Unless you own your company, it’s likely that your boss (the CEO or founder) is the visionary. Chances are very good this person is not a marketing expert. If you’re lucky, the visionary creates the brand, offers inspiration and then gets out of the way.
But steering the marketing ship is not for the faint of heart. My bosses have always wanted to stay involved — and I use that term politely. Quite frequently, they are replaced. And with every upper management change comes the inevitable opportunity for a “new and improved vision”. One of the first things a new leader typically wants to do is work on the brand positioning — the very same positioning you’ve already spent countless days developing and nurturing. Not to mention selling internally.
Next came the outside experts. Those guys were the allies to help my not-so-marketing savvy bosses “get it”. But each new agency or branding strategist brought fresh enthusiasm and energy. And every single one of them was there to help me distill and articulate my brand — for the better.
So what about the customers? Of course I was listening to them. There were focus groups, surveys and direct contact. We studied their behavior, invited their feedback and got as cozy as we could. But when it came to my brand — what did they know? The answer is: only what we told them. But isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? The answer is no, not really.
Borrowing from the oft-used scatological phrase, “branding happens”. Whether you like it or not, your brand is never really “yours”. Which is why smart brands are using social media to encourage a continuous conversation with customers. It’s meant to be a dialogue that’s all about the brand — where the products and services play a supporting role.
It takes courage for companies to invite and encourage consumers to have a real voice in articulating what their brand is all about. Today, social media is the tool that allows smart businesses to lead by listening — and to break away from the herd in the process.