Love Your Brand, Set it Free

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Liberated Brands. If you missed it, read Part 1.

Brands should be wild and free
Letting Go is Hard

If you really love your brand, it’s time to set it free. See what the market thinks, and let your audience help you make it better.

Like children, it is impossible for brands to grow and mature without leaving home. You can have a product or service that is perfect by your own criteria, but it does your business absolutely no good if it never sees the light of day. You have to release your brand into the wild to test assumptions about positioning and your brand promise, gather feedback, make it better and (of course) make money.

Even when we understand intuitively that customer interaction is an essential ingredient of a healthy brand, letting go is hard. We don’t want to accept the reality that people we don’t know and will probably never meet have the power to influence our exquisitely crafted creation, potentially sending it down a path we never intended.

Power Shift

The balance of power in the branding game has shifted towards customers means that companies no longer have the privilege of dictating all the terms of a brand relationship. The Internet, social media, collaborative tools and always-on communications have made it impossible to control or even capture a record of everything that’s said about your brand.

Some view this shift as a handicap, a loss of control that introduces new business concerns like reputational risk and legal liability. That perspective comes from a place of fear: fear of damage to the organization’s reputation, of PR fiascos, of potential legal repercussions.

It’s true, all these issues are potential risks that come with being an active marketer in today’s digital world, but that does not mean that fear should govern your branding and marketing decisions.

Risk is Ubiquitous

There will always be risks in business. Understanding what those risks are and where they come from makes them much easier to manage and mitigate.

This is especially true when it comes to what I call “democratic brands.” Naturally, letting go of messaging and giving your brand over to public conversation introduces new risks. It also  alleviates others, like not being customer focused or failing to change with the times.
Here are some examples of the risks and rewards brands may encounter in the wild:

Potential RISKPossible REWARD
Losing sight of customer needsBeing attuned to market trends
Damage to the corporate reputationBrand advocates enhancing your repute
Lack of compliance with legal and regulatory requirementsCreative solutions to communications challenges
Competing voices and lack of clarityMultiple perspectives for a more balanced view
Messages are lost in translationMessages amplified to reach a wider audience

Instead of focusing on the fear, think of letting go as a chance to become part of a larger community and a wider conversation. Liberating your brand frees you to embrace the powerful forces that exist beyond your office walls.

Open the door and suddenly a world of opportunity opens up, exposing fresh ideas and expanding the horizons of your business. Who knows, you may encounter new business opportunities, untapped markets or potential partnerships.

Let It Fly

The only way to discover what’s out there is to take a deep breath and let your brand go, like Doritos did with its “Crash the Super Bowl” contest.

Doritos, a Frito Lay brand, took the plunge in 2006 when they invited consumers to submit their home-grown Super Bowl ads. Winners of the national video contest earned the highest scores on the USA TODAY Ad Meter rankings, drawing additional viewers and creating lots of online buzz.

It was a risk, but the contest was so successful that by 2015 the incentives for entrants had grown to include a $1 million prize, and winners saw their commercials air during the Super Bowl.

To date, fans of Doritos have submitted thousands of videos. As a result of the campaign, Doritos has enjoyed dramatically increased sales and a vastly expanded audience.

Engagement is Priceless

You don’t need a billion dollar budget or even a popular consumer product to be successful in fostering a democratic brand. When I worked in corporate marketing at UPS, my focus was on building loyalty by delivering high-impact incentives for the company’s top B2B customers.

The incentives offered through the UPS Preferred Customer Program were frequently more thoughtful than expensive, like a framed photo of the Olympic Opening Games delivered by Next Day Air the following morning.

Lots of small and local businesses have nailed customer engagement through social media, using online channels to drive business to stores, restaurants and professional services firms. Gathering feedback by seeing what people share, reviewing comments and tracking ‘Likes” helps these firms understand what resonates with customers and what doesn’t.

Caterpillar (CAT), which launched its first products in 1925, could have easily written off online engagement, choosing instead to depend on traditional marketing tactics. They didn’t. They committed themselves to social media a few years ago and are building an active digital community with 79,900 Twitter followers and 921,811 Facebook Likes as of today.

CAT promotes engagement among customers and cultivates advocates for its varied product lines with presence on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube. The company also hosts a number of online discussion forums, giving its customers a platform to connect and share with others who follow the brand.

Like these companies, once you’ve mastered the art of letting go you will start to see who really owns your brand. A community of co-owners includes many interested parties, such as:

  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Partners
  • Prospects
  • Suppliers
  • Media

Each of these groups can offer their own perspectives on your brand. They see it from many different angles, noticing things that may never have been visible from your vantage point. Tapping into these perspectives can offer insights to make your brand better, fresher and more vibrant than you could accomplish on your own.

Companies that take full advantage of the power of community with a collaborative approach to branding are the vanguard of “democratic brands.” (More on that in Part 3.)

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