Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

The Great Brand Dilution

For decades brands basked in the glory of control, control over consumers’ perceptions, impressions and ultimately decisions and ensuing experiences. Or better said, business leaders enjoyed a semblance of control. While businesses concentrated resources on distancing the connections between customers, influencers and representatives, a new democracy was materializing. This movement would inevitably render these faceless actions not only defunct, but also perilous.

Fueled by the socialization of media, content and connections served as the foundation for this new democracy and “we the people” ensured that our voices were heard. Social Media would forever change the balance of power within markets, placing the fate and stature of brands in the words and actions of consumers and the people and groups that influence their decisions. Brands didn’t just “lose” control of defining impressions, businesses lost the ability to govern shared experiences.

Suddenly people enjoyed the freedom to publish their thoughts and the capacity to earn prominence in these fledgling social ecosystems. No longer was it an era of brands saying what they wished us to think; it was now clear that people were in control of their impressions and more importantly, how, where and when they shared them.

It’s no longer about what we say, it’s what they say about us now that counts.

Sometimes truth and reality awaken us to a new reality. And in this case, everything changes…for the better.

Contrary to popular belief, social media didn’t invent conversations, it just allowed us to organize and surface them.  But, when we look at the importance of branding, the mechanics and methodologies for defining, protecting, and growing the brand profoundly change. As such, the value of brands are at risk of dilution based on the aggregate of shared experiences by the new social consumer. And, perhaps the greatest challenge that faces brands in addition to dilution, is the inability to right its course in real-time. As media democratized, the meter for establishing prominence started to accrue varying levels of influence for its participants while many businesses missed their calling. It’s not too late for brands to engage however, the difference is that everyday people have earned greater reach than some businesses within these social channels.

The Evolution of Brand Marketing

The medium is no longer just the message. In social, the medium is the platform and as such, people now represent both the medium and the message where reach is defined by a blending of the social graph, the context of the story and ensuing connections, and also by the state of the attention aperture of those to whom we’re connected.

Simply stated, social media is changing brand marketing and forcing a (r)evolution that will unfold differently within each organization.

MiresBall and KRC Research recently conducted a study that found 4 out of ten brand marketers believe that social creates challenges to maintaining brand integrity. In addition, more than a third believed that social networking affected brands to the point where marketing strategies would require new thinking. This new direction however, is rife with new challenges as well as opportunities.

Belief that Social Media Creates New Challenges for Protecting Brand Integrity, 2010

Belief that Social Media Provides an Opportunity to Reach New Customers

Brand marketers realize the importance of social media, but they’re unclear as to how it can specifically help with engendering loyalty. 35% believed social lends to loyalty, but 30% disagreed and another 35% were neutral on the subject. While marketers were split on loyalty, over one-half agreed that social media serves as bridges to reaching customers and prospects.

Update the Brand Style Guide

The study also revealed a growing concern among brand marketers on how they engaged with consumers today. The consensus was that in order to successfully connect with consumers in such a way that reinforces brand attributes, representatives require training, messages, and empowerment.

When it comes to brand dilution, consumers aren’t alone in their endeavors. Brand representatives and the lack of a prevailing strategy, mission, or purpose in social media causes the breakdown of branding and messages directly from the source. At the moment, a disconnect exists between the brand, its representatives, and consumers in social media. This disconnect starts with understanding the brand’s voice, presence, and personality and what it is it needs to say to the varying roles of the social consumer.

I refer to this series of fragmented touchpoints as The Last Mile. And in order to establish connections with individuals in their domains where they are in control of their experiences, it takes empathy combined with value, reinforced by branding elements that strengthen the story, the engagement, and the resulting activity. Without first defining the brand in these prominent social networks, how can we expect it to thrive and flourish let alone inspire consumers?

To prevent the dilution of our brands in social media, everything must begin with revisiting and revising the brand style guide. This style guide must be embodied by brand representatives where engagement is clearly led not by the “brand you,” but instead the brand “you represent.”

In an era where brands are both created and co-created, defining our brand, its meaning, and its value and humanizing it, will set the stage for collaboration and brand concentration.

Losing control in an era of socialized media and equalized influence, actually gives birth to an important form of empowerment. With a new found ability to listen to conversations tied to brands, products, and experiences and also analyze associated sentiment in real-time is stirring and enlightening. If ignorance is bliss, awareness is awakening. We now have the ability to understand impressions and perceptions and through engagement, we can contribute to their accuracy as well as define our brand relevance and legacy through every profile, conversation and social object we introduce.

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111 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Great Brand Dilution”

  1. Jim Shamlin says:

    Some good points, but I'm inclined to disagree with the premise that brand managers ever had control … brand exists, and has always existed, in the mind of the customer.

    I''d concede that, for the past fifty years or so, the producers of consumer goods have had the ability, through domination of the mass-media, to communicate to the masses what they wanted people to think of their brand – but the notion that their messages had instant credibility and were guaranteed to provoke a Pavlovian reaction on the audience. I don't think that was ever really true, though it would be comforting for advertisers to think so.

    The “new” social media, merely the application of a different medium to an existing practice of socialization, are eclipsing the mass-media approach to brand communication. But I don't sense that's something entirely new, just something that was pointedly ignored during the brief period of mass-media domination.

    • briansolis says:

      Jim, I think we're exactly on the same page. I will say that brands are now going to have to hear and feel what's transpiring in and around them in order to earn relevance moving forward. Action speaks louder than “likes” and “tweets.”

