08 April 2010

Brand Control

In one of those great bit of serendipity that makes life truly wonderful - in the midst of a week that has been largely about explaining how Brand works and what Brand is - and most of all how Brand has changed; today I received a brilliant illustration of the changed landscape.

(About a year ago) Jason Fried from 37Signals wrote a scathing flame-post on the customer self-support service GetSatisfaction. While reading it and the millions of fan-boy responses takes time - it is worth the effort. Sure, it's a polemic written with (IMHO) deliberately inflammatory wording. And yeah, the comments are largely silly or ignorant.

But there is a thread running through it all - a thread that while unstated is driving the entire conversation. A thread that illustrates how truly massive the changes in the landscape of Brand are.

The thread is fear.

For as long as we can remember - Brand has been controlled by the companies. The control relationship between Brands and Consumers has been entirely in the hands of the Brands.

But this has changed. Consumers now are in charge. Consumers define the Brand - consumers own the Brand. Conversations about the Brand occur without the company's involvement or control. Companies, in fact, are on the outside looking in as the Consumers determine their Brands.

Agencies can talk all they want about "Getting involved in the conversation" but that's largely wishful thinking or best-case optimism.

And companies don't like this. It makes them scared.
And that makes them angry.

And GetSatisfaction cuts right to the core of it all. I can empathize with Jason on this one. The idea of people talking about the failings of my products, my company and my brand without me owning that conversation would be terrifying. The idea of people interacting with a pivotal Brand touchpoint (customer service) that I don't control.... yeah, very scary.

The thing is....
That's just the way life is now.

If I want to talk about how awful AT&T's 3G coverage is in SF - I don't need to ask permission. If I want to publish this opinion on my blog and promote it - there is nothing AT&T can do about it. If I want to start a media property (a website) that is entirely dedicated to how horrible AT&T 3G is - and want to allow end users to contribute their own horror stories.... AT&T is just going to have to live with that.

Yeah... if that site were to take off and become massively popular it would have a huge impact on AT&T's brand.
And there is just nothing that AT&T can do but hope to somehow get involved and affect the conversation.

Because we - the consumer - are now in control.

It's time for Brand's to get over it. It's fine to be scared (I know I would be) but there is absolutely no point in fighting it. This particular battle is over.

(Full disclosure: I've been a customer of 37Signals in the past and have had nothing but good customer services from them. That being said, I'm not a huge fan of the products. And I'm a friend of one of the founders of GetSatisfaction, but I'm not a customer or user of their product.)