Disruptive technologies such as Social and mobile have transformed marketing communications from a one-way channel to a crowded marketplace. It’s no longer viable for you to constantly talk at your constituents. It’s them—your employees, customers, partners, and the media—all talking to one other about you. Even people with no direct experience of your brand feel qualified to share an opinion. And they have plenty of channels in which to do so. Ouch!

What’s a marketer to do when the very DNA of your corporate function—positioning and communicating your brand story–has been taken over by outsiders beyond your control?

The traditional marketing communications function is riding an elevator plummeting toward the basement. It has already been passed by the elevator headed up, full of constituents influencing each other. You might as well hand them the keys to the corner office because in this new landscape, they own your brand.

To stand out from the crowd of perfectly good products and services in the marketplace, companies need a brand story that connects a compelling value proposition to consumers’ needs and desires. But with the social explosion, everyone is sharing their experiences with your brand, without regard for your carefully developed brand message, standards, and guidelines. Your ability to project that consistent, compelling brand story is eroding by the minute. And worse, the voices in that crowd can and do share the gaps between what you promise and what they experience.

A study for Coca Cola in 1981 famously proposed that a satisfied customer would tell one person but a dissatisfied one would tell ten. That “ten” is multiplying exponentially today with the power of social media. On July 6, 2009 Canadian musician David Carroll uploaded a song to YouTube that told how his $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken during a trip on United Airlines in 200, (reported in the blog Asset Based Marketing). By the end of August 2009 the video had received 5 million views. The fact that Carroll’s gripe was packaged as entertainment no doubt helped achieve that reach, but the message is clear. Everyone has a bullhorn and they’re not afraid to use it.

Add to the huge growth of social, the growing consumer distrust regarding advertising and corporate behavior in general, and marketers have even more cause for concern. Consumers want the companies they buy from to be good citizens—respectful of the environment, culture and communities in which they operate. Some companies have responded by adopting a triple bottom line approach that goes beyond the traditional measure of economic value to include environmental impact and social responsibility. Some are moving their marketing dollars toward cause-related marketing—campaigns that offer to donate a portion of profits to causes their constituents care about. These strategies can soothe consumers’ anxiety—if they indeed reflect an authentic stance, and not mere “greenwashing” to create a feel-good brand story. Not only do you no longer own your brand—your voice is the least trusted one in the conversation.

So, what’s the answer? Stop playing by the old rulebook. It’s time to think, lead, and communicate differently.

Start seeing your consumers as business partners. Companies today engage consumers in developing products and contributing ideas for advertising. Companies even invite buyers to customize goods and services to their liking, making them partners in product innovation. Consumers and commentators find it harder to maintain all that skepticism and distrust when a company welcomes them into the co-creation of value and encourages them to share their brand experiences.

Your company’s brand is much more than a marketing message, of course. Your brand influences your ability to attract world-class talent, grow market share, and create effective supplier relationships. It’s time to shift your message to all those constituent groups from “here’s what we say” to “here’s what we’ve done.”

Tell stories about the impact you’ve created for others—or better yet, invite them to tell their stories. As you shift from broadcasting your message to participating in conversations, from engaging in monologue to dialogue, from delivering empty promises to creating authentic value, you’ll find that controlling your brand isn’t so hard after all. It’s actually pretty simple–do good, and you’ll do well.

Nour Takeaways:

  1. Welcome the social & mobile conversation—your constituents are telling you what they want.
  2. Be trustworthy and the public will find it hard to distrust you.
  3. Invite your constituents to be your business partners.


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