By their very nature brands are collaborative strategies. They’re the products of companies and their customers, a joint effort. Being “strategic” they are more than stylized sales stimulants, a matter of mere messaging. Their aim is to change the game by changing the customer. At a minimum brands are collaborations in context and collaborations in productivity.
Brands as collaborations in context
As collaborations in context the brand and its customers work from a shared platform of vision and values. Their mutual goal is to enrich their shared context, extend it, make it more resilient, make it more creative, and ultimately make it more relevant and satisfying. The brand may lead, but it needs customer interaction and collaboration to compete the context. The brand becomes relevant when it makes its customers relevant.
Brands as collaborations in productivity
Brands are also collaborations in productivity, where the brand aims to make itself more productive by enabling its customers to be more productive themselves. The brand advances its customers beyond the reach of competitors, and as it does it relies on customer insight, initiative, and innovation to add value back to the brand, advancing the brand in new directions. Customers benefit by no longer being held back by the constraints of mediocre companies and brands.
How did brands arrive at the point of collaboration? They didn’t start that way. I’ve set forth an historical framework on the evolution of brands to the current phase of brands as enablers, where collaboration strategies are paramount. You can read it in Brand evolution: from mark, to media to means.
Creating customers as a collaborative strategy
Brands create customers using collaborative strategies. Or, I should say, “Brands create the strongest and most dynamic customers using collaborative strategies.” The goal in creating customers is to:
- Create the customers to drive the business forward
- Create customers beyond the reach of competitors
- Create customers who add value back to the brand
That last item requires deep collaboration between a company and its customers. A brand runs on customer feet, and customers can take a brand into fertile new territories the brand would never have discovered on its own.
The brand as customer-focused application
In my view, the best way to build the collaborative strength of a brand is to develop the brand as a customer focused application. In this approach the brand is not a campaign nor a “communication.” It’s a set of concepts, tools and processes that help customers do what they need to do to become more proactive and more productive in the world. I’ve described this approach in detail here and here.
Brand engagement as collaboration
Brand engagement is another form of strategic collaboration. While “brand engagement” is often defined as a means of getting the customer’s attention, or persuading the customer to buy, usually in some aspect of “messaging,” that approach is hardly strategic. It usually reduces the brand to a brand of advertising, and “messaging” leaves little room for collaboration.
In a more strategic approach the brand would engage customers to move them forward, beyond the confines of the status quo, to a market space where customers could be more proactive, and more enabled to add value back to the brand. For more details on the strategic approach to brand engagement see How to define “brand engagement.”
A “belief system” isn’t that collaborative
Brands can attempt to define and propagate “belief systems,” as if the brand were a kind of secular religion, with customers as mesmerized “believers” who blindly buy the brand. Unfortunately, this approach easily becomes a one-way form of propaganda, where doctrine and belief are the rule, and customers told what to think. There is little collaboration in this scenario. It is mostly a dead-end enterprise. I have written about the downsides of this approach in Some brands go medieval on their customers.