Branding is at the forefront of a marketer's responsibilities and challenges. We are caretakers and managers of perhaps the most important asset the business owns. Great pains are taken to ensure nothing is done to put a brand in a negative light and that the values and meaning of the brand are consistently executed. Despite the obsession with maintaining control over brand meaning, we often lose sight of the fact that our efforts are really in vain. Why? Because businesses do not own brands. Oh sure, the tangible aspects of a brand are owned- legal rights to use the name, logo, and other brand marks. But who really owns a brand, and how should the answer to this question affect brand marketing?
Brands Live in Customers' Minds
Brands matter only when they matter to customers. For all best efforts by marketers to achieve brand relevance, success is achieved only when a brand is relevant in the marketplace. Thus, building a great brand is more about creating relevance among the target market than attempting to persuade that same audience of the brand greatness. When brand relevance is achieved an interesting thing happens- customers become marketers for you as they advocate on the brand's behalf. They talk, post, and tweet about their relationship with your brand, attracting others in their network of contacts to the brand via the trust they have in your advocates. So, a key aspect of brand building is empowering brand advocates to take on a role of building brand relationships.
The 5th Line is 1st Rate
The latest reminder that brands are owned in the minds and hearts of customers comes from fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL. The franchise just completed a successful regular season, making the NHL playoffs for only the second time since beginning play in 2000. As the Blue Jackets fought to earn a playoff spot late in the season, one fan wanted to come up with a way for Columbus fans to come together to show their support. T.J. Nocar, a 25-year-old Ohio State University student, came up with the idea for a Twitter hashtag, #WeAreThe5thLine. The concept is similar to the 12th man in football, a fifth line being an "extra" force of support that can give a team an edge. The hashtag began trending within three days of its first use on April 5th. The idea behind #WeAreThe5thLine is to rally Blue Jackets fans at a critical time in the season. It is a way that fans can express their identification with the team and feel like they play a role in helping the team during the playoffs.
Tap the Wisdom of the Crowd
As a marketer, you do not have to have all of the answers, or more specifically, all of the brilliant ideas. Your customers and fans have an emotional connection with your brand; they are invested in its success. Embrace and even encourage your greatest advocates to become marketers in their own right by rallying their friends, contacts, and strangers in the way T.J. Nocar has done with #WeAreThe5thLine. Marketing a brand does not fall solely on your shoulders. After all, you only own certain aspects of the brand. Enlist the real owners of the brand to play a key role in building your brand.