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December 1, 2008 / davebirss

It’s time to lose control

shackles

Traditionally branding has been all about control. This is the logo you need to use, these are our Pantone numbers, these are our fonts and this is how you’re allowed to use them. That way of working is fine when you have 100% control over the space you’re in. But – aside from your corporate website – that’s not how it works online.

One of the big benefits about being online is that it allows more engagement and participation with your brand. And that means you have to loosen up a bit and talk to your customers on their own level.

Here are a few tips:

Give it away now
There is something you need to know that may make you feel pretty uncomfortable – you don’t own your own brand. It actually belongs to your customers. It’s the brands who understand this that will do well online (it’s actually one of the first things we wrote down when we were planning Unchained). Each customer has their own relationship and understanding of your brand. And those personal relationships with your brand are more important than anything in your brand manual. It doesn’t matter if they use terrible grammar to talk about you and slightly muddle the facts. The important thing is that they talk about you. This isn’t a new insight. In fact P&G’s CEO famously said “Consumers are beginning in a very real sense to own our brands and participate in their creation. We need to learn to begin to let go.” It’s now time to stop talking about it and actually do it.

It’s not all about you, you know
If you’re going to build a site with a lovely big logo, lots of company information and a big ‘buy here’ button, it’ll probably keep everyone on the company board happy. But you won’t get many visitors. I’ve seen it happen again and again and the clients deserve everything they don’t get. The most important thing online is to put the customer first. And that means providing something that’s of benefit to your target audience. To some that will be a game, to others a shocking film, to others a business tool and others some clear information. The more brand you try to ram into the experience, the more you distance yourself from your audience.

Talk to me, damn it!
Your customers are online and they’re happy to talk to you, if you’re up for it. But only on their level and on their terms. It’s an incredible brand experience when you have a good dialogue with a company. And, as a company, you can learn stuff that can change your business.

Bad news is wonderful
Don’t try to silence the people who are saying bad things about you online. When someone flames you it’s an opportunity for you to resolve an issue in public. Everyone wins. It sends out a great message that you’re big enough to take critisism, open enough to listen to people’s opinions and respectful enough to show that every customer matters.

You really should get out more
Your customers are discussing stuff elsewhere. The big mistake is to expect them to come to your own branded site to have a discussion about your products. Why would they do that? That’s not their environment. Go out and talk to your customers where they already are. And be respectful – this is not your house!

Don’t stop me now
The approach I’m describing isn’t a short-term activity. It’s a new world and this is how it works. If you start this, you have to continue. Consistency is the key here. It’s going to take time to gain people’s trust but it’s blimmin’ quick to lose it.

Do you have any experiences that prove or disprove any of this? Please share them in the comments area.

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