Media Influencer

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Brands are for cattle*

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Tomorrow I am on a panel at the Marketing Society annual conference that takes place in the splendid surroundings of the Royal Opera House. I intended to link to the event and programme, but the Marketing Society moved their website to Sharepoint and in doing so killed the old pages about the event. I can see the reasoning… “by the evening of 18th November those who wanted to attend will have been signed up, so there is no need to have a link to the event on our site. We’ll just redirect them to where they can read about it later.” That someone might want to link to the programme seems an idea they haven’t entertained. But I digress…

The question of the panel will be “Can social networking be harnessed by brands?” The regular readers of this blog can guess my position. I was asked a similar question for one of the Marketing Society publications and wanted to share what I wrote on the topic.

“How do marketers control and manage their brand in the age of Web 2.0?”

This must be a trick question. Talking about “how to control a brand” today is as provocative as saying three years ago that on the Web companies will lose control of their brands. The buzzword Web 2.0 does not capture what this shift is about. It would be more accurate to talk about the Two-Way Web or the Read/Write Web to make it clear that the Web is not a medium. The Web is a network where people are creating, sharing and distributing without any need for the industry’s involvement. The two-way nature of the online enables individuals develop their own ‘brands’ effectively and cheaply because a brand is more like identity than unrelenting messaging and campaigns. Brands could get a share of the Web magic, if they were willing to come out from behind the glossy fronts and engage as human beings. In short, marketers – Step. Away. From. The Brand. You cannot control it, the best you can do is to help shape your company’s identity, while respecting people and the way they engage with you and each other. None of this involves ‘leveraging’ anything from traditional marketing. There are other alternatives worth investigating.

*The title of the post is based on a) what I keep telling brand strategist and b) t-shirt that I plan to wear tomorrow. :-)

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6 Responses to “Brands are for cattle*”


  1. Mark Earls
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 13:47 pm

    Best of luck.

    Sorry not to be there but will be cheering you from Bucharest.

    Think the question really does reveal what’s wrong with the thinking in mainstream Marketing – “control” is something you can really push on.

    In my way of seeing things, control is THE big bad illusion behind it all.

    I don’t say that in a hippy-dippy kind of way (”it’s the maaaaaan, controlling us…”) but in a much more straightforward one: they/we have to pretend we can control what goes on and what other folk do; that makes it seem predictable and much less scary than it really is/always has been.

    And on the subject of brand, I’ve long advocated we don’t use the word at all (if we can help it). Too flabby and too entangled with old ideas like those you mention.

    Bon chance


  2. Mark Sheldon
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 14:24 pm

    “Fortune is the arbiter of but half of what we do.” Machiavelli. A brand may not be controllable but may be shaped, influenced and exposed more by communications investment.


  3. Ed
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 23:33 pm

    Brands are an excellent idea. They allow people to know what to expect in advance, whether it is a pair of Levi jeans or a Naomi Klein book. Tim Worstall has written about this often.

    I’m not sure the brand “owners” ever had the power to control their brand that they thought they had, but you are absolutely correct that the internet gives greater power to the opinions of the users or customers. In this environment the worst thing the marketing folk can do is hype. Better they spend their time measuring what their brand is, and then make sure the real product exceeds the expectation.


  4. Scott Pearson
    on Nov 21st, 2007
    @ 9:36 am

    A topic close to my heart, please excuse my following rant!

    Brand is a consequence of success not a prerequisite for it. Google is successful, so its brand becomes trusted. Brand is a measure of trust and expectation, not awareness! I think there’s far too much emphasis on brand, in B2B in particular it should be a consequence of good sales and marketing and not the objective – it’s an outcome and focusing on it will not give any reasonable ROI.

    Social Networking is just another form of marketing and to understand the value it’s necessary to think through firstly how effectively it can be used in terms of lead generation and secondly how increasing the advocacy of those most influential in a marketplace can shorten sales cycles by addressing sales objections.

    Today’s context in which we operate is one where:

    1. There are so many marketing messages that more and more people (target customers) tune out, making it ever more difficult to get through to them and this applies regardless of whether it’s advertising; direct mail…

    2. Even if your message does get through, then it’s highly likely to be perceived as very much the same as your competitors – getting your differentiators through is really really hard!

    3. In the small percentage of cases where your message does get through and is understood to be somewhat different or even compelling your targets are less likely to believe you than ever before, they’re sceptical of what you say and inclined not to believe you because “you would say that wouldn’t you – you’re trying to sell me something”.

    Social Networking provides an excellent way for people to seek advice and guidance from a broad set of people they trust and respect, some they know personally others they don’t.

    So, to maximise the value of Social Networking as a marketing vehicle it’s key to understand who are the key influencers in your marketplace and then work at increasing their level of advocacy towards you. Easier said than done! A scatter-gun approach will be hit and miss! Research who they are; rank them; then reach and leverage them through marketing to them. Many will not be potential customers and using your sales pitch will just make them run away and hide… Market through and with them adding value to their agendas…

    Cheers, Scott.


  5. alan p
    on Nov 22nd, 2007
    @ 8:40 am

    I want a T shirt like that!

    @ Scott Pearson – have you been attending to the whole Facebook Beacon debate?


  6. neilperkin
    on Nov 23rd, 2007
    @ 18:30 pm

    Excellent post and nice point about the internet not being a medium. Agree wholeheartedly.

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