Think you own your brand? Think again.

June 23, 2016
Nigel Cliffe
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So you think you own your brand? Think again. Maybe not for much longer…and perhaps you shouldn’t?

A number of leading fashion brands are taking a long hard look at themselves. Apparently, crumpled cool isn’t just cool anymore. The more discerning teenager, for example, is beginning to take a more holistic view of a brand and vote with their wallet.

In recent developments, the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch are ditching their brand from their products altogether. But whether that fashion will continue remains to be seen.

But I think the matter goes much deeper than the appearance of the brand – let me explain…

The value of many large brands sits on the balance sheet as a tangible asset. Take the obvious Nike and Pepsi brands as an example… But I wonder, how does the conversation go in the boardroom about the value of the brand? Is it the company that values its brand, or should it be its customers?

It is very common now for large brands to listen to the active voice of the customer. Online there will be conversations and opinions that underpin the present value of their brand. This value might even vary day to day, much like the stocks and shares of the same business. Perhaps the value of the brand should be pinned to this customer index more than that determined by the C-suite? Surely they are the ones that actually give the brand a value, perceived, or otherwise?

A recent case outlining a brilliant example of social media listening is Virgin Trains: A passenger found themselves without toilet roll on a Virgin train and consequently tweeted about it. In an immediate follow-up a social media spokesperson from Virgin responded on Twitter and managed to organise an employee to bring a new roll to the passenger in question. This scenario went viral across many different social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, etc. and eventually the story was released in newspapers; what a great piece of publicity for Virgin Trains.

However, even adding a little to the brand can result in failure. McDonalds launched the sophisticated Arch Deluxe Burger, which tried to bring a more ‘adult taste’ to their products. McDonald’s’ customers, it transpired, don’t visit their restaurants for a refined experience and many already know their order before arriving at the restaurant. Perhaps McDonald’s should have asked the question of its customers first?

With the speed of communications now able to travel in almost real time, a brand’s value can be shot to pieces overnight through social media activity following an incident or mistake. There are many bad examples out there, think of BP as just one.

I would suggest therefore that the value of a brand is becoming driven almost entirely by its customer base.

Your brand isn’t what you believe it to be – it is what your customers says it is…

Consequently, where there is a strong reputation and a depth of trust, there will be patience during times of trial. Where there isn’t, well, there may very well not be a brand. Remember Gerald Ratner?

Taking this argument a step further, if your customer determines your brand, why not let them own it?

This may take a moment to sink in.

“Let your customer’s determine the value of your brand to the extent that they own it?”

They shape it, they develop it, they value it, they drive it, but most of all – they become ambassadors for it.

More interesting still, what if you let your customers determine the value of your brand by what they pay for your product? Everlane, a fashion essentials clothing company, allows customers to choose how much they pay for a product, allowing the power to be transferred back to consumers and generating a huge buzz on social media for this unique and innovative sales technique.

Imagine a world where the cost of advertising drops to zero because your customers do such a better job at promoting your brand, through face-to-face conversation, by recommendations and by social media signals. How powerful would this be?
Imagine then, that the next time your marketing team or agency tells you it’s time for a re-brand you threw it out to your customers to decide? They are the ones that determine its value and ultimately live, love and breathe it – so why not trust it entirely to their direction? Let them even change the look and feel of it?

Many a large corporation has made an epic brand failure (remember Royal Mail?) in doing it themselves, so why not let the democratic collection of your customers drive it for you?

In some time to come I believe this will be the way of brands. Should you be embracing this concept now, or waiting until someone has grabbed the attention away from your brand by acting sooner?