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Brand democratisation

Brand democratisation an analysis of the paradigm shift that is the socialisation of brands

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Brand democratisation

  1. 1. his paper gets to the heart of how and why the branding environment has changed, and what that means to organisations. It clarifies how today’s social revolution affects brands and repositions socialisation not as a channel, nor a discipline-specific concept, but as a critical part of business and marketing moving forward. This paper outlines the characteristics, challenges, risks, and opportunities of the current branding world, in addition to providing deep insights into, and signposts of, how the future branding landscape is being shaped, and the ways in which organisations need to think, prepare themselves, and behave to best capitalise on this new order. This paper is written for you: people who work within brands, or agencies representing brands, who would find it of value to know: 1. How and why the branding environment looks fundamentally different today 2. Numerous examples of companies that have handled these changes in the best and worst ways 3. The pitfalls to avoid and the techniques to survive and commercially succeed in a fast moving world T
  2. 2. In the last 100 years of commercial mass media and production, brands were mostly created and launched by companies and agencies without a great deal of questioning or re- purposing by the buyer or end user. These organisations were perceived as the specialists with the tools to create and communicate, and it was largely accepted that the creators of branded products and services knew what was best for the public. Up until the proliferation of the Internet, the act of purchasing, and the subsequent discussions about what had been purchased or consumed tended to be limited to retailers and constrained by geography. Customers and consumers were only empowered to the extent of purchase choice, yet even then the choice of options for many was limited. Over a relatively short space of time, this reality metamorphosed. The main driver behind this change has been the increased capability and affordability of technology. Devices available to us now are increasingly able to do more, at a constantly decreasing cost. From the alternative use of products to the creation and communication of opinions, from email systems to website and blog templates, from phones with cameras to online broadcasting tools, from Internet video calls to file sharing clubs, a level playing field has been constructed and mass media creation and exploitation is no longer the sole privilege of established corporations. This shift has enabled the general public to create and shape their own versions of brands and products, and has empowered people to communicate across borders with the masses, including the creators and guardians of brands, thus affecting people’s opinions and purchasing decisions. How we got here
  3. 3. The reality of today is one where we see a shift in control of brand creation, message, and perception away from organisations to everyday citizens. This re-distribution of hierarchies has democratised brands whose parent companies are, intentionally or otherwise, at the mercy of people who may not necessarily follow the intended attitudes and behaviours desired by the original brand owners. The term used to describe this paradigm shift is brand democratisation, which we define as such: The transition to a more democratic branding methodology from a previously authoritarian approach; from a company or agency that is perceivably in control to one that intentionally, or unintentionally, incorporates the views of external people. There is no industry more or less likely to experience the effect of brand democratisation, neither is there safety in size nor longevity in the marketplace. There is not a level of revenue or profit that can mitigate risk, and there are few laws that can protect a traditional organisation from public creation, editing or sharing. A stark example of brand democratisation in action is the events online following the horrific BP oil spill of 2010 off the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately one month after the tragic event occurred a first tweet from @BPGlobalPR’s appeared stating, “We regretfully admit that something has happened off of the Gulf Coast. More to come”. What was not immediately clear was that @BPGlobalPR was a parody twitter account. It quickly went viral across the web with hundreds of thousands of people responding to @BPGlobalPR's calls to action. People got involved in unofficially re-purposing BP logos, creating and selling merchandise, making billboards, music, graphic art and videos, in addition a web code was created that graphically covered the official BP website with black making it look like oil was leaking. The scale and speed of public action was larger and faster than any official response from BP, and the general public's perception of BP as a brand became shaped by the messages, activity and progression played out by people unconnected to BP. What this means “ ”
  4. 4. Typical traits of brand democratisation hroughout our time assisting companies faced with the reality of brand democratisation, we have observed four typical aspects in which brand democratisation differs from any planned and managed activities an organisation gets involved with:  Immediacy  Lack of control  Extremity of sentiment  Exponential growth T
