• June 1, 2010
  • By Doug Pruden, principal, Customer Experience Partners, Terry Vavra, principal, Customer Experience Partners

You’re Losing Control of Your Brand Image

There's quite a discussion today regarding the impact of social media on brands. Some are claiming that our brave "marketing pioneers" who "understand" the new media can maintain control of their brands. These electronic pioneers are attempting to leverage the new tools of our era by creating:

  • Facebook fan pages,
  • YouTube clips,
  • Twitter tweets,
  • etc.

But some, perhaps the more realistic, are beginning to shock their management by admitting that they "no longer own their brand image"!

While I won't suggest that brand advertising is irrelevant, it's time that we realize that social media has put consumers in charge — and that there is no turning back. It's not that corporations shouldn't keep trying to work their magic, but they need to realize that two key elements have forever changed in the communications landscape: "bandwidth" and "production capability."

For most of our lives corporations have totally owned their brands. They not only managed the design, production and distribution, but, most important, they carefully controlled awareness and brand image. Certainly consumers had face-to-face and phone conversations about their experiences with a given product or service, but in most cases reach and their ability to express themselves was limited. 

Awareness and image were owned by the professionals. Corporations employed marketing teams and advertising agencies. Creative directors produced exquisite expressions of the major brands, and media planners/buyers purchased the necessary share of what was a limited supply of radio, television, newspaper, magazine and outdoor time and space. They could turn the dial up, and they could turn it down. All it took was money.

But over the past few years technology has changed things dramatically. Today the vast majority of consumers carry cell phones, most with photo capability (many able to capture digital video images). Well over 75 percent of the public has access to the Internet. We can reach out to sites like Yelp, ePinions.com, and tens of thousands of personal blogs and "suck" sites. Text messaging and email probably generate more thoughts and opinions in a few hours than in all the letters mailed in a year a decade ago.

Rather than The Big 3 television networks of yesteryear, most households now have a hundred or more viewing options. A 30-second spot on the Super Bowl, a full page in The New York Times, a gatefold in People, or roadblocking spots on ABC, CBS, and NBC haven't suddenly lost all meaning, but they can no longer dominate. The capacity — the communication "bandwidth" — has expanded to the point where it can no longer be controlled by a few powerful voices.

Further, with a few key strokes on her phone, clicks on her keyboard, or with the press of a button on her cellphone camera, any consumer can become the creator, producer, and developer of this new media. She has no need for a large corporate budget and little technical training is required. At any moment a consumer can instantly ask a question or text a distant friend (or hundreds of "followers" for that matter) about her experience with a brand. She can take and email a photo of a product failure, create and post a video on YouTube (think Domino's Pizza and United Airlines), or she can brag about a great new movie or a product she found on her personal blog.

Corporate marketers and their agency planners, creatives and production folks can certainly provide a more elegant execution, but consumers now have their own production tools and by their numbers alone they can generate much more content. If that's not enough, research indicates that consumers connecting to one another deliver greater trust and credibility than corporate sponsored advertising or Web programming.

So should brand managers and their agencies just fade into the sunset? Of course not. They still own paid mass media and it remains a critical part of the mix. But it's time to realize that brand-operated chatrooms, YouTube videos, and Facebook fan pages will only have limited impact. The power is now in the hands of literally millions of customers and consumers as the result of technological advancements, expanded communications bandwidth, and simple production tools.

Marketers will have to take a step back and try an entirely new approach if they want to build the awareness and image of their brands in social media.


About the Authors

Doug Pruden (pruden@customerexperiencepartners.com) and Terry Vavra bring extensive experience in advertising (BBDO, JWT, Kenyon & Eckhardt) and marketing research (NBC, Marketing Metrics, Ipsos) to help clients grow and manage customer word of mouth. They are principals at Customer Experience Partners.


Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors

You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" below.

If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

For the rest of the June 2010 issue of CRM magazine — our second annual Social Media Issue, this year focused on communities — please click here.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues

Related Articles

The 4 Commandments of Brand Advocacy

A Deloitte study uncovers the changing face of brand advocates and the necessary steps companies must make to get influential consumers on their side.

Wax On, Wax Off

A Communispace-built community helps Turtle Wax shine up relationships and burnish its brand.

A Community in Crisis

A specialist in real estate information offers answers amid a sea of foreclosures.

Learn Before You Leap

Leapfrog, a maker of educational products, gives its customers something to jump up and down about: an online community powered by Lithium Technologies.

What You Are Is Who You Are

On January 3, 2009, Zappos.com Chief Executive Officer Tony Hsieh posted "Your Culture Is Your Brand," a now-famous message on the company's blog. We've included an excerpt of that blogpost here, but the original can be found at http:sn.im/hsieh/010309.

Cutting the Community

Facing a difficult economic outlook, Zappos.com handled a critical cutback with astonishing transparency.

Employing a Community

How Zappos.com became a billion-dollar company—by delivering happiness, an exclusive excerpt from the new book by Zappos.com Chief Executive Officer Tony Hsieh.

Infiltrating the Community

When customers gather in social networks beyond the brand's control, the marketing effort has to adapt.

Marketing to a Community

Gathering your company's brand fanatics together is only the start. Now you have to mind your messaging.

Community Activism

Online roles and responsibilities

Crafting a Community

Companies can corral as many customers as they like, but any true community has to truly benefit its members—customers and companies alike.

Crumbling into Communities

Even as Facebook's membership nears the half-billion mark, your customers are splintering into thousands of other communities. Whether or not these groups are yours, you need to pay attention.

Market Focus: Sports and Entertainment

Facing Off with Social Media: Two National Hockey League franchise have goals for Facebook and Twitter.

What Is Going On Down There?

In the land of 'feminine-hygiene marketing,' a new campaign changes the way products are advertised.

Crashing the Community

Nestlé feels the crunch when its own social network turns from semi-sweet to dark.

Five More Community-Prep Steps

Sure, you've covered the basic guidelines—but you're not ready yet.

Is Your Community of Customers Sustainable?

Eventually, you have to start buying your competitors' clients.

Postcards from the Edge

Just because you can engage with a community doesn't mean you have to.

Required Reading: Funneling the Future

The flatter the world, the further the reach of the empowered customer. In his new book, Flip the Funnel, Joseph Jaffe explains how that may finally bring down silos once and for all.

Looking for Loyalty?

A new survey shows the importance of CRM to customer loyalty.

Whuffie Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Forget money: Trust, transparency, and value represent today's social currency.

Marketing and Social Media: Everyone’s Social (Already)

Your customers are increasingly connected — to you, to your competition, to each other — but you're not supposed to be the center of every network.

The Social Media Monitoring Cheat Sheet

An Aberdeen Group study suggests it's not too late to begin tapping into social media to manage your brand reputation online. Not yet, anyway.