Conservatism Greater Threat To Brands Than Being Dynamic

Grant McCracken, reflecting on the recent C3 (Convergence Culture Consortium) retreat at MIT, offers great perspective about marketers, consumers and co-creation of brands. His post ties together very well some of my own thoughts about engagement (here and here) as well as consumer-generated media. And the timing is perfect – on the heels of the debate I’ve been having with Nigel Hollis of Millward Brown and Laurent Flores of CRM Metrix, where we’ve been discussing consumer-generated media, consumer control and brand co-creation.

Grant’s post is long but worth it; he says:

We noted that technologies have made possible the participation of consumers in the construction of the brand.  Technologies aside, many consumers have made it clear that the only brands that they will really care about are the ones they help co-create.

…When the marketing team invites the consumer "into the tent" weird and nervous making things are bound to happen. The question is whether and when we will come to see the brand as something big enough and resilient enough to withstand the "rough air" created by new co-creation strategies….I suddenly remembered that something like this issue has vexed the marketing community before. When I was doing research for Chrysler in the 1980s, Detroit was buzzing with a recent change of heart. Sometime in the 1970s, new marketing research techniques had made it possible to test design possibilities, and these techniques had been ceased upon to eliminate anything that eliminated anyone. The result was several years of bland boxes that no one much cared about.

Finally, someone took their courage in both hands and said, "look, we cannot eliminate what some hate without eliminate what some love. Delight and provocation are connected. Besides, something like half of the people who say they hate a design will eventually come to love it. So really, we’re talking about an alienation factor not of half, but more like 20%." And with this Detroit return, somewhat tepidly, to designs that were more genuinely provocative, and we might argue that the advances made by Chrysler in the last view years is a lineal descendant of this philosophical repositioning.

Brands are where design was. Let’s not cause offense. Let’s hew to the middle. Let’s make ourselves agreeable.  Let’s talk out anything that is odd, counterintuitive, or inaccessible. Let’s make nice. Let’s play nice.

The idea is not to eliminate risk but to manage it.  But now that we are letting the consumer into the process of brand creation, and now that this will surely result in things that are odd or unsavory, we really have to rethink whether the brand can continue to think of itself in traditional terms.  …My conclusion, brands now live in a world in which there is more to fear from being conservative than from being dynamic.

I say: brilliant commentary. Grant’s entire, unedited post is here.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

Join the Conversation


Leave a comment