In my view the best way to develop a brand is to create it as a joint venture between the company and its customers. In this strategy we shape the brand as a working relationship of equals in a shared context rather than a marketing relationship between separate “buyer” and “seller.” The result is a dramatic change in brand context, and greater opportunities for brands and customers alike.
Brand and customer on the same page, writing it together
In a joint venture the brand and the customer are on the same page, writing it together. Customers are not a passive “audience” for brand theater. The two are allies. They’re co-explorers. Sidekicks. They’re a team, solving mutual problems in a context of collaboration. The joint venture enables trust, feedback, idea flow, cooperation and co-creation. This stands to be a far more productive approach than the brand modeled as a “communication” between separate parties. In the latter case, brands are often reduced to a persuasion tool, a product wrapper, a pie-in-the-sky promise or campaigns to manipulate emotions.
The brand as a joint venture to create value
“OK,” you might say, “I can see where the brand might be structured as a joint venture, but what is it a joint venture of? What’s the purpose?”
Good question. Simply stated, it’s a joint venture to create value, for both the customer and the company. As I’ve written previously, brands are a method to create value above and beyond the product proper, with the entire brand working as a customer-facing application, with all the focus, power and outcomes that applications can deliver. We shape the joint venture so that customers can add value back to the brand as they themselves advance to richer realms of living, and to new ways of being and doing. The customer is an active part of the application, too. The joint venture structure fits hand-in-glove with the brand-as-application strategy.
A context of getting things done
As a joint venture we place the brand in a context of getting things done. The brand is action-oriented, not persuasion-oriented. It’s not about “aligning” customers to the brand as if they were medieval serfs to be pumped with doctrine and kept in a static universe of perpetual dependence. (That’s what your competitors try to do, and that’s what makes their brands vulnerable.) As a joint venture, the brand can envision and create new market spaces where company and customer are both significantly better off. In a joint venture the brand agenda is one of creating new customer freedoms, not imposing another set of customer controls. The brand steps up with the vision, the path and the tools to get there, as set forth in the brand journey.
Strategic objectives of the brand as joint venture
What’s the strategic objective of this joint venture? It is to use customer insight, initiative and innovation to advance customers beyond the reach of competitors. In essence, the brand and its customers get together to gang up on competitors, especially those who aim to capture, corral and control customers using the brand as a mental and emotional silo. There’s no future for customers in that kind of brand desert. As a joint venture the brand enables customers to transcend the limitations imposed by competitors, reshaping the market, or creating entirely new market spaces where customers are better off. A classic example is how the iPod teamed with music lovers to route around the expense and restrictions of the CD format, reinventing the music industry in the process.
The joint venture and brand experience
Customers today value brands by the totality of experience they provide: before, during and after the sale, and including the behavior of the brand itself as a responsible world citizen. When we construct the brand as a joint venture we “socialize” the nature of brand experience itself, making it participative and interactive. Brand experience becomes not what the brand “does” for customers, but what customers and the brand create jointly in pursuit of common goals. In short, we co-create brand experience, giving it two potent drivers instead of one.
Strategic advantages from the brand as a joint venture
As a joint venture the brand delivers the following strategic advantages to company and customers alike:
- It unites them—creatively and pragmatically—in a common context, with a common goal. Each gains a market ally.
- It replaces “buyer-seller” (and brand as persuasion) with team effort—and brand as mutual enabler.
- It creates new avenues and opportunities to circumvent (or disrupt) incumbent brands.
- It’s a team of equals where the end product (a customer who’s strategically better off) helps advance the brand to market spaces where competitors can’t follow.
- It’s a full-blooded, and full-bodied, collaboration in context, content and in value. It facilitates brand innovation, especially non-linear brand breakthroughs.
- The joint venture is not confined to today’s products. It’s geared to an arc (or narrative) of customer development. The brand isn’t selling a product. It’s developing a customer. (Personally I’d say it’s “creating a customer,” but let’s give Steve Blank proper credit.)
- The joint venture not fence customers in. It’s a platform (or innovation engine) to develop new brand frontiers.
As further reading on developing the brand as a joint venture with customers: