Yesterday’s post discussed the value of a strong brand and how to create a strong brand. Today I’d like to look into the issue of who owns a brand.
What I mean by “owning a brand” is not in the legal sense, but who controls brand meaning — branding.
I would argue that the customer always owned the brand.
In the days of traditional media, when customers were limited to word of mouth, what they thought about brands spread around.
And negative word of mouth spreads 5 times faster than positive word of mouth. For instance, one of the reasons Tide branding makes it such a strong brand today is because many of us remember it being on the laundry shelf when we were growing up. It just seems natural to also buy the brand. This might also have been why changes to Tide’s packaging when they started the Simple Pleasures line of Tide may have contributed to poor sales of these products — it no longer looked like Mom’s Tide.
Branding in the digital age
In the digital age, branding further shifted in the direction of the consumer.
Now, consumers not only share their brand perceptions with other consumers they know, they share it with people they’ve never met using social networks like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. They may say positive things on their networks, or they may say negative things. However, they also unconsciously spread information about brands, providing tacit endorsements, through the clothes they wear in photos post online, the places they visit in Youtube videos, and even who they choose to re-Tweet. Sometimes it is the unconscious brand endorsements that have the most significant impact on brand image.
The psychology behind how what you wear and do online impacts brand image is relatively simple — we want to be liked and we want to be like others we like.
Examples of this power are all around us. For instance, one of the reasons Starbucks was so successful without spending money advertising its coffees (until recently) is that it’s hard to pick up a celebrity magazine without seeing a picture of some star holding a cup of Starbucks coffee in a candid shot. Of course, our obsession with celebrities was a necessary element of why this strategy worked. Want another example. Look at the current trend toward drinking Martinis, especially Cosmopolitans. This trend directly corresponded with this drink’s popularity on Sex in the City — so the celebrities don’t even have to use the product in their real lives, they can use it as their alter egos in entertainment.
The first step is to identify key users and online influencers. Get these people talking about your brand in a positive way. While you might pay them to promote your brand through their networks, a better strategy is to involve them with the brand in some way. Have them pre-test products, ask them to provide feedback about the brand, or better, ask them to poll their network for their feedback on the brand. Give them a soap box to discuss the brand.
Next, give consumers a chance to join the conversation. This is SOCIAL, so encourage them to be social. Show them you’re listening to their opinions and appreciate their feedback. This is scary for many companies. They’re afraid someone might say something negative about their brand. But, face it, they’re saying this bad stuff already. Giving them place to say it gives you the opportunity to counter their negative comments with explanations or offers to fix the problem
A case study
Recently, a student was getting no satisfaction from her airline and she was MAD. She remembered our class discussion on the use of social media so she posted her frustration on the airline’s Facebook page. WOW, a CEO’s nightmare. But this CEO had someone monitoring the Facebook account. S/he found the negative post and quickly contact the student to remedy the situation. The now satisfied student went back to the airline’s Facebook page and told the story of how the airline fixed everything and how happy she was with their handling of her complaint.
How does your company encourage positive word of mouth in social networks? Do they monitor these social networks? Do they listen to customer’s complaints and fix them? Does it work?
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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of Hausman Marketing Letter, is a full service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media.