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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Brand Building, Beyond Marketing

Five Imperatives to Regain Trust

As the shift from a marketing communications–driven approach to brand building toward an organization-wide, participative approach gathers pace, managers will have to become aware of some new imperatives — but also some new dilemmas and challenges.

1. Content not communication. It is what you produce and how you deliver it that matters if you want to build a relationship with customers. Advertising is sexy, PR is influential, and design is uplifting; but it is the substance of what you do that matters most. As media fragments and services become more dominant, the way companies interact with people and the products and services they deliver will increasingly influence consumers’ perceptions of brands.

2. Mind your language. Be aware that the language of branding is a turnoff inside many organizations, and that the hyperbole of marketing communications is increasingly ineffectual. Now that we are all creators through Facebook and YouTube and blogs, we better understand the language of persuasion. Increasingly, we can also see through organizational facades to the reality, so more transparency is required.

3. Let go. The brand is not something that can be controlled by managers. It is employees and increasingly customers who self-manage brands. Managers and writers have long been seduced by the idea that marketing plans can be developed and implemented in a vacuum, but the reality of our socially mediated world is that brands are created by a diverse group of people.

4. Open up. There is a greater requirement to make the brand open to the influence of others. In the future, the required expertise of a brand manager will be to listen, to absorb, and to share. Traditionally this receptivity to the outside world has been derived from market research, but the movement toward co-creation has led to the direct involvement of consumers in defining products and services and the way brands are delivered. The most important mental shift here is to stop seeing users as an object and to start seeing them as a source of creativity and value creation.

5. Just do it. As Nike’s famous slogan implies, accept that there will be successes and failures. Learn from open source practices, and experiment. The emergence of new approaches to branding doesn’t require organizations to change their whole modus operandi. The point is to try things; to experiment with openness and to find out how the culture and strategy of your organization can best engage with customers.

Opportunities and Dilemmas

The world of brands is changing fast. Whereas in the past brand managers lived in a structured and seemingly predictable world, they now have to cope with a loss of power, a requirement to be continually adaptive, and the need to trust others. This brand new world is one of freedom, yet managers have to confront a number of challenges: greater transparency increases the volume of stakeholder interactions, co-creativity provides input but also resistance from the conservatism of many brand enthusiasts, and more dialogue can undermine the coherence of the brand.

There are no easy solutions to these challenges, but we should pay attention to Joan Oliver i Fontanet’s argument that brand building (perhaps like soccer) is an art that requires intuition and a willingness to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. That is much easier when you have a clear idea of what your brand stands for, and when you have a certain style of play. Then you can encourage experimentation and discovery within a framework as the brand moves from one state of uncertainty to another. This new freedom has the potential to inject dynamism into brands, so that they become continuously innovative and create real value.

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