The Time for Brand Insurrection Has Arrived; Six Pack Abs Are Still Optional

Photo thanks to VizualPoetry.com and Geo Geller.

What’s really happening in the photo?
Its backstage at the first ever #BrandsConf in NYC.  This day of rocket-fast presentations on why brands must humanize to thrive.  It is a spin-off the of popular #140 confs curated by Twitter impresario Jeff Pulver.

The guy behind me is Stefan Pinto.  We were both getting ready to do presentations. His preparation, lucky guy, involved having some kind of cream rubbed on him by numerous willing assistants.

That’s what makes #BrandsConf such a great scene. I was there with data on the effects of humanizing my little corner of Thomson Reuters, where we connected the brand personally to our client-facing staff. The founder of Comcast Cares, and social media staff from Citibank, Sesame Street, academia and governments mashed it up in a series of  abbreviated presentations.

The earliest universities started out this way:
people gathered to hear speakers who “professed” to have knowledge. Then their students voted with their feet. Eventually some of those like-minded “professors” banded together in colleges that provided systems of knowledge.

Stefan and I were up in the second half of what would be more than 40 “professors” that day.  Both of us wanted to cut through the conceptual clutter with easy-to-grab insights that any brand could use.

Are You the VP of Disruption? Probably.

So after five hours of hearing the benefits of why every brand should be more personal, I asked  Who’s in charge of brand insurrection at your company? Those people sitting through five hours of thinking about brand change are pretty clearly their firms’ points of change leadership. And since there is no VP of Brand Disruption, that leadership will be from the bottom up. That’s how revolutions start.

Socially empowered audiences are pulling monolithic brand from their pedestals. David Court’s recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly notes that customers now create 66 percent of brand touchpoints. Guess these are not static, guideline-compliant experiences. If the crowd is creating more brand impressions than brand managers, the message is clear: “humanize or be humanized.”

Brand managers are increasingly thinking of themselves as community managers. They need to cultivate fan relations, and could take a page from Amanda Palmer’s social playbook, shared here in video from Boston’s #140conf.

Better to be Ray Kroc than Ronald McDonald
In our complex world, simplicity and transparency are table stakes for trust.  It’s where credibility and ease come from.

That’s the opposite of how monolithic “Oz-like” brands present themselves. They aren’t helpful to consumers who want clarity, credibility and certainty when they buy. Putting customer-facing staff out in front of the brand provides a doorway to what can otherwise be an inscrutable wall of brand identity.

Put Your Real People in Front of the Brand
My particular example was a tiny act of brand insurrection I helped lead at Thomson Reuters. We  happened to run this with a control group, so we ended up with a nice set of statistically relevant data.  The results were dramatic, and it hopefully provided ammunition to the brand revolutionaries at #BrandsConf. Branding to your sales team is a fast-win tactic that cuts through brand politics.

When simply putting people in front of brands can feel radical, small steps can earn big results. And fortunately, few need to be so bold as to do this abs-first. However, shirtless and ripped seemed like a pretty great differentiator on that day in December.

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