  5. 5. 1. Immediacy The effect of most media activity happens after a predictable period of time and can therefore be planned around. A press release has a scheduled time and will therefore spread fairly predictably, if at all. Similarly, a banner ad campaign, or a TV commercial, will have a period of time where awareness is built, consideration happens, and conversion or purchase commences. However, in circumstances where brands are being democratised, activity tends to have a far more immediate effect, one that may not be desired. This was the case for Transport For London (TFL) when a member of the public filmed one of its employees insulting an elderly passenger claiming he should be ‘slung under a train’. The citizen journalist tweeted about the event and posted the film on his blog. In a short space of time the online community reacted by commenting, retweeting and blogging. One of the contributors was the Mayor of London who tweeted, “Appalled by the video. Have asked TFL to investigate urgently. Abuse by passenger or staff is never acceptable”1 . In less than 24 hours there were 448,527 tweets about the incident, within 30 hours 207,000 people had watched the video on YouTube, at that time the blog audience added up to 1.2 million, and 1577 blog comments had been written about the event. Within 36 hours the distribution of the story had reached 2.25 million people2 . A few days later the main press joined in, including BBC news. Throughout this social media frenzy, TFL’s involvement was conspicuously absent, to the point of not even posting an official response, or comment, on their own website. This clearly illustrates the speed in which events online can take off. This immediacy effect requires organisations to be not only aware of what is going on, but to be prepared to act on it, as and when action is required and appropriate.
  6. 6. “…attempting to control this is like trying to stop waves crashing on a beach by putting your hand out.” Lack of control While organisations can control outbound messages like press releases and hierarchical platforms of communication like TV, the digital world is de-centralised and can less feasibly be governed. Due to the sheer volume of editing and publishing, in addition to the low visibility and random areas where information can exist and be shared on the internet, attempting to control this is like trying to stop waves crashing on a beach by putting your hand out. There is little to stop someone screen grabbing an image of a brand, editing it, then sharing it with the rest of the world. There is also little stopping someone from creating their own mass media through a blog, YouTube or twitter account, a reality Qantas faced during a recent crisis. The last thing the airline needed was for the engine failures of one of its aircrafts to be made public in the same week its whole fleet had been grounded amid a dispute with striking staff. The event might have had minimal media coverage had it not been immediately broadcasted by the actor Stephen Fry, whose twitter follower volume at the time placed him in the top 100 tweeters world-wide. From the plane Mr Fry tweeted, ”Bugger. Forced to land in Dubai. An engine has decided not to play". In the second it took him to press send, over 3 million people knew of the situation3 .
  7. 7. Extremity of sentiment When a brand is democratised, the sentiment expressed by the editors and sharers tends to be either very positive or very negative. The main reason being that the drivers behind people creating, editing, and sharing are of an emotive nature. People are likely to get involved if they a) care enough about the entity in question, b) feel strongly about the event or action taken/not taken, or c) see enough value in being involved with the adjustment, or distribution, of the entity in question. United Airlines realised that extremity of sentiment leads to extremity of effort and action when a Canadian musician, Dave Carroll, had his acoustic guitar damaged on a flight and found the airline to be unresponsive and unwilling to compensate. Dave wrote and recorded a song entitled 'United Break Guitars' that became a YouTube hit. At the time of writing this, the video has been viewed 11,272,705 times4 . To put this in context, in roughly the same time frame Barack Obama’s acceptance speech had been viewed 5,677,373 times on YouTube5 .
  8. 8. Exponential growth Audience size and type in traditional marketing is relatively predictable. An expected volume of people, from a certain demographic, listen to a radio show, visit the cinema, or drive past a poster at any given time. However, in an empowered society where the public has access to multi- directional, highly interactive, real-time communication tools, there is no such thing as a predictable audience size. The way information and content spreads is therefore rarely linear, it is rather exponential, and so is its impact, as illustrated by some of the examples we discussed previously. This exponential growth can, and will, have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. Let us look at a simplified hypothetical, yet realistic, example where a product worth £400 is spoken about negatively online by someone with 125 readers on their blog. With a traditional mindset one would think the risk of the negative opinion spreading would be limited to 125, a figure unlikely to threaten to an organisation. However, if 1 of those 125 people has 35,000 twitter followers, and 20% of them retweet to an average of 500 followers each, the negative opinion about the brand can be visible to over 4 million people within minutes. Imagine if 1% of these people change their purchase decisions as a result of the negativity, this would result in £1.7 million in lost sales. Organisations often remain oblivious to the exponential growth of communications until it is too late, and they may forever remain unaware of the lost revenue caused by the unsupported communication.
  9. 9. ow a company reacts following a brand being democratised shapes public perception as much as any other stimuli and communication managed by an organisation. It is as crucial to the health of a brand to react and act in an appropriate way to any events caused by this new reality, as it is to get the broader communications and marketing mix right. Organisations who create or represent brands tend to behave in one of the following ways to uninitiated and/or uncontrollable events.  Stay silent/do nothing  Seek to silence through censorship and/or litigation  Get involved Let us look at each of these in greater detail. Likely reactions H
  10. 10. Stay silent/do nothing Staying silent, or doing nothing is the most common behaviour of all. This was the case when an advertising campaign created by the English Conservative party to reassure voters that there would be no national health spending cuts backfired. It was not the campaign’s political message that caught the public’s interest, but rather the party leader David Cameron’s ‘unbelievable baby smooth’ skin. Rumours of airbrushing started to circulate. Spoofs of the campaign were created, aided by, which provided the public with a template of the ad allowing people to create different versions of the ad using their own words. To this day the silence around the campaign stretches so far, it is even unclear which agency actually created it6 . No one knows why the English Conservative party remained silent; however, an organisation’s decision to stay silent tends to be due to one, or more, of the following factors.  Lack of awareness of an event having taken place, and/or of its importance  Lack of preparation to ensure appropriate action is taken  The belief that an event will blow over relatively quickly  A strategic decision not to act
  11. 11. Lack of awareness Being aware requires an organisation to accept the new paradigm caused by socialisation, and to not underestimate the likelihood of something happening, or the importance the event may have. In our experience, organisations tend to place little significance on uncontrolled external factors potentially affecting their brand positively or negatively. These companies are also often unaware of, not only what could happen, but of what is actually already happening in the public space that presents opportunities or risks to their brand. Lack of preparation Lack of awareness and understanding is one of the key reasons for organisations not being prepared to handle situations caused by brand democratisation. Another key reason is lack of internal processes and resources to act appropriately. We will discuss this, and how organisations can prepare, later in this paper. The belief that an event will blow over relatively quickly As it is impossible to accurately predict the volatile nature of brand democratisation, the belief that an event will blow over relatively quickly can only be out of hope rather than reason. In fact the whole view of events being linear and judged in terms of time-based damage is concerning. The reality is that even if events do blow over quickly, damage may still have been done, as we will see later in this paper. Strategic decision not to act There are cases when doing nothing and staying silent is the most suitable behaviour for an organisation. One strong reason for silence is to avoid litigation. We recently worked with a travel aggregator who had no choice but to not respond to people criticising their partners, such as hotels and airlines, even when such criticism had a negative impact on their brand, in order to avoid legal retribution. Another reason for staying silent is to avoid what are known as 'flame wars'. These are essentially slanging matches that can’t be won. Whatever an organisation does in a flame war will not be good enough to satisfy those who a casting the flame, often known as 'trolls'. Lack of action could also be due to the fact that an organisation does not see the event in question as significant enough, thus not warranting action. This is only acceptable if the entire outcome of brand democratisation has been taken into consideration and been understood. It is important that an organisation’s decision not to act is a strategic one, as choosing silence provides a space easily filled with public opinion, and is a lost opportunity to balance lies with facts; negativity with positivity.
