Control or release?
Recently, someone asked me:
‘To build a successful brand, is it better to control every aspect of the brand, or to encourage people to adopt it and adapt it?’
This is - on the surface - a pretty straightforward question, but I think the answer is much less so.
For starters, we need to work out exactly what those phrases mean.
For arguments sake, let’s agree that ‘controlling every aspect of the brand’ is about quality control and keeping standards high.
Let’s also agree that the ‘adopt and adapt’ approach is all about flexibility, adapting and reacting.
Firstly, ‘adopt and adapt’ feels creative and exciting. It’s about putting a brand into the hands of others. This could lead to improvements in both the economic and social value of a brand. So that’s a real positive. Or it could go tragically wrong. Which isn’t a real positive.
We all know one size doesn’t fit all. There is no single answer and maybe there should be a difference in how we look after product brands compared to service brands. Allow me to explain…
When getting a new product brand off the ground - let’s pretend we’re launching Coke – consistency trumps flexibility. We would want our customers to enjoy the same type of experience, consistently, wherever and however they use the product (Coke = refreshment). The more consistent this experience is, the stronger that brand becomes in the mind.
On the other hand, a service brand – let’s pretend we’re launching FedEx – adaptability and flexibility trump consistency. At the very least we would expect a reliable service, but that personal touch and going ‘above and beyond’ to meet customer’s needs separate the great from the good in this area.
This question also highlights the changing role of brand managers and brand consultancies – moving away from visual identity systems and ‘brand police’ to a job that is all about establishing, enthusing and communicating the brand’s values at every available opportunity. I think most of the brand mangers I’ve come across at NB would support this observation.
Apple, for want of a better example, offer a range of products and services that are of a consistent quality. From Chicago to Singapore, there is a consistency and coherence to the brand’s visual identity, packaging, materials, advertising, service and so on.
However, one could argue (and I am) that without a certain Mr Job’s drive to develop, innovate and adapt - and forcing that spirit of innovation into his employees - Apple would not have invented those products in the first place, or be the brand it is now.
Without wanting to lower the tone, the answer to the question is a bit like farting in a crowded room; you need to hold tight and let go.