It's been a long time since I posted. Not had a lot to say, and it's been a little demented at work. But while trying to stick to Mark's call for the 'b***d' word ban in January (which I am still trying to maintain) it's made me try to think a little more about some of the assumptions and sweeping assertions that as an industry we tend to throw around willy nilly. (Things like the notion of a 'brand campaign' when surely that covers anything a brand does (putting aside the use of the b word)).
The one that has really got to me recently is the whole notion of who controls the brand (oops, just swore). We, as marketers, used to believe we controlled the brand while common wisdom today says people own the brand. But perhaps the reality, as so often the case, is more gray than black or white.
Many years ago Jeremy Bullmore made the brilliant metaphor that "customers build brands as birds build nests. From the scraps and straws they chance upon". Of course this, by itself, directly challenges the notion of the singular brand idea or identity - we're all likely to have different perceptions as we chance upon different stuff and it makes the idea of most brand models redundant and rather ridiculous.
More interestingly however is its implication for communications. The analogy means (perhaps over-simplifying) that your reputation is made up from two main sources. First, there is the stuff you control (product/service, packaging, price, distribution, communications, etc.). Second, there is the stuff you don't (who uses your product/service, where it's used, who is talking about it and where, etc.). My old boss, Chris Baker, used to draw the distinction between this 'received' and 'observed' mythology.
The temptation is to see these two sources as impermeable silos, and to use the stuff you control to 'correct' the stuff you don't. As a result you are continually swimming against the tide. The reality is that the great brands do stuff that cross into the world of the uncontrolled, and embrace the stuff that goes on in the uncontrolled. They realize, as Henry Jenkins is brilliantly blogging about at the moment, that if it doesn't spread it's dead. That the best stuff you control should go out of control.
Last week, I went to see Shepard Fairey talk about his work as his new exhibition launched at the ICA in Boston (the night before his infamous arrest). Clearly he's a smart thinker about culture today. He made a great observation that "my stuff got taken down more when this thing called eBay happened" and had an interesting point of view about his design studio doing more and more commercial work - it's driven by a desire to make the world a little less ugly.
What's really good about the exhibition is the effort to get the context right. While unsurprisingly it's focused around the museum space, the ICA made a huge effort to secure public space throughout Boston for Fairey to display his art (and therefore give the work something to push off). There's a map of the sites here.