  12. 12. Seek to silence through censorship and/or litigation It is tempting for an organisation, when faced with external disruption caused by brand democratisation, to try to silence the people or organisations involved through censorship and/or litigation. These attempts, however, are often fruitless, and in many cases result in damaging the brand and its credibility. Nestlé chose the route of censorship when one of their Facebook fan pages received thousands of complaints about the company's alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. As the page attracted a swarm of comments accusing the multinational food giant of unethical practices, an administrator of The Nestlé page attempted to address the influx by writing, "We welcome your comments, but please don't post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic - they will be deleted"7 . It is hard to imagine a less suitable time to censor people’s contributions, or to prioritise the design of your own logo, than in the middle of a social media crisis. We have been present at several meetings where litigation is the first call to action proposed by senior management to combat actions against their brand from the online public. And although we do not condone criminal activity, we do feel it necessary for organisations to understand that people's opinions of ‘who owns what’ may differ from legal fact, and thus may require a different approach. One could imagine that when Jose Avila made furniture out of FedEx boxes, he perceived the boxes to belong to him. Proud of his work Jose created a website called ‘’ to show the public his creations. Instead of recognising a true fan, or the possibility to use the event as a brand building opportunity, FedEx attorneys used the take down provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to force Avila to take the site offline, accusing him of ‘infringing on FedEx's copyrights and trademarks, breaching his contract with FedEx by using the cartons for purposes other than shipping, and potentially misleading consumers into believing that FedEx approved or endorsed Avila's actions’8 . It is arguable that FedEx could have chosen a somewhat more harmonious approach. Perhaps viewing his fanaticism as a positive trait would have propelled others to love FedEx more. They could have given him more boxes and amplified his creations. They could have run competitions to see what other things people could do with FedEx boxes. They could have offered to pay for him to go to furniture design classes, in case he wanted to increase his expertise in furniture design. UPS on the other hand, a competitor to FedEx, could have sensed FedEx’s litigious leaning and provided Avila with boxes instead, maybe even running a campaign stating that “At UPS we believe our customers have the right to choose how to use our boxes. We love them all the same.” Litigation, although sometimes necessary, is a time consuming and expensive way to fight this paradigm shift, and one that has often proven unsuccessful. Despite the Recording Industry Association of America successfully suing Napster on the 7th of December 1999, leading to Bertelsmann agreeing to pay the National Music Publishers Association $130m in August 2007, digital distribution of music online still thrives today and legal action could ultimately not stop the disruption of the music industry’s traditional business model9 . “It is hard to imagine a less suitable time to censor people’s contributions, or to prioritise the design of your own logo, than in the middle of a social media crisis.”
  13. 13. Get involved As discussed previously, the choice of whether to get involved or not is often based on an organisation’s awareness, understanding, skills, capabilities, and legal realities. The decision of how to get involved is often driven by a company’s corporate culture and the structures and processes already in place. A great example of how a corporate culture can cause two significantly different responses to an event is Coke and Mentos. In 2006 a group of scientists experimented with putting Mentos mints in Diet Coke and found that the chemical reaction caused a geyser. Pete Healy, serving as vice- president of marketing for Mentos at the time, chose to get involved, and asked the scientists if there was anything the company could do to help, “Send Mentos,” they replied. This choice had a positive impact on the brand. Since then, the original video has been viewed 14,570,277 times on YouTube and Mentos have expanded their activity to encourage other experiments and mash- ups, often promoting them on their digital presences. Coke’s reaction, however, could not have been more different. The brand decided to join the conversation in a different way, via a Coke spokeswoman saying: “We would hope people want to drink [Diet Coke] more than try experiments with it.” She added that the “craziness with Mentos” didn’t ‘fit’ Diet Coke’s “brand personality”10 . You can decide whether that response in itself fits the Coke brand. The decision of how to get involved has to take all key stakeholders into consideration. And by stakeholders we do not simply mean the CEO and senior management of an organisation, but also anyone who has expectations of how a company gets involved in the public space, such as its customers, consumes and people in general. Existing methodologies and processes for how an organisation gets involved with the public are a key driver behind how a company responds to brand democratisation. When an event occurs, it is tempting to look at existing relationships for a solution, such as the organisation’s PR agency or advertising agency, or to look at established channels to deal with the situation. The risk with this is that it often leads to legacy based decisions and behaviour. Legacy behaviour is when traditional measurement methodologies are used, without respecting the modern context, relevance, and impact of an event. For example, when a CEO responds to a major social media crisis two weeks late because the PR department responsible for crisis management meets twice a month, or when the response is through a traditional press release and a press conference, and when the outreach ignores the general public online. Brand democratisation has a real impact on traditional business marketing and communications, and creates new opportunities and challenges. What is required to deal with this successfully is a hybrid approach, one that merges traditional behaviours and existing relationships, platforms, channels, and tools with ones that resonate in a modern world.
  14. 14. W Misconceptions when engaging e have identified three common misconceptions that influence company behaviour when a decision has been taken to engage in this space. 1. The circumstance is seen as an advertising or communication issue rather than a business paradigm shift This means that i. the focus is on increasing the understanding amongst marketers by putting the marketing department through a course in digital; ii. tools, platforms and channels are seen as media channels; iii. resources are allocated from the marketing budget for social media activities; and iv. involvement is planned around one-off campaigns, controlled by the brand. This siloed and controlling way of looking at the situation ignores the fact that socialisation affects all part of business. However if you look at P&G and their crowd sourced R&D innovation initiative ‘P&G Connect + Develop’, it is clear that they do not limit the opportunity created by socialisation to solely contain a communications focus. Or if you look at Ford, who use social channels as a major sales generating activity, they would most certainly disagree with social channels being purely a media issue. And finally, if you look at Best Buy, with their twitter customer service initiative Twelpforce, here too it is clear that social media is seen as more than simply a communications channel. These organisations have understood the fundamental paradigm shift caused by socialisation. They are embracing social activity for the all-encompassing being it is, and, because of this, are making social engagement a critical part of how they manage their business as a whole, including marketing initiatives.
  15. 15. 2. Tactical executions of campaigns, without a direct link to the larger business goals, or brand strategy In 2009, Tourism Queensland promoted the Great Barrier Reef as a global tourism destination with a campaign encouraging people worldwide to apply to be a caretaker of one of the Islands, a job they described as ‘The Best Job In The World’. The campaign used an impressive mix of communications tools, platforms and channels, including a campaign website, online recruitment ads, interactive application submission, banners, branded twitter, branded facebook, and a youtube channel. The creative execution on each asset was strong, and the advertising campaign was acknowledged as being very successful. By the end of the campaign it had generated more than $200 million in global publicity value for Tourism Queensland. Brisbane advertising agency CumminsNitro was awarded three top awards at theCannes International Advertising Festival, and in 2010 the advertising campaign was awarded two prestigious D&AD Black Pencil Awards11 12 . However, since the goal of the campaign was to promote the Great Barrier Reef one can reasonably assume that a key success criteria would have been an increase in ticket sales to the region. This has, according to some sources, not been achieved, raising the question of how successful the campaign actually was13 . 3. Misinterpretation of strategic ramifications as tactical outcomes It is tempting to see examples like ‘United breaks guitars’ as merely a PR mishap, however in the case of United, their stock at the time fell by 10% due to the event, amounting to a loss of $180 million14 . Qantas may see Stephen Fry tweeting, ”Bugger. Forced to land in Dubai. An engine has decided not to play" to his 3 million followers as a tactical outcome of a one-off activity that went wrong. However, taking into consideration that Mr Fry’s tweet was retweeted numerous times extending the media reach well above his existing 3 million, it wouldn’t be unlikely to find people choosing an alternative airline as a result.
