These days brands are much better viewed as instruments of intelligence to draw information into a company, not as Big Tops to promote the business' latest acts and curiosities. As information and data accumulates in petabyte-size chunks in online public forums, the insights and ideas of small marketing teams within corporations increasingly sound like distant voices in the wind. What hope does a brand team have of getting its acrobatics noticed above the ear-bleeding roar of vast online markets trading in gossip, innuendo and scandal? Not to mention any tasty bones left lying around in corporate cupboards. The message is now so familiar it's boring. When people want to know about something they go online and see what everyone else thinks. They don't rush to the corporate website to check out what gems the guys in marketing have come up with. Or to see if the new jingle is going to pique their aspirations. They jump in the bazaar. Trip Advisor. Amazon. Blogs....
...YouTube. Forums. FaceBook. Epinion. Reevoo. PriceGrabber. Yahoo Answers. Shopzilla. PriceWatch. eBay. Wikipedia. ActiveShopper. DiningCity. These days the problem isn't a lack of helpful opinion or market intelligence.
And as markets get more competitive and intense it's only becoming harder to detect the subtle differences between highly-nuanced line extensions from the world's FMCG, financial and automotive labs. Which leads to the level of online data dissection, product punditry and opinion continuing to crank up. All powered by a public who for the first time ever LOVE the fact they can no longer be outwitted. Many eyes have indeed made all brand bugs shallow.
Just listen to Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, on the matter, "What I want from a review site is an informed judgement. Ideally I'd like a very smart friend online who can give a single word answer when you asked him/her what you should buy: "Get this," they would say. The wider the range of uses, the more choices in models, and the faster the innovation in that area, the harder it is to get a definite answer." He may be an alpha geek without peer - but his view is now shared by the man in the street.
And the answer for marketeers is so, so simple. Stop trying to compete with your customers' voices. Shut Up. Listen. Digest. Consumers (aka people) were once happy to kick back on their sofas and watch the magic of the Big Brand Top. But now it's brands' turn to to suck it up.
In my experience, this is such an alien concept that many marketeers just don’t know where to start. Like a troop of divas they've become wedded to the limelight. The emotional angst at seeing the last curtain fall is all too much (darling).
But once they start to tune into the new global forums, marketeers quickly become transfixed at seeing their markets morph before them. And then they have the opportunity to do something wonderful.
They can turn their brands into tools that help their companies to learn and become more intelligent. And in doing so they can regain some of the kudos that once came with being market movers and shakers. By tuning into the vast swathes of information pouring in, around and within their worlds, they can regain their corporate mojo.
And that's just the first step. Once brands have made the leap and turned their brands into instruments of intelligence they can start to respond. And there are a million ways in which that can be done. Create customer super-panels. Offer to underwrite the operational costs of valuable communities. Give free samples to people-networks in new markets. Create a blog and hand it over to fired up customers. Take up the concerns and causes that your customers care about. Tie together the RSS rivers that flow with relevant opinion and read the runes. Blow the marketing budget on a co-created product line and put the proceeds into supporting grassroots campaigns. The chances to be creative are infinitely more diverse than wheeling out the brand circus one more time.
Marketeers everywhere need to pack up their Big Tops. The clowns are tired and they want to put away their car horns. It's time for some intelligent instruments to take their place.