Brand = People = Medium = Message

I’m involved in an interesting informal “Brand 2.0 Master Class” over at Innovation Playground. The question we’re all wrestling with is what “Brand” is now with the numerous changes in the consumer culture. For those of you who have not encountered formalized definitions of “brand”, here is a pretty good sample from the Wikipedia entry:

“A brand often includes a logo, fonts, color schemes, symbols, and sound, which may be developed to represent implicit values, ideas, and even personality.”

Though this may initially seem a bit of a stretch, i think there is something here which is of direct applicability to this class, and on which i would love to get your opinions: I think that, where the values, ideas and personality of a brand were previously dictated, proliferated and steered by the producer of a product or service through mass media advertising, they are now in large part dictated, proliferated and steered by customers (in aggregate, one might call them a “culture”), who might be considered a new medium for brand, since it is their newly-augmented mass communications and collaborations that both spread and shape (though i tend to think that the latter outpaces the former) the meaning of a product or service. If these connected people are acting as a medium in this way, then according to McLuhan, they are also the message.

Logical Inference 1: in the age of mass participation (especially digitally facilitated), a product’s “Brand” is in large part its customer community, and not so much the celebrities that endorse it or its clever messaging or its color scheme.

Logical Inference 2 (based on inference 1): I am the T-Mobile brand now, D-Wade! You can take your slam-dunking, high-flying show somewhere else, while i shoot my diaper-shot freethrows.me_dwade.gif

And now to shamelessly quote myself:

“..So, i’m predicting that a major part of the new concept of brand is the community itself, which both explicitly (by promoting the brand through word of mouth) and implicitly (by acting as a sort of ‘brand pagerank’ that give the brand authority just by virtue of their involvement with it) constitute a major part of the brand.” Christian Briggs, 2007 – comment on blog post “What Are the Major Challenges For Brand Today?

Inference 3 (and this is where it gets important for this class): It is the “Interaction Culture” which has created this shift – that has empowered people as a medium. Those who study this culture will become fluent in the language of the medium, and perhaps will even be the linguists who help to shape the nature of the medium itself by providing a space of possible ways the medium in turn shapes the Interaction Culture.


  1. thismarty

    Wow, great point, Christian. Iit does seem that the various wiki/prosumer/community that attend a given company or its products should extend to its brand. While branding is generally strategic and deliberately designed for effect by an enterprise, why couldn’t they want to foster and even direct the face of their community? Now that I think about it, I’m sure most of you have seen instances where the suits at some company will set up a blog or forum for their products that tries to look like a genuine fan-site, while it is in fact a mere shil. The weasels. Clearly there is brand value in this stuff, so why wouldn’t companies want to capitalize on and control it. The question is, should we let them. 😉

  2. houssian

    @Marty Control it? Can one corporation, even one as close to the vest as apple control it’s community/cult? Or the behemoth MS?
    There are certainly ways that companies can encourage this, design spaces, provide some content, or release some things via a CC license, but real control? I’m thinking though as designers we need to find ways to enable these kinds of things, and if the company wants control we may even be able to help them do that too. Or perhaps we will all figure out control is only an illusion?

    @Christian I love the fact that in our current web 2.0 we have personal branding, and I’m not just talking about Opera or Martha Stewart. For example with her assoicated blog Sarah even has her logo (from the one from her website) printed as a large decal on the back of her car.

  3. thismarty

    @houssian: bear in mind, I said “…why wouldn’t comapnies *want* to … control it”, not that they do. Or can. In fact, my example of the shil sites is getting at just that very point – that companies trying to “design” or “control” community the way that you generally have to design and control branding, usually step in it when they try.

    Also note my last statement, questioning whether we should “let them”. As much as I am intrigued by this notion of community being a part of branding, I wonder just how effective could ever be. So much of what is truly engaging and endearing about community is that it is so genuine and even organic. So while companies may have a tremendou motivation in this new approach to branding, I wonder just how successful it they could ever be.

  4. chmbrigg

    Novelists vs. Linguists – and old theme of mine, but apropos, i think. Current designers and marketers (technically they are part of the same process) tend to think of themselves like novelists i think – crafting the perfect story to evoke a response, based on knowledge of the “readers” and what they like, resonate with, etc. If community is the brand however, future designers and marketers won’t be the crafters of the novel, but instead will be the crafters of the language that _others_ use to create the message. Linguists are facilitators more than producers. They relinquish granular control for the sake of greater impact. To do this, though, they must understand, better than the novelist does, how their end users (speakers, writers, singers) will use the language _with each other_. They will, to a greater extent, i think, need to understand the _Interaction Culture_ into which they will release their language.

    The designer of a product and especially its “brand”, by focusing on giving customers/users the tools (like the linguist provides the language) to co-create the product and then the brand, like the linguist (over against the novelist) relinquishes granular control (if they ever actually had it), but gains more honest brand messaging and more transparent relationships with the end user or consumer.

  5. Tyler Pace

    Lets not forget about the propensity for interaction culture to backfire on a brand, especially in these early days where people are testing the interaction waters.

    As an example, think of all the muck that came out after the release of the wikiscanner ( Wikiscanner revealed a number of companies fighting in a virtual web 2.0 arena (wikipedia) for brand dominance and protection. In some cases, wikipedia has had to band companies for abusive editing practices. was banned last week with the help of wikiscanner.

  6. chmbrigg

    Perfect example, Tyler. Apparently the “old brand” folks at Overstock are still trying to use the command-and-control method of branding, which doesn’t work anymore. It they really had a good brand and understood our interaction culture, their customers would be creating the brand themselves through honest means.


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