  16. 16. Navigating ways forward To avoid such misconceptions, and to ensure an organisation’s involvement is thought through and planned in a way that ensures the greatest potential for success, we recommend a six-step process. 1. Fully understanding the business environment, sociological trends, and the realities of operating in today’s world Understanding the business environment requires deep knowledge of the full external arena an organisation operates in, and the forces affecting that environment both today and tomorrow. This is in addition, and in relation to, the internal business environment created by an organisation. Understanding sociological trends requires explicit awareness of the ways that people interact, the expectations people have in terms of experiences, and the perceptions people have in terms of control, trust, and ownership. Understanding the realities of operating in today’s business world also requires methodological consideration of three key areas: Competition: What we could predict as competition is now unpredictable. The barriers that once were in place, limiting many from entering markets, are now easy to overcome due to the capability and affordability of technology, in conjunction with the increasing growth of brand new markets that do not respect borders. A multi-national organisation that trades profitably in numerous countries with a high net profit is now just as likely to be a company without expensive offices or thousands of staff. Speed: Change is happening now faster than ever. What used to take 20 years to change in business can now change in less than one. Market leaders get replaced at an extraordinary speed, product life cycles can be as low as several months, and whatever was planned a year ago is likely to resonate less with consumers than an organisation would hope. Due to this, a company’s activities need to be amended in real time, but the thinking backing strategic decisions must be stretched in terms of timescale due to the unpredictable rate at which the marketplace changes. Strategies need to take into consideration likely and unlikely future needs to be fulfilled, and for whom, in addition to visible and less visible competitors moving forward, and their unpredictable behaviour. For example, if you were an online retailer competing on fast delivery and low postage prices, how would you behave if you found out that in the near future no online retailer will charge for delivery, and many of them will deliver within 24 hrs anywhere in the world. Control: Organisations need to know what they can control as it will determine the basis on which they compete, and also if their role is to lead, participate, or to follow. None of these three is more right than the other, but choosing and accepting one’s role is crucial. This requires constant questioning of what your company can control as the world moves forward. Can you control technological deployments? Can you control the increasingly variable cost bases in your value chain? Are you able to reach mutual agreement with a public who continue to define your brand? Can you control the virtualisation of your products in a profitable way? Do you have the capability to create new currencies?
  17. 17. 2. Creation of strategic & meaningful missions The democratised landscape requires an organisation to stand for and to do things people can care and believe in. This is because people engage with, and advocate things, they actually care about, rather than things they are told to care about. The success and popularity of missions like Wikipedia and Mozilla can be partially attributed to the embracing and harnessing of this reality. The challenge here is mainly for organisations that do not naturally lend themselves to meaning something, such as carbonated beverages, fast food chains, and jewellery designers, to find a way to do so. 3. Preparation for action, including protocols and sign-off procedures that suit the context As discussed previously preparation is key. An organisation needs to know what to do, and how to behave in a way that suits the context, when the unpredictable happens. What we mean by context is that if your PR plan, for example, includes a four- day sign off procedure, and your brand is being democratised, then this is exactly 3 days 23 hours and 55 minutes too long. If a complaint for your product or service takes place on twitter, offering to answer on e-mail is using the wrong platform. If an attack is expressed on one of your properties, thinking that ‘ownership means a right to censor’ is not correct. No matter how an organisation acts in this space, it is unlikely that a company will behave in a way that is appreciated by everyone. McDonald’s response to a hoax involving a false sign has received both praise and criticism from the press15 . The company found itself in the position of having to publically deny a photograph that was spread showing a false McDonald’s sign claiming the following 'PLEASE NOTE As an insurance measure due in part to a recent string of robberies, African-American customers are now required to pay an additional fee of $1.50 per transaction'16. McDonald’s responded to the hoax by tweeting ‘That pic is a senseless & ignorant hoax. McD's values ALL our customers. Diversity