It Ain't Your Brand Anymore

Your brand is no longer your own. It belongs to your customers. The days of "managing" your brand happily with print, television and radio spots -- essentially telling consumers what to think of you -- are long gone. It's a new world, and it certainly isn't as brand-friendly as the past. The era of booze and smokes and telling clients what they should do is over. There are no more Madmen.

In today's era of blogs, discussion boards, Facebook, Twitter and other web tools, virtually everyone can get online and talk about your company -- the good, the bad and the ugly. The amount of information your advertising, marketing and PR departments can generate is only a small percentage of the total volume of the content on the Internet about your firm.

And here's the rub: if the external voices become more popular than your official voice, then they're going to show up higher in organic (as opposed to paid) search. Essentially, this means your control of your brand is slipping away from you.

Every company is highly sensitive about its brand, and let's just say none are happy about losing or even sharing control over it. Trying to reestablish control the old way is futile. But the news isn't all bad. Savvy companies are embracing this new "paradigm" (even though "paradigm" is a cliche, even ugly, word).

Here's a smarter approach. Accept the lack of brand control and actively encourage consumers to join the online conversation without making any attempt to censor or guide them. Broadcast this message: "You know us really well. Talk about us on the web. We want everyone, including us, to hear what you have to say." This sense of consumer inclusion can only be positive. Be ready to listen; be ready to react. Not everything is going to be helpful; but there is likely going to be a surfeit of intelligent discussion and suggestions. Build on that. Make your brand better.

Is it risky? Sure. But it's reality. And it could turn out to be a brilliant approach.