  2. tomob says:

    Nice post Brian. Conversations are not new. Word of mouth is the original marketing. The web (and all the social pipes) just makes time and space irrelevant. I can connect with my tribe across the globe without ever leaving my desk.

    This is the root of the problem. When information (and I don't mean “library style” information) is free, and people can access it we no longer rely on institutions (brands, governments, political parties) to tell us what is happening or why.

    This is disintermediation (The removal of an intermediary, or middleman, from a transaction or communication.) and it's effects can be seen in everything from Dell Hell to Obama 2008 to the Tea Party of 2010.

    And it isn't over yet.


  3. Kyle Lacy says:

    As always nice post. The major change or opportunity social media presents is the consumers voice. They are the force to be reckoned with and social media gives them an outlet to actually let it out! The brand is thus created and changed to fight the needs of the consumer.

  4. Chefchuck1 says:

    Thank you, Very Nice!!

  5. Christina Pappas says:

    Thanks for fueling a discussion Brian! I tend to think that brands have more control now. Yes, WOM is now amplified by the web. One person who has a bad experience and 'talks' about it online will be read far many more times than a positive experience. In fact, the person who had a bad experience may end up on the nightly news or even interviewed by a blogger. BUT – getting back to my original point is that brand marketers have immediate visibility of these comments. Before online social networks, we would talk to neighbors, family and friends about our experiences. This did not have the capability to spread, but marketers at the brand also did not know about it. Love this: “If ignorance is bliss, awareness is awakening”.

  6. Amy Sheridan says:

    It seems like this concern over “control” is perhaps a bit too much–in ways, turning a company's branding scheme into a forum can keep it evergreen in a way that a carefully calculated image cannot. I mean, looking at Twitter–their brand remains fluid. They've been careful not to position themselves as the center of the world–but Facebook, on the other hand, has an image that is starting to look dated–because they actually went to the trouble of defining it.

  7. YPICommunications says:

    Great article — thoughtful, insightful and logical. It is true, social media did not invent conversations — it has thurst conversations about consumers and their relationships to brands, which normally took place in small circles, right into the spotlight. What a wonderful thing…

  8. Julie says:

    “Brands didn’t just “lose” control of defining impressions, businesses lost the ability to govern shared experiences.”
    Great summation of this new paradigm–enjoyed the article! Worried about “tyranny of the majority” in the new democracy and also lessening of standards for written communications. Brave new world?

    • briansolis says:

      Wonderful comment…I believe that the fear around tyranny of the majority is expressed or felt. “

      If the majority rules, what is to stop it from expropriating the minority, or from tyrannizing it…”

      Without a counterpoint or leadership, it is free to take the shape of its own design. This is why leadership and influence are earned. If not us about our own products, services, benefits, and markets, then who?

  9. Browne Westoe says:

    yes, yes yes!

  10. Jude Browne says:

    Great comprehensive post, which highlights the importance of brand personality. If you think Face book & Twitter are the extent of your 'social media' then you've got a problem. Social media makes big companies fell small and small ones feel big. Finding authentic stories and feeling and telling them is what its all about…

  11. Great post; I just got the book myself and I'm excited to tackle the challenge!

  12. Paul Yokota says:

    The loss of “control” of a brand to the social media sphere definitley has some upsides. While you cannot control messaging exactly, having messages come from consumers and other third parties can lend your reputation a legitimacy that cannot be gained by simply talking about yourself.

  13. Vicki says:

    As someone with “brand management” in her background from 20 years ago, the new 'social' approach to customers throws most things we were taught back then out the window. I agree that the approach to potential customers is completely different then it used to be and will take some time to 'retrain' ourselves and grasp the new world order.

  14. Jmras says:

    It's interesting that more than half of marketers in the study believe social media presents an opportunity to reach new customers, but only 40% say it creates challenges. Makes me wonder if a not-insignificant number of marketers think they've already mastered this continually evolving social (business) world we're in. Ought to be fun to watch…

  15. G Facchini says:

    Brian, I sometimes wonder what it takes to understand these new times made of empowered customers. Maybe a huge shock in stocks after a bunch of customers complain about a brand poor performance is the key.

  16. This fundamental shift in marketing has rendered traditional marketers confused. It has spurred a new generation of mobile, instantly gratified searchers, and businesses must adapt. In other words, go where the consumers are migrating. Going from outbound to inbound marketing simply means to position your brand at the forefront of consumers' search experiences because they search and purchase on their own terms — when they're ready. Inundated by media, advertising and brand choices, consumers possess the power…but you can put your consumers to work for you with the growing importance of user-generated content.

  17. Kyle Lacy says:

    I think it's without a doubt creating challenges for marketers…honestly, how could it not? It's dealing with an entire new platform as well as giving marketers the ability (challenge) to reach every demographic on a personal level. Social media is an opportunity and challenge.

  18. i-PAT says:

    Power to the people finally!

    Brands now have to take account of those conversations which have always been happening but in numbers too small to make a difference. The boot really is on the other foot and is already being seen in action, just search on social media disasters for evidence.

  19. Amanda says:

    It's amazing that more than 25% of those polled don't think that social media provides an opportunity to reach new customers. These are probably the same people we had to convince a few years ago that PR would do just as much or more for their business as advertising.

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