History is littered with examples of messages that collapsed because their owners couldn’t let go of them. Political ideas; campaign promises; and most frequently the ideas of brands. A brand comes along with a proposition, on which it hopes to sell its product or its service. People buy into the message. But when they interact with the product or service they have bought, they discover that it doesn’t express the brand’s message in a way they can understand.
This is a crucial point in the life cycle of any brand. For a proactive, responsive and ultimately successful brand, it’s the moment where initial concept becomes consumer reality – and where feedback can start being incorporated into the future branding of a product, a service or a company. For the “knee jerk” brand, which can’t accept when its message misfires or its product fails to deliver, it’s the beginning of the end.
Let’s stick with politics or a moment to expand our example. In the UK, politics has become more of a branding exercise than ever – a process that really started towards the end of the 1990s when “Blair’s Britain” and “New Labour” became slogans – buzzwords with a selling proposition. The response, over time, of the buying public – i.e. everyone who voted – was essentially customer feedback; the failure of the governing party to listen to that feedback (the second Iraq War) caused the reality of the brand message to diverge from the requirements of the people who thought they owned it – the party in question. So they were voted out and a new lot stepped in to take their place.
There’s a key phrase in that last paragraph, and that phrase is this: “the people who thought they owned it”. Because the real ownership of a brand lies with its public, its consumers – the people who ultimately choose whether or not they are going to espouse the virtues of a company or publically deride it for hypocrisy/lack of value/a failure to stick to its proposition.
Here is the uncomfortable truth. If you are a company, you can no longer create the kind of brand you think your target market will feel a connection with – and then not follow through on your promise. This means, if you say you will deliver unlimited broadband speeds, then that’s exactly what you have to do. If you don’t, your branding diverges. You carry on belting out a message that is essentially proven to be a lie; while your public shouts the truth from every social media treetop in the street.
At this point, who owns the brand? Whatever the misguided hypothetical company here might think, it isn’t them. They are in the exact same position as the government that went to war – sitting in an ivory tower congratulating themselves on doing what the customer wants, when in reality that customer is sharpening its collective knife and preparing to revolt.
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