The value of a brand is only as strong as the personal meaning it has for the customer. You can argue that the customer owns the brand, or at least the brand perception.
That’s a scary thought for most organizations, but it doesn’t mean organizations have to give up control.
We often talk about what brands we admire and what they are doing well. Two categories always pop-up in conversation. The first are brands whose products really stand out. The second are workhorse brands with good, products in a fairly undifferentiated market, but have developed marketing that connects with their customers.
The consistent factor across both is a personal experience that only belongs to the individual who experienced it.
Think about your first flight on Virgin Atlantic, the childhood memory of the ice-cream parlor you went to as a kid or the first time you drove a Tesla. On the workhorse side, it’s often about the message that totally connected with you at a personal level or it is sense of community you felt because you were being invited to be a part of something bigger and better.
As marketers, we can set the stage and help create these moments, but the experience itself belongs to the customer.
Guidance is important, but strong brands focus more on nurturing than policing.
- Listen. Listen to customers. Employees and partners, they may have stories that can become part of brand lore. They may have language that is more insightful or more authentic than the language in your brand guidelines.
- Guide. Set clear guidelines including tone, voice identity and expectations for all brand experiences.
- Evolve. Fighting the tide is energy poorly spent. Give the brand some breathing room, evaluate and adjust.
- Let it be personal. The brand means something unique to each employee and customer. Within the guides, let them have and relish their personal connection and share what that connection means to them.
- Address or amplify: When the brand begins to drift in a way you don’t want it to, address it immediately. When it drifts in a positive direction, amplify. Take that personal experience with the brand and encourage your customers to share it.