If you are someone who is either directly or indirectly a custodian of a brand, it's time for you to stop living in an illusion. You are not the custodian of your brand anymore. At best you are a curator now.
Today, brand custodians are the connected users who exist across digital platforms. They are multifaceted. They are the publishers, circulators, ambassadors, instigators and at the same time they are the custodians as well. Their digitally connected existence has power, credibility, influence, depth, and reach. Their digital messaging has the velocity, acceleration, and momentum required to impact brands. Yet brands and their default custodians continue to live blissfully in an illusion about the control they exercise over their brand.
Brand is an enabler in the current age. It is the participants, the brand conversations and the platforms that amplify the brand and drive the brand philosophy. Businesses need to, therefore, understand the consumers and the evolving digital sphere better and continue to build brands within the digitally connected ecosystem by focusing on the following 3 elements-
The digital age has democratized individuals. They are no longer passive consumers, but active and creative participants. They expect and believe in the co-creation of an experience, thereby evolving from consumers to users. They are becoming the most credible and reliable source of the true picture of a brand. An article published as part of the curriculum for Future of Branding at Futurelearn lists down Ten Types of Consommateurs.
The recent game changer report by Wolffolins and Flamingo further outlines the behavioral change that we are witnessing in consumers. They are beginning to seek a relationship of fair exchange between themselves and the businesses where each contributes and everyone gains. Individuals are seeking a multidimensional relationship that provides them with more than just the brand product/service.
The fair exchange relationship is also offering new opportunities to the business to build more human connections. Businesses will have to become receptive to this new age definition of relationship that consumers seek. They may do well to go a step ahead and create an environment that is receptive to this fair relationship.
With consumers evolving into users and participating in co-creation, it is important for brands to offer them channels and platforms that allow them to participate in this process. Users are seeking channels that offer them more than just digital promotional activities; they want channels that allow them the freedom to be publishers of content, information and data, that give them control over what content they produce and consume, that allow them to co-create brand experience.
The channels also need to be device agnostic. Users are adapting to the usage of different devices throughout the day to execute tasks at hand. They might use a smartphone or tablet to complete functional tasks etc. while on the move, but they use a PC for heavy content creation and research. According to a google research, 90 percent of people move between devices to accomplish a task, with virtually all of them completing their task in one day. The most popular starting point is the smartphone. In most cases, the tasks are continued on a PC though tablets are also becoming a popular option for continuing social networking and watching videos.
Businesses and brands need to accept that it is the consumer who has become a more credible publisher by virtue of their access to a device which is always on and active. Creating an environment of device agnostic platforms and channels that allow co-creation of content between brands and consumers will address this shift.
It is about creating a window with enhanced attention to influence behaviour and motivations (inspired by this TED video of Tom Chatfield)
With every business eyeing the opportunity to engage users, it is critical to focus on engagement by increasing brand salience and influencing buyer behaviour and choice. Brands should be able to map a customer's journey to understand where they can add value and create an opportunity to engage them. Brands need to understand that engagement is not about pushing product messages, it is about capturing the imagination and the attention of the user. It is about designing a naturally engaging experience.
Businesses need to understand that digital environment is not about technology but about attention, where the consumer is at the core, armed with powers like never before. Businesses and brands should, therefore, focus on connecting the dots and realize that now, in the digital age, it is all about co-owning a brand.