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Dear brand, let’s go steady!

It’s clear-cut that brand strategy and management have to adapt to a changing and increasingly networked world. The shift from transactional and broadcasting to interactional approaches is quite overdue. The industry starts to realize that compelling brand experiences will be created by designing interactions, not artifacts. It’s about the process, not the visual manifestation of an identity. It’s about dealing with the unforeseen, the natural, the human, and not about replicating the same thing again and again. Do we like people that look and talk the same everyday? That pretend to listen and care, but do not act that way? Of course not. Real interaction, human interaction is king!

Stumbling upon articles that express the same point of view is always quite enchanting. It’s like finding some fellows that share your opinion, that make you feel less „isolated“. They even nourish your optimism that the industry might move and convert to the „light side of the Force“. Reading the JP LaFors (gyro) article „Four Ways Brands Can Build Better Relationships“ on Forbes.com made me feel this way. It kept me nodding reading the four main statements (it is rather a wish list, isn’t it?). „…

  1. Relationships have moved beyond product transactions to human interactions. […]
  2. Relationships between people and brands have moved beyond service transactions to personal interactions. […]
  3. Relationships between people and brands have moved beyond marketing-led transactions to user-led demand. […]
  4. Relationships between people and brands have moved beyond a structured research process to organic delivery. […]“

The relationship metaphor is not that new to brand management (i.e. S. Fournier/J. L. Yao, 1997), but took some time to develop from an avant garde artist to a mainstream pop star. Talking about brand relationships, the promise to create „meaningful brand relationships“ is quite hip. And yes, I believe there is something to it. But … I tend to have some problems with the term brand relationship as a quasi-objective for today’s brand management. Why’s that?

ONE: The term relationship describes just a status between two things, between to people, between a consumer and brand. It’s a very neutral and insignificant term. When we don’t understand what kind of relationship we have to create, what kind of meaning we would like to produce, we gained absolutely nothing. It’s quite beneficial to read the thoughts and findings of Susan Fournier, or to dive into archetypes to discuss and define what type of relationship might be desirable, feasible and sustainable. But … relationships consist of at least two objects/subjects. There are two sides that define the relationship. And as brand management is no longer about pushing through a desired image via measures of one-way communication, the relationship a human has with a brand is more about what the human being accepts and less what the brand management desires. And talking about the conception of brand management regarding today’s consumers leads to my point …

TWO: JP LaFors states in his Forbes.com article „… consumers today, people today, are thirsty for brands to provide something more than just a product or service. They want relationships, especially amid our technologically immersed lives, where human interactions seem to be decreasing and digital interactions are increasing.“ Do you buy this? Do we, the human beings, really want a relationship with a brand? I think we just have them. We don’t look for them. As said before, relationship is just an insignificant label. What we want is what lies beneath this label — in brand relationships and in human relationships. Do we really seek a „relationship“ with a woman/man? I believe, we’re looking for sex, for joy, for security, for mutual understanding, for whatever. The relationship builds upon one or a mix of these motives. And as this is true for human relationships, it is true for consumer brand relationships, too. I believe, we still want the product or service, maybe the experience, even a seamless and trouble-free experience, but not the relationship as such.

Relationship is just the expression for „there’s a connection between two things“. It is a valid term, but it lacks significance. As brand strategists we have to be aware of this. We have to define what type of relationship is desirable, feasible and sustainable. We have to identify the elements, behaviors and patterns it takes to initiate and cultivate a relationship. Put differently: brand (relationship) strategy and management is about the design and facilitation of interactions.

PS: This is post number one, the opening, the first real „Hello World“ … Quite sure, I’ll get more literate in blogging and framing my thoughts. Nevertheless, it is the idea that the thoughts and ideas expressed in this blog will be „rough“ and „immature“. Still interested? Stay tuned for more to come. Thanks.

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