A Brand IS What We Say It Is (Unless We Screw It Up)

Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, famously said,

“a brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is”.  

That statement, I think, accurately captures the spirit of the connected world we live in these days.  It seems a prudent admonition to marketers to be mindful of the immense power of word-of-mouth marketing and social media.  I’m just not sure it tells the whole story or is entirely accurate.  

Even in a world increasingly dominated by social media, marketers strategically construct brands to maximize opportunity at the nexus of internal core competencies and external consumer needs.  Well run brands not only deliver on their core promises, but in the best of cases, they actually even over deliver! When you hear about consumers camped out overnight to buy the latest iPhone, or willingly paying hundreds of dollars over retail price for the latest Air Jordan's, then you know those brands are executing brilliantly.  In those instances, consumers are gladly "buying" (both literally and figuratively) everything that is being sold them in the way of products, marketing messages, lifestyle cues etc.

Looking at this even deeper, many consumers actually integrate aspects of brands they love into their very identities.  Think about the sub-cultures developed around brands like Harley Davidson, Apple, Nike, Patagonia, etc. where consumers believe so deeply in their brands that they actually weave them into their daily lives.  They not only "buy" everything the brands sell them, but collectively they create whole communities of consumers who share their love of the brands with each other. 

So, with high performing brands, consumers buy almost everything they are sold.  Time and time again, marketing research shows consumers repeating back brand messages verbatim.  They experience the brand as it is strategically intended for them.  The brand IS what their owners say it is.  Social platforms, therefore, become mediums for consumers to rebroadcast brand messages.  

Where Scott is absolutely correct, however, is in cases of faulty brand management.  When brands fail to articulate a clear identity or when - for whatever reason - they fall short in delivering against their brand promise, then consumers will absolutely create their own narrative driven by their experiences. To be sure, if there is meaningful space between what a brand says it is and the reality of how the world experiences it, then consumers will, almost always, press the proverbial BS button, stop buying and tell others as well!

Social media plays the role of a powerful catalyst on both sides.   It’s a social accelerant to the kind of word-of-mouth marketing that’s always been even more powerful than advertising.  So for those who get brand building right, social media maximizes marketing investment.  It has the effect of “doubling down” on advertising and marketing - making it all even more impactful.  It actually gets more people believing almost precisely what the brand wants them to.

But for those who underperform, social media can be either a source of invaluable feedback with which to correct the issue, or (if ignored) it can represent veritable nails that seal their coffin.  For too many, social media can foment a seemingly uncontrolled spiral of negative consumer sentiment that’s like letting the (brand equity) air out of a balloon.  

In the end, as a result of all consumer touch points, people either “buy” what they are sold or not.  Social media just hastens the decision.  The opportunity has always been for marketers to construct brand experiences that meet consumer needs.  If done right, then there’s no question that the brand is what ”we” say it is after all.

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Tags: Cook, Intuit, brand, consumer, market, positioning, quote, randing, research, strategy


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