The End of Command and Control Branding

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.

One of the first instances of this to hit the marketplace was Ogivly & Mather’s Dove “The Campaign for Real Beauty” (ok yes it is B2C but sometimes we marketers can take inspiration from our B2C brethren) Which won the 2006 Grand EFFIE Award and for good reason, They did a great job finding a powerful attribute of their brand and made a very inviting campaign around it that engaged their key audiences into a conversation. Evidence this by the nearly 3000 blog entries about it on Tecnhorati, the 2,000,000 viewers of their video on YouTube and you will see that they got the blogosphere humming about an ad campaign. Now I am not professing you drop everything and just do some clever video with your ad campaign, I do applaud the use of video to make their campaign more viral. What can we learn from this as technology marketers? Take a look at my next example.

Now compare this to the “Greg the Architect” campaign from TIBCO. Here is a B2B example that took a very different approach to making their technology funny, and engaging. What they have done is told the TIBCO story through a series of episodic vignettes and allows the viral component to kick in. Viewers are bound to have an opinion on these videos and so is the blogosphere. Also they have given the audience something to react to for better or worse rather than say “we do SOA better than the next guy”. Also don’t forget about the reaction internally to these videos and how that helps give everyone in the organization a conversation starter for the next meeting.

So why is this good news for technology companies? Because for the first time ever, technology companies specifically in B2B can lead the way using technology tools to get their message out to the masses for very little money. Just one tactic like using a video on YouTube can reach 325,000 viewers and engage them with your brand but more importantly with a message that they have sought out. But how to you take something so tactical like a video and make it part of an overall approach to your brand?

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 for technology firms 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 traditional media only any more, 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!

10 comments to The End of Command and Control Branding

  • Justin Foster

    Excellent post! My take on this is that a company needs a single brand core – the one thing that defines why they exist. But the messages are really whatever the customer says. If done right, they will help communicate that core, but put their own personal take on your message; usually in the form of a story of how much they love you. And that is how branding should be!

  • Pat McClellan

    Hey Paul, another great post. “The Cluetrain Manifesto” was considered absolutely radical 8 years ago when they started talking like this! We see most of our clients grasping the notion that they don’t really own their brand anymore — their consumers (or in the tech space, their ecosystem members) do. The brand promise is now a dialog.

    At Jack Morton, we are taking that perspective a step further: it’s not just about what is said, it’s about brand behavior — the fulfillment of the brand promise. It’s that behavior that generates advocacy.

    Pat McClellan
    SVP Global Tech Practice Leader
    Jack Morton Worldwide

  • Travis Turner

    It is key that you reach your target market. In order to do this you need to know what type of people you are marketing to and what your expectations are. Then like you mentioned you need to be visible where that target market is located. By narrowing your broad range of prospects you can reach those perspective customers that are most likely to be interested in what you have to offer.

  • Troy Bingham - lead nurturing

    “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.”

    this really is the key

  • Tracey

    Great post. It’s interesting that you used the Dove campaign as an example; there was also a lot of backlash against that campagin amongst bloggers & commenters because Dove is owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe body spray. And of course, the Axe body spray ads are pretty negative towards women. So I think the lesson here is that consumers hold companies accountable now more than ever. If your brand promise is not authentic, it will be pounced upon!

  • Mike Smock

    Hi Paul,

    I assume you have a list of companies who have increased market share, revenues or profit by ending command and control branding?

  • Paul Dunay

    Mike – thank you for the post and your blog post on the same topic

    no I dont have a list of companies that have increased market share, revenues or profits by going the no command and control route

    I noted on your blog that you dont agree with my post which is fine however I do think we are thinking along the same lines

    when I say command and control I am saying “of the message around your brand” – you have to create a message that is inviting to your audience and engages them in a dialog

    I cant imagine a CMO going to the market with a one way message like “we do collaboration” or “we do innovation right” or even “just do it”

    its a one way message that doesn’t invite dialog – however on the backend of that I would agree with you that you need a command and control ARCHITECTURE to be able to respond to message and perhaps even negative comments

    I hope that helps clarify

  • Gil

    I love this approach! Thanks for explaining it so clearly. And, whatever the medium, 10 seconds may do it – a high impact, bam! and it’s over. just enough for the branded message to stick. Think “wanna get away?”

  • Curtis N. Bingham

    Excellent post, Paul. You’re absolutely correct in that the marketing messages can no longer be completely scripted.

    I’ve long recommended that marketers need to develop their “single theme” after spending some time with customers to determine their key purchase drivers–the most critical criteria in their purchase of your product and service and then create “message maps” containing for each market segment the prospect’s core need and the message that describes how your product/service uniquely addresses that core need.

  • Michael

    Completely agree. From an agency’s vantage point, a single brand message is so important and yet so hard to achieve on the client end. Brand managers are under the gun to rationalize why something is better and to hammer attributes.

    Another point: With increased Wall Street pressures, it’s hard for publicly traded clients not to have a “play NOT to lose” mentality rather than play to win. There are seemingly a growing number of fingerprints involved with brand decisions, causing ttrue accountability to be tough to achieve. The less voices, the more likely there is for unified messaging.

    Bravo, Paul.

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