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Give Your Brand Away

"What we keep we lose, only what we give remains our own."

Amid a bright, sunny graduation earlier this month, I heard the St. Catherine's school motto being recited by the head of school. I was sitting with my family as my youngest daughter Temple sat with the class of 2016 ready to receive her diploma.

The quote made me think about..... branding.

Yes, I know - my mind should have been all on Temple's thirteen years at the school, her accomplishments and her many terrific classmates and teachers.

But alas, my feeble mind goes right to.... branding.

It IS an intriguing quote.

This paradoxical concept, which is sage advice for Temple and her classmates, is insightful guidance for building successful brands today.

Especially in today's world, to be really successful, organizations must seek to 'give' much of their brand control over to their customers. That is today's holy brand grail.

Those companies and organizations that are still in the old 'control mode' where they carefully craft and 'manage' their brand from inside their top level management's walls are the ones that are going to find brand frustration and have minimal success.

Today, the key is for customers and your employees to make YOUR brand -THEIR brand.

Easily said - tough to do - but it is a critical concept.

Look no further than what is happening in today's beer world. The undisputed category king pin 'controllers' - your Budweisers, your Millers, etc - are getting their shirts handed to them by the little upstarts - the brand 'giver-awayers'. We can all name many of these local, very customer-entrenched and successful craft beers. (You might just find several of Virginia's finest in my refrigerator right now?)

'Controllers' go back to their age-old ways of still trying to strictly 'manage' their brand via traditional advertising tactics such as expensive slogans, television spots with frequent animal inclusions, celebrity endorsements, sports stadium signage, etc. etc.

Not working. Not connecting. Not selling more beer.

It's a new world.

Craft beers, on the other hand, are letting their customers and their employees 'into their brand' more and providing authentic invitations for customers to 'take over' and actually participate in brand creation.

They 'get' this new world.

How are craft beers doing this? Here are several smart things that you see craft beer manufacturers doing....

* Being involved in the local fabric of their customers' communities. You see them all over local festivals, minor league ballparks, and amid local restaurant food trucks outings.

* Creating authentic and engaging experiences at their breweries (Check out the photo above of our guide/brewmaster at the Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta taken when our creative director Geoff and I recently toured). The backroads of Virginia (and many other states) are filled during happy hours and weekends with customers celebrating various craft beers with the brewers and owners.

* Developing real stories about the people behind the brew and inviting customers to not only join in the story but to also create their own. Big River's great craft beer client - Center of the Universe - is a wonderful example. One of the Center of the Universe founders is a former major league baseball pitcher that - once he hung up their MLB cleats - decided to start a brewery. How cool is that? Great story potential there, wouldn't you say? It is well noted that the COTU boys still stir their brewery concoction with a genuine Louisville slugger bat to get the flavor just right.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, by keeping to their old 'controlling' branding ways.

But not all the big beer boys fall into the same boat.

Pabst Blue Ribbon - a classic old-time beer - caught onto this 'give your brand to your customer' concept early on in the 2000s and became one of the country's fastest growing domestic beers.

Important to understand, Pabst, and other smart marketers today, are strategically able to "give up" their brand because they are so in tuned with what their customers desire in their brand, what their customers' lifestyles are really all about, what are their customers frustrated with and how their customers would build the brand "if it was theirs". Those are the strategic insights that pave the way for their brand to be able to be 'taken over' by their customers.

And take their business to the moon.

(To read more about the Pabst story and other brands that have thrived with this strategy - check out the book Brand Hijack: Marketing without Marketing by Alex Wipperfurth.)

So, three things that you must do to make your brand more successful today:

1. Go outside your top level management's offices for real brand insight. Intently listen to your customers on where your brand should go. Try and diminish the old 'disease' of internal/marketing department/CEO brand control. Remember, your customer has the answer.

2. Next, go to your front line employees. After you gather your new customers insights from step 1 - do not take them to management (the 'control board'), Take these insight nuggets to your 'in the trenches' employees. See what they think, add their ideas. They - the long time receptionist, the customer service rep, the loading dock supervisor - are a lot of times more in-tuned to your real brand. Listen to them and totally involve them in the brand.

3. Creatively find innovative 'out of the box' ways to ignite your customers and your employees to take over your brand. This will not be ads or internal break room posters. It should be some kind of involving experience that fits nicely in their lives. This is what the New York Times refers to as effective "no marketing, marketing."

If you truly have an authentic brand - follow these steps and restrain at all costs your "brand control" tendencies.

Then sit back and enjoy your success - perhaps over a nice cool, local craft beer?

If other readers have examples of 'people believe people' branding - send it our way. We love these tales where the 'magic' is working - in all kinds of places and all kinds of businesses.


To find out more about Fred and ask about speaking engagements, get in touch today.

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