branding

Ouch! I’ve been branded!

I just
returned from speaking at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association conference in 
Las Vegas.  My panel was on branding.  There I was, seated next to some giant Brands like Southwest Airlines and Doubletree Hotels (I have to say I did love hearing my shows and Southwest Airlines mentioned in the same sentence.  I made a joke that our advertising budget on My First Time is probably about the same amount as one business class airline ticket). 

The speaker from Doubletree told the story about the infamous PowerPoint presentation prepared by two very unhappy Doubletree customers that appeared on the internet in 2001.  I call it the “Complaint Heard ‘Round the World” and for me it represents the beginning of the new era of customer/user reviews and the use of the internet as a word of mouth weapon for your consumers.The Doubletree representative said that this complaint was meant to “inflict pain” on Doubletree.

And that’s when I realized something about branding. In the media world, I think we’ve forgotten where the term “branding” comes from.  It comes from cattle.  When ranchers don’t want to lose their cattle, they take a red hot iron and burn their “tag” into their skin.

In the cave man days of advertising, this is exactly what the big companies did.  They spent millions on major advertising buys (TV, print, etc.) and since there was no competition, these big buys were the equivalent of a red hot iron used on the consumer.  The consumer had no choice, especially when faced with an iron the size of Proctor and Gamble’s, etc. And without even knowing it, all of a sudden they had a P&G brand on their butt. But times have changed. There are more choices now.  And customers have their own branding irons:  blogs, user reviews, creative PowerPoint presentations, etc.  And they’re a bit PO’ed.  Wouldn’t you be?

So what do you do as someone with customers who are ready to brand back?

Be prepared to take it. 

The best companies recognize that power is shifting.  They recognize that in this consumer driven market, their ass is sticking up in the air waiting for a customer to burn their “tag” into them. And online, those tags are permanent.  They never go away.

And when you’re that exposed, the only way to really CYA (cover your ass) is by being responsible to your customers. The great thing is, not only will you win with your customers and make them even more loyal, but they’ll probably go out and burn the butt of one of your competitors.