Two-thirds of the conversation about any brand in existence today is generated from outside the company that creates and markets that brand. Brands are being defined, in many cases, by customers, consumers, influencers, prospects, policymakers, and other sources instead of through owned and paid content a brand distributes about itself. And that content earned through conversation is even more crucial to brand strategy than what the company develops. Brands have had to upend the way they communicate to grapple with that conversational content. This world is instantaneous and ubiquitous, and as a result, brand strategy and experience must be considered every ten seconds, not every ten years. Brands are continuously kneaded, rolled and shaped–by both devotees and detractors–and content about the brand often takes on a life of its own. The kids have the car keys. Pandora’s box is open. There’s no going back.
This can work tremendously well for a brand that has an authentic position and stays true to its brand strategy. Consider Dove and The Campaign for Real Beauty. Several years old now, The Campaign for Real Beauty has rocked the world and made Dove’s brand strategy of real, natural beauty profoundly relevant to women, men and children everywhere through a combination of user-generated and brand-owned content.
Recently, the brand decided to run a new experiment. In “Real Beauty Sketches,” a forensic sketch artist drew women’s faces, first from their own description and then from the words of a stranger. The sketches were hung side-by-side, and the contrast was striking. Without fail, the sketch generated from a woman’s own words was less attractive–less representative of how the world saw her than the other. The women’s own sketches incorporated harsh, unforgiving details from the subject’s mind’s eye, details which were absent in how she appeared to others. Within a few weeks, “Real Beauty Sketches” reached 53 million views on YouTube. Media has flooded in. The brand team created the idea and executed it in social channels, but it was the rest of the world that picked it up and made it an idea of exponential interest. Content in action.
Now, that is a good story for the Dove brand; it hit a nerve or two, and this particular brand story will become another star in the conversational firmament for the Dove brand, beautifully supporting the brand’s strategy with an ongoing stream of content.
But what happens when you are a retail bank running commercials about being a great brand that lives to help the average family, but you happen to announce new checking account fees? What happens when the “two-thirds” factor goes after you with a vengeance? Millions of dollars in media spend can be washed away as the tsunami of public opinion rolls in against your brand, leaving you powerless. We can all think of brands who have been through this content mill, from banks to cars to athletic wear to software and hardware. Managing and integrating created content, curated content, and native content might be the order of the day for brands, but content cannot clean the stain of inauthenticity. The way a brand delivers an experience to consumers and customers sets the tenor of brand relationships–no matter what a company says about itself.
Brand Strategy is not all about high order vision statements, logos and color swatches, and brand survey rankings. Brand strategy is about brand expression and experience, and that expression is resolutely linked to any content that is made available and noticed. Everything else is just tactics.
Carla Hendra is Global Chairman of OgilvyRED, the global strategy and consulting practice of Ogilvy & Mather.
[Clock Hands: ra3rn via Shutterstock]