facebook is only great to the brands that people care about, and it’s only great when those brands are already connected to their consumers and leverage the Facebook experience to do a whole lot more.

Brands are getting lazy.

It’s not just brands, it’s also the agencies that serve them. With each and every passing day, I’m seeing more and more brands forgo their own web and mobile experiences to use social media environments as their primary place to connect. Years ago, I cautioned against this. It became a more prescient concept when MySpace collapsed as Facebook began to gain its momentum. At the time, I had many of my musician friends suddenly lose their entire audience. Back then, it was much easier to build and update a MySpace page than it was to build and nurture a unique website. The problem is that when everyone started bailing on MySpace, the bands were left with little community. On top of that, they had no way to take the sweat equity (content, connections and more) to another platform. They didn’t own it. MySpace did. When MySpace changed their rules, the bands were affected but couldn’t do much about it. Same with Facebook: it’s their playground and they can take their ball and go home whenever they want.

Today.

Today, more and more brands are doing the exact same thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Google + or whatever. They’re allowing their brands to not only play second fiddle within the compounds of these online social networks, but they’re selling their brands short with the shiny, bright objects du jour instead of looking out on to the horizon. Why is this such a big deal? We’re seeing our world become more and more mobile. Facebook, Google and everyone else have yet to demonstrate how they’re going to take their current connections of users and migrate them over to a mobile platform that is just as engaging and compelling as what we’re seeing in the current browser-based format. What makes any brand (and agency) think that they’re going to get this right? Immediately, any brand can create a new website in HTML5 and leverage responsive technology to develop a platform that is – at the very least – manageable across all devices and screens. At the same time, these same brands can spend as much time and money as they wish creating a better brand narrative – without the restrictions and limitations set out by any other digital media company.

Fear is the mindkiller.

It’s just easier to play in someone else’s sandbox, isn’t it? Fear is holding everyone back. Unlimited creativity and opportunity is holding these brands back. It’s a shame. A brand that can provide a true experience and extend that brand narrative by providing utility and being there – wherever – the consumer is, will be the winning brands of the near-future. If consumers want to shop the brand wherever and whenever they want, but these brands are locking themselves in to other channels and platforms, they’re missing the biggest opportunity that social technology has brought: the ability to create a powerful and direct relationship with a consumer.

Brands Cannot Be Human

Can brands be human? Can brands be more human?

People tend to shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes or simply get freaked out at the slightest thought of making something that is not like us "human" (if you don’t believe me, watch science fiction movies like A.I. or Blade Runner). Before getting into a philosophical and semantic debate over what it actually means to be "human," first think about what a brand really stands for.

What is a brand?

If you go back to the early days of products and commercialism, you’ll note that soap was just soap for a very, very long time. All soap was made the same way, and the only way to differentiate it was for the company manufacturing it to give it an original name and make it look different (ok, some of them smelled different too). In the decades after WWII, companies spent their time, money and effort trying to differentiate their products and services from those of their competitors. Some of those differences were legitimate, while some were not all that obvious. For the most part, brands came of age in a world where the things products did were pretty similar to what everyone else’s products did.

Enter Madison Avenue.

The only way to get around that problem was to create some kind of emotional attachment to one product over another. Enter Madison Avenue, which mixed advertising messages with psychology in the hope that a large group of people would feel emotionally connected to a product. And buy it. Lots of it. Over and over. In today’s world, most products and services are decent; in the old days, you could use advertising to sell something severely sub-par. In this age of consumer reviews, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and beyond, it’s hard to get away with being that bad. But we’ve also reached a point where that emotional connection between customers and brands goes both ways. The individuals behind the products are talking (or typing) directly with consumers.

They’re putting a human face on something that for years was locked behind a passive-aggressive customer service rep.

At the same time, the customers at the other end are developing their own personal brands. They’re publishing, broadcasting and connecting. We’ve come to a point where certain individuals online have more influence and power than some of the biggest corporate brands. What makes this so interesting (and scary for marketers) is that human beings are like snowflakes in that no two are alike. Those differentiators that brands fought so hard to implant in the consumer’s mind at the genesis of branding are intrinsic to humans. My Digital Marketing Blog will look nothing like your Digital Marketing Blog.

We want our brands to be more human because brands are made of human beings.

Take an industry you hate (airlines, mobile carriers, automotive, you name it) and you’ll note that these industries are not made up of evildoers. They’re made of people. They’re good people. They are people who are trying to make a living, trying to make a difference in the same communities as you and your children. They actually care about their customers. They want you to spend more with them and be loyal to them. Science fiction aside, it’s probably impossible for something un-human – whether it be a robot or a brand – to actually become human. But what we are seeing is that brands that embrace the human beings that make them so interesting (whether they work for them or just like chatting about them) are much more successful than others. These brands can engage people much in the same way us humans can – and have done since we first rubbed two sticks together and invited the people around us over to warm up.

These brands may never be human, but they can become more humane. What do you think?

The above posting is an article from Sparksheet. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here. Sparksheet is also an official media sponsor of the @BrandsConf that takes place on December 2nd in New York City (which was the catalyst for this Blog post). You are entitled to a 30% discount on registration by using the promo code "sparksheet" – :

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