Guest Blogger: Amie Dowker
Amie is a Director of Account Planning at Element 79 and an active thinker on emerging media and consumer trends. She digs deep into technology for Cricket Wireless and finds ways to humanize data, and wrestle insights from analysis. A product of the fine programs at Michigan State, Amie’s lived and studied abroad in London, worked at Deutsch and Campbell Mithun, but perhaps most impressively, once cold called $40,000 in advertising sales in ten weeks–possibly the best preparation any young professional could have for a career in advertising.
Thanks to billions of people, Web 2.0 has beta-fied old notions of “brand personality.” Gone are the days of forcing a calculated and highly-debated set of words into a brand’s architecture, and then polishing them once a year before putting them back on the shelf. Today, consumers dictate the reality and the personality of your brand. They’re creatures of change and they expect you to be too, so if they aren’t identifying with your brand as the “stylish, friendly, down-to-earth” human-like object you know and want it to be, it’s not their problem, it’s yours. It’s time to beta-fy your brand.
As Douglas Atkin notes in The Culting of Brands, people don’t buy ideas or things, “People buy people.” Atkins argues that people buy into philosophies and products based on other people they respect and communities they want to be a part of. In one extreme example, people didn’t follow Jim Jones because they liked cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, they did it because they believed in their fellow followers. People grow and change their entire lives so that they’re able to evolve, to find themselves and ultimately belong to something. In this way, people are like software — we are always in beta. Whether it’s a new life stage or a family crisis, whether it’s a new job, a new haircut, or the newest edition of “Awaken the Giant Within” (or insert favorite self-help title here), we are all continually working out bugs and looking to improve our status quo.
Along those lines, why shouldn’t brands stay in perpetual beta too? Brands aren’t people, but they are owned and operated by them. And if we want more people to believe in and engage with our brands we have to be people first.
Brands and products that embrace a beta-philosophy have the potential to connect more than those who don’t. Brands in beta have an edge on their competition because they listen and learn from their consumers and can change and grow with them. Today, many “new” companies cropping up live by this philosophy: Zappos, Threadless, Netflix, Kiva–while older companies follow to survive. But you don’t need to be “new” to practice new thinking: Xerox (from copiers to documents), Kodak (from film to digital), Amazon (from e-tailer to innovator w/ Kindle).
Of course it’s easier to build a new company with a beta philosophy because people at the longstanding corporation often don’t have the fight in them, not to mention the power to make a difference. Dennis Ryan had a great example of this in his “Committees, Cooperation and Compromise” post awhile back when an American Airlines User Experience Architect admitted that the aa.com website was a “dog’s breakfast” and essentially impossible to change.
It isn’t possible to beta-fy an existing brand overnight, but you can start the process by listening and learning from people. With the amount of constant conversation on the web, you can always tap into some thinking. More than concepts or things, people have the greatest potential to identify, influence and inspire. Because your brand is owned by the people and those people are your personality.
By Amie Dowker, Account Planning Director, Element 79