Command & Control Branding: Not Dead Yet?

For years, classic brand strategy has always been about the creation of a single message that can be used with all of your constituents; investors, employees, senior management and customers about who you are and what value your company provides. Brand managers tend to write it up and paste it on every wall and train every new recruit in it. It’s a classic approach to command and control brand messaging which then gets deployed via all the traditional media and used in every communications channel.

But these days you hear a lot of discussions about the explosion of new media types and formats like RSS feeds, blogs, podcasts, video, communities, micro-blogging and other emerging forms of social media. And it is causing plenty of concern that this disruption of media is eroding the traditional command and control branding that has become such common place for marketers.

Well, I say hallelujah and good riddance!

I believe that there is a very compelling argument that media doesn’t have to be fragmented while at the same time the message need not be command and control anymore. It is only a matter of knowing how to orchestrate it.

This is why a recent BusinessWeek article on Ford surprised me so much. Ford hired a very talented marketer away from Toyota named James Farley (FYI – cousin of the late Chris Farley). Farley has been doing a masterful job on several levels: he has built/is building a dream team of marketers, making product managers be wholly accountable for individual product launches (like the new Flex) and then building the kind of consensus around a new brand message that some of us can only dream of, bringing in key dealership owners to help with the final message selection. But in the end he came away with a new brand message of — Ford: Drive One.

Nice but … It’s a one way message, like Nike: Just do it. There is no conversation in there. How can I have a conversation with a brand that is ordering me to drive one of their vehicles?

In agonizing about our new brand message – New Thinking for a Changing World. I knew I could build content and harness the power of the organization around it. I never would have felt comfortable going to the market with a message like BearingPoint: Just do it!

So here is the secret.

First, the brand manager needs to architect a single theme that can be used across all media traditional or otherwise. Notice here I didn’t say command and control at all – just to create a theme that is broad enough to use across every aspect of your media plan and “invite” customers and prospects to “engage” with it.

Next, you need to give your customers and prospects the digital tools to comment, to interact, and to add to the conversation. Then you add in more traditional elements of a media plan that all point to the online conversation and you will end up supercharging your media plan!

The bottom line is your customers and prospects are perhaps the most savvy engaged technology users of any buyer in any industry. You can’t expect to reach them with just traditional media only anymore, you need to deliver your message in a way that is targeted to their exact interests. So why not get out there where they talking about your product or service, and give them a conversation starter along with the permission to start a dialog with your brand!

9 comments to Command & Control Branding: Not Dead Yet?

  • Mike Ashworth

    Sounds like another big company who just don’t get it.

    Still stuck with a model of many differnet functions, sales, marketing, operations, IT, customer service, without a single thing called “conversation” that should span all of them. brand message isnt the same thing either.

    I bet the guys and girls who carry out the servicing of ford cars at official ford garages and dealerships don’t know much about this stuff.

    A friend of mine had a recent issue with Audi and this reminded me that every customer touchpoint is a chance to create customer delight, or in most instances not.

    A great brand, message, etc will all prove to be for nothing if the people who interact most with the people who own a ford car or aspire too aren’t given the correct tools to do the job.

    Mike Ashworth
    Marketing Coaching and Consultancy
    Brighton and hove, Sussex, UK

  • Paul Dunay

    I agree Mike

    and I think the focus group they used (actual dealership owners) may not know Social Media as well as the marketing team

    so you end up getting a watered down, high level message

  • Eamon


    Just to inform you that Buzz Marketing & Technology has been included in Spotlight Ideas' Top 100 Advertising, Marketing, Media & PR Blogs.

  • Paul Dunay


    thanks for sharing the link with me Eamon

    I would be happy to post a badge on my site if you send me one at phdunay at yahoo dot com

  • Michael Stelzner


    Congrats on your Junta42 2nd place win!


  • Paul Dunay

    Thanks Mike for pointing that out

    I wasnt aware I made #2!

  • Adam Gershenbaum

    "Still stuck with a model of many differnet functions, sales, marketing, operations, IT, customer service, without a single thing called "conversation" that should span all of them. brand message isnt the same thing either."

    There are so many companies today that still are 'stuck' with this model, not seeing the value in conversation.

    I think the Geico caveman is a great example of a brand that is doing it right:

    People like the caveman, they like the Geico brand.

    Another good example of a company doing it right is Starbucks with or M&M's with

  • Paul Dunay

    Good point Adam – in fact I have even heard of a new title – Chief Conversation Officer!

  • Brand Strategy

    “Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that's what makes it so boring.”

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