More than a marketing faux pas, I saw the Skittles experiment as a key milestone in the ownership of brands. One could argue that brands have always been the property of their constituents - the customers, employees, and partners. Afterall, a brand is ultimately determined by what people think. However, individual opinions of a brand have always been overpowered and washed out by the power of advertising and mass-media. Until now, there has never been a mechanism to showcase individual opinions as a collective consensus.
The Skittles incident is a sign of the times. Any brand that searches twitter, the blogosphere, or facebook updates will now see countless peoples’ missives about their brand experience. Packaged and presented for all to see, this could be the greatest or worst thing that ever happened to a company.
Alas, brands have been reclaimed by the people who always owned them in the first place – the constituents. It makes you wonder if the value of “brand equity” listed as an asset on a company’s balance sheet is now up for grabs? Perhaps there is a new measure of brand equity – the consensus of the brand’s constituents? Will the future of a product or service now be determined by “brand consensus?”
Another early sign of the times is marketing strategist Noah Brier’s “BrandTags” project. Brier has started asking thousands of people to enter one word or phrase for a series of brands that he is now cataloging on the website. A “brand consensus” is emerging that yields extreme insight into what a brand’s constituents really think. I would argue that Brier’s data is more interesting and likely more accurate that what company’s think about their own brand.
Massive media budgets will likely continue to compete with brand consensus until brand consensus gets a better platform. Soon enough, the Skittles fiasco will exist for every company, whether they like it or not. The opinion of constituents will inevitably matter even more than whatever fancy graphics or testimonials are fed to you via mass marketing.
Imagine for a moment if a company’s marketing dollars were transferred to the customer service department just to make sure that problems were addressed before they affected brand consensus. I believe this would be a more effective use of advertising budgets, and it would certainly make customers happy.
And so, in conclusion, change is good. Ultimately, brands will flourish in the hands of their new owners. And the companies that are self-aware enough to acknowledge the new world and act accordingly will greatly benefit.
***Behance articles and tips are adapted from the writing and research of Scott Belsky and the Behance team. This article in particular was co-written with Michael Karnjanaprakorn of the Behance Team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network , the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.