runs deep in our culture on both sides of the counter’17. Despite McDonald's denial, the speed at which the picture was spreading increased. McDonald's reiterated their earlier message, tweeting ‘That Seriously McDonalds picture is a hoax’. Despite McDonald's acting quickly to deny the legitimacy of the sign, it continued to trend on Twitter under the hashtag #SeriouslyMcDonalds for a few days. Linendoll, TV host, producer, and CNN technology expert, praised the response from McDonald's, saying that, “If you're a big corporation and something viral ... happens against you, you have to formulate a plan and respond quickly ... In this case, McDonald's handled it correctly; they used the medium Twitter they were accused on. Time is of the essence. We're not going to the press in the morning. We're going to the press in real time, when it comes to social networking. You have to respond and respond quickly. Well-handled”. However, Christopher Barger, blogging for Forbes, was more critical. He said that, “While McDonald's response ‘was a textbook statement on how to respond to a rumor in 140 characters’, the firm should have been more willing to personalise responses, and that they should have responded in ways other than just Twitter” 18 . Preparation is therefore not only crucial, but also complex, and requires strategic planning and a real understanding of this space. Organisations therefore need to choose a partner carefully to guide them through this process successfully. “…if your PR plan includes a four-day sign off procedure, and your brand is being democratised, then this is exactly 3 days 23 hours and 55 minutes too long…”
  18. 18. 4. Monitoring of activity to supplement involvement in conversation Monitoring the online environment is a necessity in order to be aware of what may happen, is happening, or in the worst case has already happened online. It requires the appropriate allocation of resources, but could in return give an organisation the chance to act relatively quickly to an event playing out online. When Gap, the clothing retailer, changed their logo in 2010 there was instant backlash across social media platforms from commentators who strongly disliked the new version. With the help of monitoring Gap was, within one week, able to announce that they would reinstate their original logo. Mark Hansen, President of Gap North America said "We've been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo and they want it back"19 . The most commonly used tools by organisations tend to be Google Alerts, or software that monitors sentiment. Although these tools prove helpful in many situations such as the Gap example just discussed, there are circumstances where monitoring through off-the-shelf tools is not optimal. Monitoring can, in some instances, offer only a partial picture of the reality. For example, many digital interactions do not necessarily contain key words that one can predict, or situations one could imagine, and would therefore not show up in any standard monitoring. A cereal bowl wall art being sold online, for example, is unlikely to appear in a Google Alert System managed by a cereal manufacturer. Thus, a large food company who denied that their brand of cereal was being democratised were stunned when we showed them etsy.com20 where dozens of people had made art out of the company’s cereal, and were selling the items at a profit. Since September 2009, Coca-Cola has been testing a system, developed by Netbase, which tracks commentary covering 75m sources including Facebook and Twitter, alongside blogs and forums. According to a Coca-Cola spokesperson, it provides “A ‘natural language processing engine’ delivering real-time analysis across market trends, hot topics, brand health and other core metrics” 21 . 5. Implementation of action where required, whilst monitoring continues Correct action is entirely dependant on organisational protocols. For example, in a situation where incorrect information has been published about a company’s technology, if the protocol says to correct facts in a polite way, then this action must be implemented. If the protocol in an organisation is that when a celebrity publicly endorses a product the celebrity is to be contacted by the CEO, then the celebrity endorsing the product must be contacted by the CEO. The role of monitoring at this stage is not only to highlight areas requiring involvement, but also to assess the perception of the brand’s involvement in the public space. 6. Learning from outcomes by ensuring they are fed back into the process The only correct definition of failure in the context of brand democratisation is not having followed the pre- agreed process and procedures. Non-optimal action, or lack of action to something unforeseen, is not to be seen as a failure, but as something unpredictable that needs to be planned for as much as possible moving forward. It is crucial that all outcomes, despite their level of negativity or positivity, are viewed as a result, and that all results, however negative or positive, are seen as learnings. Whatever an organisation’s actions are when facing brand democratisation, it is imperative that it is generated from a position of understanding, preparation and that it is part of a greater strategy.
