Editor's note: This article is part of a series revolving around the concept of brands as intersections.
I have always been and remain an advocate of strong brand leadership, single-minded vision and the confidence to steer a consistent course. Often finding myself pleading for clarity in the definition of co-creation—fearing for the health and long-term sustainability of brands if marketers and owners delegate strategy and execution to users, consumers or other interested parties. Why? Because the long-term strategic interests of a brand and the immediate ‘desires’ of consumers are rarely compatible.
We confuse participation, influence, interaction, belonging with co-creation. It has always fascinated me that ‘Apple’ the great enabler, an embodiment of the values of creativity and participation is the furthest removed from a culture of co-creation. Users are ‘invited in’ to the Apple version of events. You are so welcome, says Apple—but please play by our rules and our rules only. Whatever you might think, we know best. But within this world you can shape, make, create, participate. In other words there are multiple authors, multiple narratives, multiple protagonists inhabiting and colouring the brand-defined world. Who’s an author? We all are! Genius.
The problem with brand authorship is that it assumes absolute editorial control, a single narrative and denies a sense of ownership to the ‘recipients’. It is the singularity of authorship that feels out of tune with our age. Singularity is losing status in our participative, social-mediated world. Freedom must be given for stories to be created, staged, experienced in a multitude of ways—multiple authors, multiple participants—stories which live, not just stories which are told. Singularity in authorship leads to exclusivity of ownership, strikingly dissonant with the dominant behaviours of flexing, shaping, adapting to my way, my life, my values. Stories with no role for customers, users, purchasers—are stories to 'entertain’ not stories to ‘engage’.
So brands that feel ‘closed’ and are in ‘telling’ rather than ‘living’ mode are brands that are clinging to the ideal of authorship. Their flagship communication is a TVC with a beginning, middle and an end. The product is ‘placed’, accessorized and attached to specific lifestyle cues. The engagement model assumes a desire to ‘copy’ rather than to assimilate, adapt and reinterpret. There is only one story. Take it or leave it.
Think luxury brands like Armani, Givenchy and Balenciaga. These brands operate in a world with a strict code of conduct. From a communication point of view they follow a highly controlled strategy where they focus on a few and have a presence in key communication channels that allow them to stage and control the brand in the ‘right way’.
Sony is another example of a brand that assumed singularity of authorship and has lost status as a creative & innovative leader. As the world migrated and shifted to digitalization and porous communication, Sony remained stagnant. In an online study conducted by Simplify 360, Samsung outshone Sony in online communication and engagement by 60 per cent. Particularly concerning is that their target audience remains young—between 13 to 25—an age group that spends at least eight hours a day communicating online.
The brands that are succeeding are clear on the parameters of their narrative territory and have clarified their brand role. The brand therefore behaves consistently across multiple narratives in the hands of multiple authors. Think adidas and the way in which they connect their consumers to the heart of adidas and vice versa via the ‘adidas insiders’ online community. A digital and social communication platform that is moderated by their global consumer insight team. The platform acts as a liaison between their key target group and allows them to provide in-depth feedback and explore new ideas on products and the brand that has direct impact on future collections and campaigns.
Absolut is another brand whose strategy of creative collaboration gives consumers the chance to put their own spin on the iconic bottle. Recently they crowd sourced ideas for their Indian campaign by asking consumers to reimagine India's rich creative heritage onto the iconic bottle to be sold nation-wide.
In articulating a brand positioning it is the brand role which therefore becomes the most crucial to define—more important than personality, benefit or values. With a clear brand role there is scope for multiple agency partners, multiple consumers, multiple media channels and multiple experiences with which to weave compelling brand-relevant stories. Multiple authors engaging multiple consumers to build one brand. Brand building for the 21st century.
Kirsty Fuller is co-founder and co-CEO of Flamingo.