Who's doing it already?
Meaning is already being managed and shared – one assumes with varying degrees of consciousness – between management and staff (think John Lewis) between trusted retailer and confused consumer (think Carphone Warehouse), between global pharma brand and erectile dysfunction sufferer (think Lilly with their Cialis drug), between hardware manufacturer and finicky, perfectionist style-monkey (think Apple).
Notice something about these brands? They're all by-words for excellence and innovation in what they do. They build tremendous energy around themselves, simply by doing what they do. They're all – consciously or not – managed for meaning.
A new paradox for brand management
Taking responsibility, letting go of control
We need now to crystallise a point of insight, to take on board the key paradox that unlocks the new brand management approach.
You need, on the one hand, to take on a far higher degree of responsibility for both the role of branding in a) the success of your business, and b) the creation of positive meaning for all stakeholders.
On the other hand, by far the most important – in terms of the growth of meaning – encounters that your brand has with its stakeholders now occur in dangerous territory, way outside the control of your brand officers, and the tools that they have historically used. Refer to the Meaning vs. Control in pharma branding chart here, for example. And reflect where most of the marketing and sales budget is currently spent: in areas of high control, but relatively little influence.
Find this hard to swallow? OK, try running your brand through the touchpoint analysis tool, ignoring the sample scores, and creating your own conclusions.
Simply list your key brand touchpoints down the left-hand column, then rank their respective importance in building meaning for an important customer group out of +10, then score the potential for brand energy in the next column, again out of +10. Finally, assess each touchpoint for entropy, out of –10 this time.
To get rule of thumb scores for how your key touchpoints stack up, and therefore where focus and investment should be allocated going forward, take your customer importance score and multiply it by the sum of the following two columns.
I'll leave this to you, but I'd be most surprised if you didn't now feel inclined to revisit the earlier Control chart, and question where the bulk of your brand investment is sitting right now.
And if you accept that things need to change, how then do you proceed?