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How To Get Your Brand Hijacked: The Radical Thinking of Alex Wipperfurth

Who creates the brand - the consumer or the producer?

Ten years ago nobody ever really considered this question. The brand was owned by its owner, and within the dominant advertising-focused mindset, all one had to do was promote it.
Then Alex Wipperfürth published the classic Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing. In it he attacked conventional wisdom with such radically transformative ideas as:
  • You do not own your brand: the market does.
  • If you do not own your brand, it follows that all you can do is work with your customers to create its meaning.
  • Your marketing department can be reduced to your biggest brand fans.
  • There is no such thing as a timeline or a deadline when it comes to branding.
  • Consistency is old. Branding today requires the ultimate ability to serve your community only - cede control to them.
Today we use words like "curation," "customer-centric" and "customer-owned." But Wipperfürth's model far surpassed them. He uniquely understood that the only way to maintain control, was to let it go.
In his own words:
"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." (Brand Hijack, p. 126)
Does this mean that you literally should stop trying to tell consumers what the brand is about? Offer up a blank canvas?
No - of course not. In a crowded information marketplace, if you fail to express relevance clearly and consistently, you risk drowning entirely.
Rather, you establish what the brand is supposed to be, present it to the consumer and allow it to be appropriated by your audience.
Postmodern branding is like the classic game of "Operator," where one person has to translate the message to another, and then another, and then another and the content changes constantly along the way.
The idea is to understand in advance that this dynamic happens, and instead of fighting it, go with the flow of the river. Allow the customer to love you, to have input and reshape, refine, and rework until the ultimate meaning is truly theirs.
In a sense, branding mirrors the process of parenting. The child has an innate personality, and the job of a parent is only to be a responsible steward, imbuing certain basic values, but otherwise setting free the unique individual inside.
From a branding point of view, it's the happiest of accidents when a brand takes off based on something completely unexpected from the owners' point of view. As Wipperfürth demonstrates in Brand Hijack, that can happen - and it's brilliant brand stewardship to encourage this.
For those of us in the middle ground, it makes sense to take an incremental approach. Study the market, understand the target, and go forward with a beginning proposition that is meaningful, unique and that has the potential to become top-of-mind.
A little Alex Wipperfürth goes a long way - it's worth getting your head around the possibilities.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., updating original post from 2007. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Contact her if you would like to request support.
Photo by Pascal via Flickr (Public Domain).

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