If you’re spending a lot of money to develop your brand through advertising or a nifty website, you might want to rethink that. You don’t control your brand anymore, so trying to create or enhance it with slick images and thought-provoking tag lines could just be a waste of valuable time and money resources.
A couple years ago, Sun Microsystems theorized that we are no longer in the technology or information ages, but that we are now in the Participation Age and that the hallmark of the Participation Age is Sharing.
Nobody likes to be told what to do, so their narrative hasn’t spread widely, but I’ve sure jumped on board – I believe there is no question we’re in the Participation Age and that the central driving force in our economy is Sharing of ideas, resources, schools of thought and commingling of those into new products, services and conversations.
There is nowhere to hide anymore. Information is one of those things that is too easy to share now for anyone to try to keep it to themselves or pretend that one thing is actually another. That’s where the brand problem comes in. If the brand you’re putting in that slick brochure isn’t the same brand the admin, dock worker and VP have in your office, you’re in trouble. The Participation Age will expose you because your customers and employees will be sharing openly and freely about your real brand, the one they experience, not the one you put in that brochure.
So I guess I’m being a little coy in saying you’ve lost control of it; what has really happened is that you’ve lost control of pretending what it is. We can no longer market “family friendly” hot dogs and treat our employees like indentured servants, Who we SAY we are and who we REALLY are had better match up, because if they don’t, the conversation our clients and employees are having on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and a dozen other places is going to make the difference glaringly obvious.
Participation comes from Sharing and Sharing comes from Community. People have more access to information sharing communities than ever before. Iran thought they could control their brand, but Twitter made it impossible – the real brand came out through their “customers” and “employees”.
The best we can do is to influence our brand by 1) creating a community for our clients to talk with others and us and 2) being an active part of that conversation. We cannot afford to say “Pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain” as in the Wizard of Oz. Who we are has to match what we do.
We should be actively involved with our customers, letting them know all the great things we do for them and influencing our brand by ensuring they know we’re listening and are working on their behalf. It’s easy to throw stones at the unknown or those at a distance. Companies that know this have come down off their high horse and have joined the Sharing party to actively engage with their customers on a level playing field. And surprise, surprise, these are the companies that are most in touch with what their customers really want from them.
Everyone knows the story of Zappos shoes working themselves into the conversation on Twitter. They didn’t do it just because it was intriguing, but they understand that when people see that the brand they talk about is the same brand they live in their offices, it creates community and connection that is stronger than any slick brochure Zappos could ever put on the street.
What are you doing to make sure you’re in the conversation with your customers and your employees about your brand? They’re already out there sharing it – you might want to get involved and influence what they share.
Start with this question – “What are you buying from me that you don’t even think I know I’m selling?” You’ll make more money in less time with questions like that. And you’ll actually have an impact on the brand that you no longer control.