  19. 19. There are many examples of brands that have benefitted from embracing the concept of brand democratisation. Style Factory, a US based e-commerce site for furniture design, uses social media to crowdsource opinions to make decisions around what products should be made. The ‘My Factory’ section on the site offers a mix of renderings and finished products where community members can vote ‘make it’ or ‘drop it’, and then share their opinions via Facebook and Twitter22 . Only what people commit to buying gets manufactured. In this instance, brand democratisation plays the role of buyer. Facebook recruited 300,000 users, free of charge, to translate its site into 70 different languages. The company was, for example, able to translate its site into French in just one day. To this day this community continues to translate updates and new modules. In this instance, brand democratisation plays the role of product development23 . Apple benefits greatly from their fans promoting the brand and their products online. Most of us remember the hype around the launch of the first iPad. On January 28th, 2010, the day before the iPad was unveiled, a Web search for ‘Apple tablet’ produced more than 17 million links24 . People’s anticipation for the product was so high the buzz online started months before anyone knew what Apple was launching. Before the iPhone 4S was launched, the YouTube user account ‘iPhone5Website’ uploaded what was assumed to be an iPhone 5 website leak on the Apple Germany website. As we know the iPhone 5 never launched, and the site was named by the press a ‘beautiful fake’. One look at the fake site on ‘Gotta be mobile, ‘iPhone 5 Website Leak is a Fake, a Beautiful Fake’, Josh Smith, 8/12/11’ highlights the level of fanaticism needed to take the time to create such a site. Here, brand democratisation plays the role of promoter. In 2010 Hewlett Packard won a ‘Groundswell Award’ from Forrester for its efforts to engage customers through the HP Consumer Support Forum, a free, interactive global community where users exchange tips, ideas and answer each other's questions. At the end of 2010 WARC reported that, ‘An estimated 13m people have solved problems via this platform thus far, and some 460,000 posts are now available covering topics from printers to laptops, equally supplying a rich seam of insights’25 . In this instance, brand democratisation plays the role of customer service. These brands above have all fully accepted and understood the paradigm shift caused by brand democratisation, are pro-actively respecting the rules of engagement in this space, and profiting as a result. Get it right and the benefits are many
  20. 20. If you found this paper to be valuable, or if you would like to discuss ways in which we can help you commercially succeed in this portrayed environment, e-mail us or visit This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, non-commercial, non-derivative license. For details please follow this link: Now, how do your organisation and brand measure up?
  21. 21. End Notes 1 Source: Mail Online, ‘Tube worker tells elderly passenger he will 'sling him under a train', 17/10/2009 2 Source: ABC distribution statistics of the newspapers covering the story 3 Source:, Stephen Fry's Qantas flight diverted to Dubai’, Haroon Siddique, 4/11/11 4 Source: Softpedia, ‘United Airlines Breaks Guitars, Loses $180 Million’, Elena Gorgan, 24/7/2009 5 Source: YouTube, BarackObamaDotCom channel, 30/12/2011 6 Source: Marketing, ‘Top 10 marketing mishaps of 2010’, Nicola Clark, 14/12/10 7 Source:, ‘Nestlé hit by Facebook "anti-social" media surge’, Elliott Fox, 19/3/10 8 Source: Wikipedia, FedEX Furniture 9 Source:, Dec7 1999: RIAA sues Napster, David Kravels, 7/12/09 10 Source: ‘Book extract: Viral Loop’, By Adam L Penenberg,, 6/11/2009 11 Design and Art Direction is a British educational charity which exists to promote excellence in design and advertising 12 Source: Wikipedia, The Best Job In The World 13 Source: ‘Queensland's GBR campaign judged a fail’, Marissa Calligeros, 7/12/2010 14 Source: Softpedia, ‘United Airlines Breaks Guitars, Loses $180 Million’, Elena Gorgan, 24/7/2009 15 Source: Wikipedia, 16 Source: Mashable, HOAX: McDonald’s Official Statement Condemns Racist sign, Charlie White, 6/13/11 17 Source: Mail Online, McDonald's issues Twitter denial after hoax poster saying blacks will be charged extra goes viral, 13/6/11 18 Source: Wikipedia, 19 Source: sitepoint, ‘Old Gap’s back! New logo is dropped, Jennifer Farley, 12/12/10 20 A social commerce website focused on handmade vintage items, as well as art and craft supplies 21 Source: WARC, ‘Brand owners search for insight’ 12/10/2010 22 Source: TNW Blog, ‘How To Effectively Crowdsource Product Design’, Courtney Boyd, Myers, 19/11/10 23 Source: 24 Source: ‘Apple's Secret? It Tells Us What We Should Love’, HBR on-line, 28/1/10 25 Source: WARC, ‘Brands focus on service’, 24/11/2010