Friday 6 November 2009

The success of (personal) brands

brand me I was at Loyalty World 2009 this week and saw an excellent presentation by Alex Hunter – former Head of Online Marketing at Virgin but more importantly a really engaging speaker who knows what he’s talking about.

His presentation centred around the shift in relationships between the brand and the consumer; the focus though was slightly different from the usual discussions.

When marketers discuss loyalty it’s normally about creating and deepening the relationship between the brand and the consumer.

However Alex argued - citing examples like Steve Jobs who almost personify the brands they represent - that people build relationships with other people, not brands.

I thought this was a really interesting insight as there is an increased focus on “personal brands” – individuals building up their own brand and profile based on their thoughts and ideas almost independent of their employer.

I think this really show’s how things have changed and how social technology like blogs and twitter are helping to accelerate this.

Previously a companies value was measured on its fixed assets with its quality and reputation coming from it’s raw materials and how they processed these into goods and services.

The new raw materials are information, knowledge and creativity and these aren’t assets a company can own or process – these come from individuals.

The best companies have the best talent and so it makes sense that consumers will want to engage with these individuals and feel they have some form of relationship. The opportunity for brands is to harness and enable this – not to try and own or direct it.

Best Buy is a great example of this and Barry Judge, CMO is leading the charge. Not only does he have a personal blog which discusses what they are doing, but also uses other social tools like YouTube to put across his thoughts.

The obvious danger here is that with a relationship being built between the consumer and the individual, what happens when the individual moves on – and this was exactly a question posed to Alex during his presentation.

The answer is really the democratisation of knowledge.

Individuals move on, but a company is more than just the single individual - it’s the combination of individuals working as a team and so exposing a wider variety of team members, whether this is the CEO, a developer or a marketing exec ensures that the consumer get’s a balanced view and a real insight into the brand.

Best Buy is another great example of this with employees encouraged at all levels to interact – take a look at Best Buy Connected – in their own words “a new way for you to engage with the actual people, real behavior and unedited perspectives of those who power Best Buy”.

This combination of view points across many different individuals and roles is in essence what makes up the brand - so the relationships the consumer builds with the brands employees actually becomes the relationship with the brand.

This level of openness and perceived lack of control can be a real challenge for many brands, but the opportunity to engage consumers at a more emotional level has got to be worth the effort.

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