Your Brand is How You Interact

One of the key parts of innovation is getting our idea to spread. One of the disadvantages that new organizations have when they innovate is that they do not have any name recognition – in this situation people often think that if only they had a strong brand to support them, then it would be easier to get their ideas launched.

The advantage that brands have is that they can serve as a proxy for quality – brand reputation can reduce transaction costs because when we are dealing with a known brand, we know what to expect. We don’t have to research every interaction with a known brand before we go into it. The key word in that last sentence though is interaction – brands are built on accumulated interactions with people.

In other words, brands are not what we say we are – brands are how we interact.

Check out this talk by Mark Earls, author of Herd, which is required reading:

The big takeaway for me in that talk is his first recommendation – Do something.

I started thinking about this recently when we were talking about the impact of the Old Spice Guy commercials. There are two key parts to that story. The television commercials launched in early February, but yearly sales to the end of June showed a decline of 7%. So despite the fact that the commercial was a huge success (watched millions of times on youtube, etc.), it wasn’t actually getting people to buy Old Spice. Then they had the second wave of promotion, using a social media strategy to promote the 200+ clips that they made over three days via twitter, and interactions with people both well-connected and not. This resulted in a huge increase in sales for July.

Several people suggested that the failure of the commercials to have an impact on sales was ok, because the success of the spots built profile. Or maybe even started to change the attitudes people had towards Old Spice.

I think that both of these points are correct, but in my marketing days I was pretty pragmatic – if the things we did weren’t having an impact on peoples’ actions, I didn’t see much value in just building awareness or profile.

This gets to my key point. I think that the television ads weren’t successful because they were essentially Old Spice telling people that the brand was different. The difference with the social media campaign is that this was Old Spice acting differently. Interacting differently, actually.

To me, a brand is not what you say you are. I think that a brand is the accumulation of interactions between you and your customers. You gain your reputation through what you do – and if you act consistently over a long period of time those actions constitute your brand.

The tricky part with this is that brand perception can be incredibly difficult to change. It takes more than 17 million views on youtube to change perceptions of Old Spice. This isn’t always bad. For people that have been buying Toyotas for years because they have been well-built and reliable, the recent publicity over the sudden acceleration problem (or rather, the sudden acceleration driver error problem) won’t necessarily outweigh the years of accumulated good experiences with the brand.

The good news for innovators in all of this is that you can start building your brand right now through what you do. If your idea is good, and it provides value for people you can start building the right associations through these interactions. The best idea doesn’t always win, because often you have to break old, strong associations before you get a chance to build your own – and this can be hard.

The main point to remember when you are trying to spread your great new ideas is that the brand that gets build around them is not based on what you say about the ideas – it is based on how the ideas interact with people.

Your brand is how you interact.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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