Blasphemy! Why would a company give up their brand? I'll answer that question but first I'd like to ask you a question, who owns your brand? You might be able to make the argument that it belongs to the company behind it, but I'd argue against that. In fact, if you take into consideration that all a brand is, is a memory in the minds of the consumer, then you are closer to understanding why I'd be asking you to hand over your brand in the first place.
Is it time to give it up?
No, I'm not saying that you should give up on it, or that you can't help to mold those brand memories, but what would happen if you put your brand into the hands of the people who can make it sing? I'm talking about the very people who's thoughts behind your brand makes it what it is.
Identity vs. Meaning
Identity is the job of the brand while meaning is how the consumer makes sense of it. The American Marketing Association says that a brand is:
A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name.
Do you agree with that definition? Personally, I feel that it doesn't go far enough and only takes into account the identity of a brand, not it's true meaning. Remember what I said earlier, "Identity is the job of the brand while meaning is how the consumer makes sense of it."
What I mean by that is just because your company is trying to convey a certain identity doesn't mean that's how the consumer is going to feel about it. Each of us looks at life differently; you may see things one way when another person sees it differently. Why? Because people attach meaning differently. In other words, a brand isn't a brand until the consumer gives it meaning. That meaning all boils down to the feelings your brand identity produces within the mind of the consumer.
I wrote a post titled Playing with People Emotions that goes into great detail about how you get people to feel about your brand; I highly encourage you to read it. Why? Because if you focus on your brand, as the American Marketing Association defines it, then you won't be a good position to sculpt its meaning. Yes, you can pick a name, a term, a logo or some other feature but until you start playing to people's emotions, in order to create a brand memory (because that's all a brand is, a memory in the consumer's mind), then you have no real control over what the brand truly means.
That's why I think it's time to give up your brand. Reread that, I didn't say give up on your brand. Rather, I want you to give it over to the people who give it true meaning. The public.
Before continuing with the post and what I have planned to share with you, I think it's important to bring up something first. If you're a brand that's in trouble, and by that I mean one that has a negative public perception, you do not want to seed your brand (more on that later). Why? Because it will backfire.
So, I warn you: before implementing the strategies below take careful inventory of what people already think about your brand because it WILL be intensified if you use these strategies. You've been warned.
Farming gives us a perfect example for what I'm talking about here. If a farmer plans on a big healthy crop they have to sow their seeds, feed them and make sure they get the right amount of sunlight. But ultimately, it's not up to the farmer if that seed is going to grow into a viable plant. The farmer does everything she can to ensure that the seed has everything it needs, but the growing part isn't up to the seed alone.
That's how it is when it comes to building a social brand. You still need to tend to it, but the meaning part is up to the consumer. It's your job to connect with them on an emotional level so that you can help sculpt meaning.
By seeding your brand with the right content, the right interactions, the right product and customer service, you are better able to help the consumer reach the meaning you want them to reach. Take a look at the power brands, Apple, Android, Nike, Oreo, Ford and a host of others and you will notice that there is a huge community of people both online and off who feel that it's their mission to help further the brand.
Why is that, though?
Simple. It's because they are real brands. People feel connected with them in such a way that they assign meaning to it. In fact, they feel that these brands assign meaning to them. Strange how that works, huh?
So, What was with That Warning?
It's because I care, seriously. The warning was because I don't want you to think that seeding your brand is a way to sway public opinion. It's quite the opposite. Brand seeding will amplify what others already think about your brand. Yes, I did say it was a way to help the consumer to assign meaning to your brand, but it's up to you to assign its identity. Identity comes before meaning if it doesn't then there isn't anything for the consumer to feel about. Going back to the farming analogy, the seed, water, and the sun is your identity while the soil gives it all meaning. Together, a brand is grown.
Parts of a Growing Brand
The seed is your brand, it houses all of its DNA. At its core, the seed is the essence of what the brand is to become. By itself though the seed will never be able to sprout into a powerful brand. No, in order to do that it must be planted in the soil, the soil gives the seed meaning.
The DNA of your brand is who you are and what you do. It's who you are as a brand at the end of the day. It doesn't make any sense to try to be something that you aren't, an apple seed isn't going to produce oranges after all. Have you ever tried to pass off an apple as an orange, try it.. did it work? Of course not, because an apple is an apple and an orange is an orange!
Make sure that the people who make up your business know exaclty what the brand is. I'm not talking about being able to recite the mission staterment, everybody needs to be on the same page and know the true mission of what the comapny is all about. They need to understand the identity of the brand. They must identify themselves with it.
The soil is the mind of the consumer, it gives the seed a place to grow. It allows for the seed to take root, a place to germinate. But without water and the sun, not much is going to happen.
Once you know who you are and are living it is a company it's time to reach out and be known. It's time to engage with the consumer and plant your seed. This can be social neworking, blogging, and cause based marketing. Encourage consumers to spread your word by being real, not just a product or service. Remember, it's much more important to be one of us, than it is to be one of them.
By becoming a social object you become talk worthy, people want to connect around your brand, they begin to associate themselves with it. Isn't that what you want?
The Water and the sun are your brands identity. Without them, the consumer (soil) won't think much about your brand and the seed will rot and eventually die. In order for the consumer to assign the right meaning, you must first identify who you are. It must resonate with the consumer in such a way that the meaning assigned will be harmonious with your brand's identity. When that happens all sorts of glorious things begin to take root.
Remember, it's the identity of the brand that helps to shape its meaning within the mind of the consumer. Even when your brand is full grown you will continue to need water and sunlight to live. That's where you come in. Identity isn't a one time thing, it's an all the time thing.
Keep engaging. Keep giving people positive things to say about you. Keep the conversation going by being more than just another product or service. Make a difference, be a diference.
I can take the analogy a step further and talk about how important it is to test the PH level of your soil, doing that will give you a better idea of how much sun, water, and fertilizer you need to add to the soil in order to help the seed sprout into something wonderous. But, I think but now that you understand what I'm getting at.
Have you planted your seed yet? If so, are you nurturing it with the right amount of water and sunlight?