"A brand isn't what you say it is. It's what they say it is."
My first job on the plains of Central Montana was in branding. In fact, I was in charge of brand flipping. The cowboys would bring the calves to us. We’d flip them and hold them down while they applied a hot iron to their flank.
Of course, that’s where branding started (and not just for me). The Ranch owned it. Business borrowed the term – and they owned the brand. Marty Neumeier, in The Brand Flip, rescues branding, not just from the cattle ranch, but from traditional ways companies view branding.
He insists that social media has handed the power of the brand to the consumer. While I always thought of a brand as a product (Old Spice aftershave, Campbell’s tomato soup) or a symbol (a Nike swoosh or a Starbucks goddess), he claims the product or symbol is no longer the tool of the company to establish the brand, but the tool of the consumer with which they build and broadcast their own identity.
Neumeier identifies ten new realities that shape the way the customer and company interact around products. The key idea is interact. No longer is selling or advertising one-directional. It is flipped!
For instance, the old branding could be represented by a marketing funnel. He suggests the flipped brand is best understood as a ladder, something a customer climbs, rather than a tool for a company to market or sell. The rungs of the ladder are satisfaction, delight, engagement, and empowerment. The ladder gives the customer control of their experience instead of a passive funnel.
The company owns the product. The customer owns the brand.
"Customer identity, not company identity, is the secret to building a flipped brand. It's not enough to find out who your customers are. You need to help them become the people they want to be."
I think I should have seen this coming. I’m a pastor and this is why people become religious. I was blind to the connection between what I do and branding. Neumeier says people buy products in an attempt to become the person they set out to be. Their purchases are not fundamentally an interaction with a product or a company, but with themselves.
This is actually great news for me. I simply could not apply the old marketing funnel. It didn’t fit me. It didn’t fit my work. The prospect of broadcasting a message in hopes that somehow it moves down the funnel until someone buys it (or believes it as the case may be) didn’t work for me. But, whether with a pair of shoes or the gospel, people interact with things to become who they want to become. I can work with that. People who don’t want to be Christian, don’t buy it. It really is simple.
Support a tribe, don't target a segment
"Instead of division, you need multiplication. Start with a small market and scale it up with social media. Multiply and conquer."
Conventional wisdom suggests that you begin by finding a hole in a market and you fill that hole with a great product. One of the “flips” he suggests is to start with a person rather than a segment or a market. Figure out who that customer wants to become and match it with a product.
His fictitious example company, Koko Maya, is helpful in understanding this flipped approach. His entrepreneur, Lori, discovers that cocoa bean husks which are normally discarded can be used to make tea. Rather than broadcasting a message about her new tea, she finds a tribe that is just like her – a tribe of mommy bloggers. She determines to make them and their experience central to her venture. She trusts that they will tell each other about it after they are satisfied.
She builds her products and her marketing around their lives and seeks to help them be more satisfied mommy bloggers. She trusts that they, in turn, will put her products on the map!
Build a frame for a story
"Customers don't want to be TOLD, they want to TELL. They long to be the heroes of their own journeys."
The essence of a brand is a frame for a story. “Storyframing is the discipline of building a structure that lets customers create their own narratives,” Neumeier writes. Much has been written about creating stories to engage customers. The Brand Flip knows what story to tell – the customer’s!
As you may expect, this requires an intimate knowledge of who the customer is. You can’t help everyone tell any story. You must know who is telling what story. Lori, the example entrepreneur, does extensive study, not only on who mommy bloggers are, but on what kinds of stories they are trying to tell about their lives. They want family rituals or experiences; they need some tranquility in their hectic schedules; they want to be environmentally friendly. She is able to help them express all these things with her tea.
I coach youth sports. I don’t think about marketing or selling sports. I don’t need to. Youth sports help parents in my comfortable suburb tell the story they want to hear. What parent wouldn’t be excited to see their son or daughter receive a college scholarship? It’s the story they want to tell themselves. I know parents who have spent the equivalent of a college education on lessons, club teams, travel and camps. It isn’t about affording college, it is about the story.
The Brand Flip redefined for me the nature of the relationship between the company, the product, the consumer, and the brand. I had been in the broadcast-and-hope-for-the-best mode. The Brand Flip offered a viable alternative. A brand is flipped because it operates more like a church than a business: find true believers and help them tell the story.
My wife talked to me about the offerings for her non-profit. She was struggling to choose which of the very good alternatives she should offer. I had just finished The Brand Flip so I said, “Talk to the people you’re serving. Listen, and let them choose.” They are going to choose anyway. You might as well start with them. Flipped!
What story do the people you engage want to tell? How can you listen and help them tell it?