Although it’s not exactly as William Golding had originally written in Lord of the Flies, we are all holders of a modern day conch – using it to wield as much power as we possibly can. Every day we spring out of bed and enter into society armed with our mobiles, iPads, laptops and cameras. A metaphorical extension of ourselves, our smart devices give us a kind of power similar to that felt by Ralph, Jack and Piggy on the deserted tropical island.

Instead of just consumers, we’ve now become creators and curators of content, challenging the traditional relationship with brands that has existed one-way up until now. Instead of just one conch, brands now have multiple conches, sounding off simultaneously via multiple social platforms, as well as those from consumers. This impacts the noise to signal ratio. Naturally, this new dynamic shifts power and challenges the traditional brand relationship with consumers.

With all of these conches now in the picture, the question then becomes – who really has the power over a brand’s communications – the brand or the consumer and does it really matter?

Wag the dog

As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book The Tipping Point, consumers can play a pivotal role in a brand’s rejuvenation and in creating viral movements. They can keep brands honest and create momentum for campaigns and competitions. But as with cases like Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, is it the dog wagging the tail or the other way around? I think, brands should take the consumer’s power into consideration and tailor it accordingly.

In a way, it’s a bit like giving a classroom full of students a single story starter and letting each pupil generate their own narrative. A colouring book with a new box of crayons and no rules about staying within the lines – the framework is there, but the outcome is unpredictable.

A happy marriage

The basis for my opinion stems from the notion that direct interaction with a brand (and the opportunity to help shape its culture), authentically integrates that brand into a consumer’s lifestyle. In an era where marketing and advertising are ubiquitous consumers are tired of being marketed to – they want to be a part of the process, not just the end result.

They want to help create content and ‘own’ a piece of a brand that lends itself to their constant strive for self-actualisation. In a consumer becoming a creator and / or curator of content, the brand becomes integrated into a consumer’s life either as a memorable experience or as part of a re-occurring ritual – not just a product or purchase. It’s at that point that a consumer is most likely to become brand loyal increasing their value to the brand significantly. By allowing consumers to post, tweet and publically engage with a brand, they become increasingly invested in it and as a result the brand becomes a stronger part of popular culture.

However, that being said I do still believe in having a long-term strategy and vision as well as adhering to a brand’s guidelines and heritage. One way to ensure a healthy balance of the two is to create a comprehensive CRM strategy based on a brand’s consumer preferences and behaviours – facilitating interaction at each stage of a consumer journey. Not only does this allow brands to evolve organically, but in many cases it allows them to reach audiences that they didn’t know possible. As with any happy marriage, it’s a give and take and an exercise in listening and responding in kind.

Beautiful harmony

Whilst technology and social media have forever changed the dynamic between consumers and brands, it’s how a brand responds to this change that will make or break its success in the marketplace. Instead of trying to quiet the army of conches, or being the loudest conch in the room, brands should look to skillfully conduct them all to create a beautiful harmony and a solid relationship that will keep a brand current and relevant throughout the years.

So… what does your b(r)and sound like?

Jamie BarnettJamie Barnett, Planner 

Working with Underwired’s Planning Director Ivan Fernandes, Jamie helps develop digitally integrated strategies and CRM programmes to address its clients’ challenges and goals. Jamie started her career client-side at Williams-Sonoma in San Francisco before moving to the UK in 2011, where she jumped the fence to go agency-side working for brands such as Heineken UK, Iceland Foods and LoveFilm. Jamie has an MBA in Marketing and Brand Strategy and a degree in Graphic Design, Psychology and Communications.

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