Is the consumer really your brand?

This morning I listened to Sandy Carter from IBM (the world’s number 2 brand after Coke) explain how now more than ever the concept of the brand goes way beyond the bricks and mortar of the corporate HQ. In her book The New Language of Marketing 2.0 and accompanying blog, Sandy points out that as we now have a situation where consumers are producers of information (whether it be through blog posts, Twitter, Facebook or other social networks), they are the ones forming the messaging and perceptions around a brand. I’d say these days it’s hard to find a PR agency that isn’t grappling with the issue of monitoring and participating in the multifarious conversions taking place on different online networks around a brand.

However, can you go too far?

Skittles, the Mars-owned confectionery brand may have with the latest incarnation of its website. Actually you can’t really call it Skittles’ website – as the normal corporate blurb and messaging has been replaced with user (consumer) generated content from popular social networks such as Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

skittles

The Twitter portion has come under considerable fire – mainly because as soon as people realised they could have their Tweets display prominently on the Skittles homepage, many took the opportunity to post obscenities and toilet-wall style humor targetting Skittles.

Generally, the approach taken by Skittles has attracted criticism for doing little more than attract hype. For instance, Shel Holtz in the For Immediate Release podcast referred to the design as gimmicky. I’d have to admit that to my mind they have gone over the top by almost completely scrapping their own content (apart from minimal information in the red widget in the top left corner).

On the other hand, I think we will start to see this more and more on corporate websites, if we are to believe the assertion that consumers shape the brand. In many cases, wouldn’t the audience be equally (if not more interested) in what your consumers are saying about you? I’m guessing prospects and press definitely would be. If this is the case, there will reach a tipping point where not providing this kind of information will look authoritarian and defensive.

A perhaps unintended consequence of this approach is that you really can keep the copywriting costs at a minimum!

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