Here’s a bold statement: you don’t own your brand.
I won’t be surprised when I hear from readers who disagree. They’ll argue that as the creator of the brand, “We made it, we own it.”
It doesn’t work that way. Certainly if you’ve played your cards right, your company legally owns the trademark for the brand name and copyright for your content and creative. You have a logo, a tagline and a message.
But something is missing.
Organizations don’t own their brands any more than a parent owns a child. Yes, it was conceived, nurtured and birthed by your company. Then it was launched and at the very moment your brand went out into the world, it ceased to be solely yours.
A brand is not a static thing, created once and never changed. Once released, environmental factors immediately go to work, skewing the vision, diluting the brand promise, causing interpretation (or misinterpretation) of your carefully crafted messages.
By nature, brands are malleable, subject to change as time and outside forces work on them.
You Need Permission
At the same time, a brand does not become great without permission, an idea popularized by Seth Godin in his 1999 book, Permission Marketing.
Godin’s original concept applied to permission based marketing as an alternative to disruptive marketing that interrupted a buyer’s routine. Permission marketing involves getting a series of small yeses from buyers, capturing their approval to enter into a relationship.
Brand permission is similar.
It’s a way to engage buyers by meeting them on their own terms and offering something of interest to spark a conversation. Prospects must accept the value proposition, even a small one, offered by a company before they will enter into a relationship with a brand.
Your target customers need to buy into your brand message or it is simply deflected, unheard. When the signals being sent are not believable, if the company sending them is not credible, all of its branding efforts will fall flat.
Permission is required to proceed.
Find the Intersection
Because of this essential give and take, I view a brand as an intersection rather than subscribing to the conventional view that “a brand is a promise.” Promises tend to get broken and broken promises derail relationships. That’s hardly a solid foundation on which to build a brand.
The brand intersection is a collaborative environment where customers meet companies on equal terms. Every person who interacts with a brand will have their own experience, their own impressions and their own take on what that brand means in the market.
They also bring their preconceived notions, biases and background to the table, and this informs their view of the brand.
A liberated brand lives at the intersection where the value proposition meets customer permission. In addition to the brand attributes defined by the company, the customer’s perspectives plus an open dialog and ultimately, active agreement, are required to bring the essence of a brand to life.
As you can see from the diagram below, the whole brand, as an entity, is a combination of what you created and what your audience agrees it should be. The two meet in the middle, in the permission zone, which is the intersection between brand promise and customer reality.
Next week: Love Your Brand, Let It Go
Photo by Kim Hattaway on FreeImages.com