Controlling Your Brand In A World Of Brand Anarchy
Here's an overview of the evolution from brand infancy to sophistication:
- Stage 1 - Mark of authenticity - a thing is what it says it is; trusted products and services
- Stage 2 - Relevant differentiation - my brand is more relevant than yours
- Stage 3 - An integrated experience across "touchpoints"
- Stage 4 - Person = brand; emotional labor is more important than physical labor; and/or you are always self-employed, building your own separate professional image
- Stage 5 - Social media integrates with branding - the studied effort to appear "authentic"
Underpinning the above are the following three disciplines:
- Brand architecture - where and how brand names are applied (corporate brand, house of brands, brand endorsement)
- Brand operationalization - making the brand the center of the business - always asking "how will this affect the brand?"
- Brand internalization - employees as brand drivers - empowering the staff to act
The above presupposes that a brand can be owned. Someone intentionally creates a brand - it's "theirs." But it is common knowledge nowadays that the concept of "brand ownership" is squishy at best. This is due to:
- Copycatters: No sooner do you innovate than they steal your idea and make another one just like it - well, almost.
- Conversationalists: They bring other people in to opine on your brand, some of whom understand it and some of whom don't, but your ability to control the narrative is lost in the process
- Curators: They like your brand so much they contribute to it on social media, adding this, subtracting that, until it looks completely different than you meant it to.
- Hijackers: Commenting here, blogging there, coopting your symbols and photobombing your best intentions, they subvert the original meaning of the brand.
- Revolutionaries: They remove you from the center of the brand because they don't believe in you, and/or the principle that a brand should have a center (anarchists).
So think of brand anarchy as a problem, and solve it by thinking of your brand completely differently than any existing definition would have you do so. As follows:
- Get away from the idea that your brand is a thing. It's not a thing. It's a work in progress.
- Brands do not progress in a linear fashion - Point A to Point B. (The tendency to update logos is misleading.)
- Brands do not evolve like dandelion puffs, constellations of stars, or any other idea where there is a network of related items that together constitute a united front. Your brand is not the sum total of what people think it is. There is no such thing - that is impossible. The idea is a lie.
Rather, here is a definition of brand that you can use in the context of controlling your image:
Brand is the outcome of the dynamic between yourself and those who respond to you.
Put simply -
Branding is war.
Your job is to understand the nature of the conflict, and like a great warrior, decide which forces to use to your advantage, when to confront and when to lie low, who are your allies and who is out to eliminate you. Here are some resources that can help:
- Marketing books: Brand Warfare, Differentiate or Die, and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, that allude to the idea that branding is war. But none makes the point that winning that war depends on controlling the dynamics of the interaction.
- Political leaders: If you want to learn more about how to control those dynamics, get out of the realm of branding and focus on the strategies of those seeking to reshape society. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is one example.
- Business leaders: As a rule, CEOs are skilled at looking at a situation from multiple angles and convincing their audiences to adopt a fresh, remixed, broader or completely different angle than the prevailing mental model. For more on this, check out How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing.
- Social marketing campaigns: which aim to influence behavior by changing cultural norms around desirable behavior, also offer insight into how to master the brand dynamic. Check out CampaignStrategy dot org for some great, practical tips.
- Sociological theory: Check out symbolic interactionist theory and the foundational work of G.H. Mead. He introduced the idea of the self as moving parts in conversation with one another - the essential "I" (how I see or define myself) and the "me" (how others define me). It's very interesting stuff and very relevant if you follow any issue where the truth is not so much self-evident as negotiated and defined.
There are those who say that there is nothing new under the sun. I prefer to think that there's a lot that's new, and there are also new ways of combining old information to produce better results than we've been able to achieve in the past.
Unfortunately branding (like any discipline or realm of scholarship) can be used for good or for evil. I can only hope there are good people reading this blog who use these tools ethically and fight back against the forces of propaganda, dictatorship and yes, terrorism.
* All opinions my own.