Hold Tight or Let Go of Your Brand

I’m taking an online course called The Secret Power of Brands. During our second week we had a written assignment that asked us to explore the question of whether a brand should hold on tight (have strict control) or let go (give away control) of their brand. It is a very interesting question and below is my answer…

If your brand is ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’, how can you possibly have full control over it? In line with the view that a brand is the user experience, I think people should adopt it and adapt it. This shows trust in users and faith that the organization walks its talk well enough that external actors will add value.

I think of TOMS shoes. These shoes are often decorated by the people that buy them. This holds so much power for the brand that TOMS actually hosts events for people to paint their shoes and will invite artists to do paintings.

The era of authoritarian brand control is over. With the internet, it’s way too easy for someone to have a voice in brand. A successful brand would work with all those people who have a voice to make their brand stronger. The value to the bottom line is that more people become personally invested in the brand and the brand is automatically in line with what customers want. This is social value leading to financial value.

The challenge is the issue of control. How does a brand ensure that those who play a role in its development do so in a way that supports the brand? My guess at an answer is: be crystal clear internally about the brand and involve all parts of the organization in the new product/service development process so that customers receiving the product/service have a clear understanding of what the brand is and then can add to it. Ideally, the product/service would ship with an invitation for those customers to add to the brand. Again I think of TOMS that ships with a flag/bag people can use and personalize.

Experiences are not a one way street. It requires interaction – there is a whole area of design, interaction design, about this. The brand as an experience must reflect this ideology. There is incredible power here. I think of open source projects vs closed source projects – more people building something together allows for everyone to rise higher together. I like the idea of an open source brand – we know what makes open source successful, I wonder if we could use that for branding. I wonder how that would look for a company like Coca-Cola or Apple, that have such strong brand images. Again, I think that comes with solid internal clarity and shipping with invitation.

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