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Should you really "lose control" of your brand to brand effectively?

Elsewhere, I have argued that brands are in effect co-created between producers and consumers. Now Brandweek (November 26, 2007) features an article called "Lose Control: It's Good for Your Brand," in which the author argues that brands are not at all created by producers but entirely owned by consumers.

"In my world...campaigns....exist at eye level with the consumer, seeing in real time how he interacts with products, services and the core brand itself....the days when you were able to exercise 360° control over your brand communications have ended....when the brand lets go a little, consumers start to open up a lot."

The author argues that the tools of the "average citizen"--"Digital cameras, cell phones, blogs, social networks, Web videos, urban interventions, word-of-mouth and more"--are becoming ever more important in communicating about brands.

The idea is to stop overtly marketing to your target audiences, and "allow consumers to become active participants in its evolution."

There are five principles to follow in this regard, says the article:
  1. Focus on the experience your customer wants to have with the brand, not the experience you want the customer to have.
  2. Find out what the "cultural phenomena are that get people excited," and whether your brand fits in with one that you can "customize and own."
  3. Figure out what the "ideal media" for your brand is...if it doesn't exist, "create it."
  4. Make sure that your campaign to promote the brand is "exciting."
  5. Make use of "the new 'clipping' nature of the social Web....furnish icons, visual experiences, sound bites and entertainment in a way that translates easily to sharing—photo, video, blog and mobile."
In essence, the article argues that you should set up the brand experience intelligently, then trust consumers to run with it. "Furnish the consuming public with brand experiences that are interesting to them—ones that permit them to get involved with the brand instead of just watching a pitch; ones that invite and trust them to deliver the branding message to others."

At first glance, all this sounds very shrewd and strategic to me. But then a question follows immediately--whether you really can predict what consumers will do with the brand once you hand them total control. The truth is that no, you can't. And then you really haven't created a brand at all...you've just plopped a product or service out there and let the market take over, for good or for bad.

The article alludes to this issue when it says that brand marketers should provide the brand experience that will be exciting to the public in the first place. But there again, I say, it is the job of the brand to set forth the vision--to create the compelling idea--not to follow trends. Following trends is marketing, not branding.

I say it is the brand marketers' job to instill a message, a core vision for the brand and then disseminate that experience to the public at large. This means holding on more tightly to the reins of the brand. Let the customer co-create it with you, but always maintain some measure of control. And lead the way, don't follow. True brands have an experiential essence that cannot be market researched, duplicated, or created by the customer--they retain that elusive yet very real promise that only a true brand master can instill.

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