Leading with Why

Brands Are No Longer Controllers of “The Message”, They Are Contributors

After reading this post by Ted Rubin of Collective Bias, I wanted to expand on what I think the role of brands is in their own development.

Where branding was once an industry driven by what an ad agency thought you wanted to hear, derived from focus groups or survey data or a Madman’s gut, is now an industry driven by what the customer wants to consume. By consume, I don’t mean buy. Buying is the result of a brand being consumed emotionally/intellectually at a high enough level by the individual to effect a decision or increase the probability of purchase when inevitably exposed to that particular product, a Brand Consumption Scale, if you will.

In the “old days” aka, pre-social media, aka, the early 2000s (Oh, so long ago) you were given a one way communication with a brand through one-way media channels. The individual was, in a way, force fed the message developed by the brand. Now, what was once a 4-course meal from a limited menu is now an all-you-can-eat brand buffet with unlimited re-fills. The shift that has occurred due to the rise of social media is that the consumer now has a choice on what brand messages he wants to consume.

Now, in order for a brand message to be successful and be consumed by the customer enough to tip the Scale, the customer has to choose to consume the message. How can a company truly know what message its customer is willing to consume? The answer is, it can’t. It is impossible to aggregate the complexity of the human mind. Sure, on any given day a single message can persuade someone to go left instead of right or buy Colgate vs. Crest, but that is the complexity of the issue, “on any given day”. Which means that on any given day your message could be 100% right on Monday and 0% right on Tuesday.

That only leaves one option. As a brand you must give up control of your message and allow your consumer to determine what you will be serving that day. (This type of statement is probably what has kept me out of several of the agency positions I’ve interviewed for and been rejected from.) It is a scary concept, I agree, but it also comes with a wealth of real opportunity and brands still have the ability to construct the box that delivers this new, community/consumer formed, brand message.

As a brand, you can only speak to your audience in indirect, typical ways. As a brand contributor, the brand can now speak directly to the customer and the consumer through direct tweets, posts on Facebook walls, or Pins on Pinterest. Employees have always been advocates, but they now have greater reach and can become important influencers. Unhappy customers can make complaints beyond the store manager, but can be appeased through direct communication from the brand. Products can be specifically designed to meet the needs of new and loyal customers.


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