It’s official, brands have lost the run of themselves. And to be honest, we are all to blame. For too long, we have all been guilty of overestimating the role brands play in people’s lives. People don’t really care about brands, at least not in the way we think they do. The language we use around brands is based on the language of human relationships and this is where the problem starts. Yes, some people really love certain brands and are brand loyal but brands are not people.
The truth is, brands have a function to perform – whether that function is to provide electricity or make the world think that you’re a success –beyond that – consumers are not interested.
Brands are a promise and what people want from brands is that promise fulfilled (and let’s face it you can’t have a relationship with a promise!)
A doctrine has developed over the last number of years that proclaims that brand owners and brand guardians are not really the experts when it comes to deciding the future of their own brand, that the consumer is now in charge and that we should hand over control. The idea that we should ask the consumer what the brand should do, is absolute nonsense. Putting the future of your brand solely in the hands of consumers is a recipe for disaster. Because consumers are not the experts in brand positioning, brand growth and brand ideas – we are (and if you ever need to be reminded of that, watch the marketing tasks in The Apprentice!)
For too long, we have bought into the idea that consumers own the brand and that brands should be led by the consumer. How many meetings have you been in, research debriefs have you sat through or blogs like this have you read where someone has declared that brands don’t really own themselves anymore and that really we should do what the consumer wants?
It’s our job to shape the future of our brands because consumers can’t be expected to know what they really want next.
Did consumers really know they wanted ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ from Old Spice? Did they know they really needed SnapChat or Instagram? When teenage girls were screaming and fainting over One Direction two years ago, how do you think they would have described the next big thing they wanted in music? I would bet that what they would have described would have had a very strong resemblance to One Direction, because that’s all they knew. What they probably wouldn’t have asked for is a scruffy, average looking, red-haired guitar player. But along came Ed Sheeran and, as unexpected as he was, they fell in love all over again.
We, the marketing industry, are the brand guardians. We are responsible for the brand direction and mapping a brands future, that is our job.
It is true that it is no longer a one way conversation between people and brands, but like in all conversations someone must start that conversation and be willing to keep it going, in order for it to remain interesting. And like all conversations – it has to stop sometime!
So, let’s have a little faith in ourselves and stop looking to consumers to come up with the ideas.