Who owns a brand?

Over at “The Blog Studio”:http://www.theblogstudio.com, I’m running a series discussing the ongoing process of redesigning Toby Bloomberg’s “Diva Marketing Blog”:http://www.divamarketingblog.com. So far, its been an very successful endeavour, with lots of comments and emails flying. (See the post “here”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/the-divas-design-takes-form as a starting point)

It’s incredibly interesting to note how passionate people are about making sure the new look match’s Toby’s brand. What’s so interesting about it is that Toby hasn’t done very much specific branding at all. And yet her readers know exactly what her brand is. *The problem is, many see her brand in completely different ways.*

Letting your audience design your brand is an interesting experiment. Note that I’m not talking about a logo or a colour scheme, but rather a “brand as an experience”:http://www.peterflaschner.com/?id=110, much like I talked about in an earlier article. There are some significant benefits (a sense of ownership), and some significant pitfalls (misinterpretation, a resistance to change).

Ever try to rent a movie with a group of people? Disagreements, right? Now imagine if you had to choose your flick based solely on the rental store’s boxes – no movie art, no action shots, just a few lines describing the film. How difficult would it be to get a consensus then?

As an example of how differently Toby’s brand is viewed, some of the comments ask for more “girlie” elements to be added, some ask that they be taken away. Some find the colour palette too fashion-oriented for a Diva, some find it too playful. Some readers have taken the word “Diva” to mean *fah-bulous* and some have taken it to mean *difficult*. That’s a pretty significant difference.

That there are differences isn’t so surprising. What is surprising is how reasoned the arguments are. The reasoning ultimately ties back to what the individual perceives the Diva brand to be. And there is obviously some disagreement about that!

h2. So who owns the Diva Marketing brand? Is it Toby, or is it her readers?

This line of questioning is pretty important for anyone in the early stages of business blogging. Most successful blogs have become that way organically. My personal site, for example, started as a design experiment, yet along the way it became my primary point of contact with my work world.

Because I’m a designer with a keen interest in how branding works at a brain-function level, I built this site with the hope that it would become associated with the kind of work that I do. That is to say that I controlled the visual and non-verbal aspects of my brand from the outset.

My bet is that many business blogs (and again, I’d consider this site a business blog) begin without much of a thought as to how (or if) the brand is being supported.

This does not mean that you have to spend a ton to hire a “designer”:http://www.theblogstudio.com (of course I’d be quite alright with it if you did!), but it does mean that you need to be aware that your audience will be developing their own brand around you.

h2. Is this good or is this bad?

I think you can make a case for both. It’s good to have your audience invest in your message. The act of brand building may give them a deeper sense of ownership of you. This is good.

On the other hand, unless you’ve made some very specific, well researched decisions, your audience may interpret your brand in ways you never intended. An example of this is the various ways *Diva* has been interpreted. Does Diva mean fabulous or high-strung and difficult?

Offering some visual clues can help your audience have a more uniform view of your true intentions. Using the Diva example again, we could use colour to help make the point. For example, cool pastels with hits of chocolate and teal scream “fab darling, absolutely fab”, while rich reds and opulent greens say “bring me another scarf, I can’t possibly be expected to perform in this weather!”.

As I’ve written “elsewhere”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/why-is-a-blog-so-good-for-your-brand, blogging is an incredibly important and effective branding tool. This exercise has shown me how vital it is to use that tool properly. Whether you know if or not, your audience is creating your brand. Every time they are exposed to your site or your message their mental model of is reinforced.

Ever try to rent a movie with a group of people? Disagreements, right? Now imagine if you had to choose your flick based solely on the rental store’s boxes – no movie art, no action shots, just a few lines describing the film. How difficult would it be to get a consensus then?

Ownership of your brand is vital. You brand exists as a mental model in the minds of your audience (no where else!). As it is, you have only limited control as to what goes into that model. Personally, I think there’s too much time and effort at stake to leave so much of it to chance.