As Marshall McLuhan coined in his groundbreaking work on the media industry, “The Medium is the Message.” This certainly applies to brands, as well. The brand is the medium. The 20th century medium of mass communications helped brands develop a certain structure. Just like the broadcast medium it used to connect with its consumers, brands have built their structures as top-down and one too many, thinking of brands as a person with certain personality and voice.
Today, brands exist in a different media landscape, social media, and need to change not only how they act but also how they are structured. Through social media people now have the power. Brands now have to be apart of a conversation, a community, and be defined by the bigger group. Brands need to reflect this new medium by building open structures and platforms to facilitate people creating culture together with brands.
CMO’s must find a way to innovate their brands and make them more open. An abundant and open world demands an open brand business model that uses open tools. Open systems are just the opposite of closed systems. They’re not only much more dynamic but also much more competitive. In an open system, competitive advantage is framed in the context of collaboration.
Historically, brands operated by command and control. Today it’s more about inspiration, collaboration, and curation. From these three principles, an increasingly fast-moving open system allows a brand to generate better and more brand innovation by participating in the cultural conversation and allowing other to appropriate their brand.
While it’s just the beginning, open brands have the ability to be in sync with people and culture. They can swim with the current of change instead of against it. By harnessing the power of community.
For the open brand to thrive there needs to be guiding principles that help spawn a million permutations of what a brand will be in the future. Here are a few to start with:
1. Flatten the organization structure – Technology replaces much of what middle management does. In a pre-digital era they interpreted data, they managed assets and internal approvals. Now, technology is replacing those roles. For example, many of the old roles inside brands need to be reduced, especially those relating to broadcast and agency functions. Technology has replaced a lot of those. Now, brands need to invest in community managers and curators. These people can help keep brands relevant in the communities in which they play. It lacks the unneeded bureaucracies that slow things down with technologies that speed things up.
2. Be radically transparent – Start by being transparent internally. Have once a month transparency meeting where everyone in the brand gets to see everything, from the status of the work/product to the financials. Transparency is the fasted way to grow trust. And, that trust and model of transparency will be shared with the digital communities in which brands interact and support.
3. Move from managing by command and control to inspire and support – It takes courage to change the way you do things and to be radically transparent about what works and what doesn’t. You still need to measure the right things but creating an open brand, by its nature, is full of insecurity. Focus on getting everyone on the team involved by inspiring and supporting them.
4. Be ruthlessly agile – Mature brands move slowly. And they should, as most are managing in decline these days. That takes a lot of slow, deliberate effort of ringing out every penny. On the other hand, an Open Brand is messy. It takes a committed team and a philosophy of ruthless agility. Move fast, fail fast and once something works build it fast. Whole paradigms will shift. Accept it. Take advantage of it.
5. Do less with less – Big media budgets begets big salaries and big expenses. Being an open brand means living on lots of micro-interactions instead of big campaigns and strategies. Implementing a strategy of doing less with less creates a discipline that is more authentic to the community.
6. Have a purpose – One of the biggest things that brands lack is a purpose larger than themselves. Patagonia, Lululemon, and Goop are all good examples of brands with a purpose. They become a platform for community activism creating tools, inspiration, and actions that inspire their communities to do good and making them indispensable.
7. Focus on transformation, not innovation– Often companies try to fit innovation efforts into their current systems. It just doesn’t work. That’s why Kodak failed. Innovation needs the ability to pivot and fail. It needs time to find the best path to the future. Instead, most companies have a bureaucracy that is set up to maximize a mature system. Such a management style will kill innovation. Open brands focus on architecting transformation not only for their consumers but also for themselves. It means not making innovation some underfunded appendage but taking the most profitable part of the brand and transforming it. At the core of an open brand is changing before you are forced to change.