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Who creates the brand - the consumer or the producer?

By now it is widely acknowledged that consumers and producers co-create brand meaning. But in Brand Hijack (2005), Alex Wipperfurth (see http://www.usatoday.com/money/books/reviews/2005-05-01-brand-hijack_x.htm) takes this a step further, arguing that for maximum traction, brand makers should let go of the brand entirely and let consumers appropriate, define, and sell it in their own ways. As Wipperfurth puts it:

"Consumers are in charge, and they have proof of their power....The next consumer will be an active participant in shaping brand meaning and marketing the brand to others. This will no longer be the sole responsibility of the marketing department." (p. 126)

The implication, at the extreme, is that marketers should stop trying to tell consumers what the brand is about and instead offer up a blank canvas that consumers can paint their own meanings on. But frankly, this approach just does not work for me. The marketplace is extremely crowded these days, and it is simply stupid to tell people that they should leave their products undefined and let the marketplace do that work. No, marketers have a responsibility to establish a meaning for the brand in advance of presenting it to the consumer. The consumer may appropriate the brand in different ways, may reshape and refine and rework its ultimate meaning, but the essence of the brand is, or should always be, in the hands of the marketer.

This is not to say that there can't be a happy accident, where the marketer has defined the brand one way and the market soars it to popularity along another track entirely. As Wipperfurth demonstrates in Brand Hijack, that can happen. But most of the time, it is the marketers' responsibility to study the marketplace, understand the target audience, and go forward with a brand proposition that speaks to them. Otherwise how can the brand even go to market?

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