Sun or Satellite: Brand Orbits
Monday, June 15, 2009
It’s not easy to buck entrenched conventional wisdom. Ask Galileo. When he advanced heliocentrism publicly, all hell broke loose. None of which had anything to do with the fact that the central notion was true. The earth really did revolve around the sun.
But that was so hard for the geocentrists to imagine. From their vantage point, Earth was the center of the universe.
It’s not so different now for brands. For years, bosses, brands and venerable institutions have seen themselves as the objects of a captive audience. They’ve assumed a community that revolves around them espousing brand love and loyally patronizing their goods and services while lapping up their clever advertising, imagery, and witticisms. They stand with their agencies, stationary, and dispense favor and messaging and special promotions that suit their timing, staffing, whims and view of the world, a process so artfully depicted on the series Mad Men.
And now, with disintermediating technology, consumer control and social media tools, all hell is breaking loose.
Suddenly a complete shift in perspective is required. Perhaps the brand is not stationary. Perhaps the brand revolves around the consumers. Perhaps the brand is required to be…well, what exactly? In thrall to the consumers. Different things at different times to different people. Flexible, in motion, adaptive and relational.
There is more than enough being written -– much of it quite interesting and sophisticated -– about the evolution of consumer control and social media constructs.
But beyond the tactical explorations and experimentation with specific initiatives, it’s the view of the universe itself that should be reconsidered in advance of any strategy -– because, ultimately, revolving around the consumer may entail technology and it may not.
The real change and the real challenge is in orientation and perspective.
If a brand does not strategically reconsider its orbit, two problems potentially arise. First, while the brand may adopt social media tactics, it will undoubtedly use them incorrectly and to little effect, leading to a lot of wasted effort and frustration. Second, when considering revolutions around consumers, it’s entirely possible that those revolutions are sometimes best expressed by non-digital means. Without a consideration of its place in the solar system, a brand is likely to miss genuine opportunities for growth and innovation – in both the digital and the physical world.
I saw two things this weekend that took me by surprise. My local library sent me a notice that if I downloaded a special program I could use my library card number to “borrow” materials directly to my iPod. Then, on the bulletin board in Starbucks at a town a few miles away I saw a poster saying that the library in that town would deliver books to your house (a la Netflix). In both cases the libraries were proposing to come to the readers. They were revolving around us. In one case librarians were using technology to make it easy and in another they were simply using their cars. But in both cases they were reacting to cultural changes and economic conditions and making their institutions relevant.
There are a lot of forces aligned to support the illusion of being at the center, of the attitude so succinctly described in Field of Dreams: build it and they will come. When you invest so much of your time creating, promoting and selling a product, service or institution, you tend to become myopic –- from the corner office down to the front line. It becomes hard to imagine that everyone isn’t oriented as you are, finely tuned to each and every vibration from the heart and the perspective of the organization. When you are a creative, it’s hard to imagine your work being used for other purposes that for what it was designed.
And then there’s the critical question of mass and identity. Does a brand lose mass if it is not the “hub”? As we’ve previously considered on Unbound Edition, how does a brand balance constancy and malleability as it makes its orbit around its constituents? How can a brand engineer elasticity and still be recognizable? How can creative be developed as a tool to propel revolution vs. enforce static, protected presence?
These are important strategic considerations –- but they are not fully and completely addressed by having a Facebook page or a widget or a Twitter campaign. Fundamentally they involve aligned vision, operational excellence, careful cultivation of voice, exploration of meaningful innovation and the art of finely tuned listening – on all channels.
The new brand universe requires revolution.