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Foreword by Don Tapscott – The Reinvention of the Brand

[ 0 ] August 5, 2010 |
Don Tapscott

Wikibrands is an important, perhaps seminal book. It was inspired by a $3 million dollar research program I initiated in 2005 called “Marketing 2.0.”  Mike Dover and Sean Moffitt were two of our outstanding thought leaders and produced some profound new thinking about the brand.  I encouraged them to write a book to develop their findings.  The result is a profound and stimulating work, with far reaching implications for everyone who cares about marketing.

For 15 years my colleagues and I have argued how it was only a matter of time that the web would revolutionize marketing. Today as a new communications medium inexorably becomes pervasive, conventional wisdom is finally being shattered about advertising, promotion, publicity, public relations, and the brand itself. All these are rooted in the assumption of a print and broadcast world where unidirectional, one-to-many and one-size-fits-all media to communicate “messages” to faceless, powerless, inert customers.

In the past the brand was seen as a promise, an image, a badge, or as many popular books on branding describe it “a word in the mind.” The brand not viewed as something that exists in the minds and actions of customers, but an asset owned and controlled by companies. Brands were established primarily through mass communications. Using the one-way broadcast and print media, marketers could convince people through relentless one-way communications that, say “Things Go Better with Coke.”

Today the brand is becoming a more complex construct than a simple promise, word, or image. In fact I believe the brand has architecture of sorts that has various critical elements that require attention and strategy. The foundation of this brand architecture is a firm’s integrity — honesty, reliability, consideration, and candor. Integrity is important because of a new force, or rather an old force with new power – transparency.  Consumers can evaluate the value of products and services like never before. Employees share formerly secret information about corporate strategy, management, and challenges. To collaborate effectively, companies and their business partners have no choice but to share intimate knowledge with one another.  Powerful institutional investors today own or manage most wealth, and they are developing x-ray vision.  Finally, in a world of instant communications, wikileakers, inquisitive media, and Googling citizens, people everywhere can routinely put firms under the microscope.

Companies are becoming naked – and corporate fitness is no longer optional. The precondition for trust a good brand is integrity.  If the financial meltdown of the past years tells us anything it’s that firms need to be buff – having good value (which is evidenced like never before) and also the values of integrity as part of their corporate DNA.

Perhaps more important, because of the new web, the brand can become evolve from being an image, to becoming a relationship.  This transformation is being driven by a lot more than social networking.  Sure, the half billion people on Facebook love to talk about products, services and companies, as do the 150 million or so on Twitter.  But countless other communities and vehicles are turning the old brand on its head, providing an opportunity for companies to build deep relationships with consumers.

Consider this factoid. Between the beginning to humankind and the year 2003, there were 5 Exobytes of information recorded. There were 5 Exobytes of information generated and recorded in the last 2 days – most by users. In fact most, most information, and content today is being generated my individuals and consumers, not by companies.

When you add in the norms of the most important emerging marketplace – a new generation of digital natives who have “Grown Up Digital” – you’ve got a formula for radical change in marketing.  Given the propensity of youth to ignore advertisements in traditional media, their growing ability to scrutinize companies, and their surging power in the marketplace they are driving a change in thinking this book discusses. A new form of marketing is emerging where brand managers emphasize customer engagement, brand collaboration and, in some cases, even shared brand ownership.

Smart companies are eschewing less effective, command and control marketing and communication methods. As the Net Generation comes of age, hundreds of millions of passionate users and consumers are taking an active role in determining, shaping, and redefining brands independent of company involvement. Winning companies and brands are learning to engage and co-create with these customers rather than shouting over or ignoring the noise of the marketplace. To bridge the marketing divide, the concept of controlling the brand is now ceding way to collaborating with a stakeholder group that most companies are unfamiliar with– their customers.

The advertising industry has been slow to understand and adapt to these changes.  The industry began early in the 20th century in the US when regional newspapers seeking advertisements found an agent to link them up with suppliers wanting to reach the paper’s audience.  Nascent agencies solicited ads from, say Schwinn bicycles, and offered to create the advertisements for the papers – in exchange for a commission of advertising revenues of 15 per cent.   The agencies performed the function of linking or mediating between the producer and the newspaper. Today the 15 percent rule has pretty much collapsed and agencies have had to re-intermediate to create new value. But I find their instincts are to use traditional media and traditional thinking about the brand, to “promote” a their clients products rather than to engage consumers in building much more appropriate and powerful relationships.

In fact, I think it makes sense for companies to view their customers are being part of their business webs rather than being external entities.  Customers want to be engaged. They have power through access to near perfect information about products and corporate behavior. They interact with you through multidirectional, one-to-one, and highly tailored communications media. They control the marketing mix, not you. They choose the medium and the message. Rather than receiving broadcast images, they do the casting. Rather than getting messages from earnest PR professionals, they create “public opinion” online with one another.

So just like Wikipedia views it’s consumers as part of it’s network, you can use the thinking of WikiBrands to get your consumers into the tent.  Rather than “focusing” on your customers as conventional wisdom proclaims, you can engage them.  Rather than having old style “customer centricity” you can co-innovate with them.  Rather than “segmenting markets” you can build new value exchanges with markets of one.  And customers, rather than being passive recipients of your goods, services and messages can participate actively with you.

The result is not just that you can create better value through participation and engagement.  You can achieve better loyalty too. I recall with amusement all the prognostications that the Web pioneers including Amazon, eBay, Google and more recently Facebook, were doomed to disaster because their competition was only a click away.  What the doomsayers didn’t understand was the power of relationships.  When firms use the Web to truly engage customers, the relationships can be strong and lasting.  I’m tempted to describe this as a new form of wealth, say relationship capital, which firms need to develop and manage like other forms of capital.

If you read and act on this book, you’ll retire old thinking about the Four P’s or marketing (Product, Place, Price and Promotion).  You’ll chuck out old concepts of the brand as an image that you own and control.  And you’ll set a course to engage your customers and benefit from a new paradigm in marketing appropriate for the digital age.

Enjoy and prosper!

Don Tapscott is the co-author of 13 widely books about technology in business and society, most recently (with Anthony D. Williams) Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World.  His penultimate book Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World discussed how the Net Generation is revolutionizing marketing.  His book, (also with Williams) Wikinomics was the best selling management book in the United States in 2007. He is Chairman of the think tank nGenera Insight and Vice Chairman of Spencer Trask Collaborative Technologies. On twitter @dtapscott.

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