Marketing is everywhere, in our real life as well than in our virtual life. Companies tend to more and more personalize their products, to give a strong identity to their brands, create communities around them,…Consumers adhere to this community so much that they become themselves ambassador of the brand, they create events, promote products,…How should companies react to these attitudes? Are there problems of brand ownership?
The halls of every marketing organization are filled with rumors about the new crop of hires — computer scientists, math majors and big data experts. For them, consumers are a mass of 0s and 1s that represent online behavior that can be collected, analyzed and targeted.
But the one thing companies seem to keep forgetting is that customers are actually human beings.
The chocolatier Ferrero Rocher learned that lesson recently from Sara Rosso, a big fan of its Nutella brand. Such a big fan, in fact, that she started an annual World Nutella Day in 2007. The event, conceived by Rosso to celebrate the hazelnut spread, was held in mid-February this year; more than 40,000 fans like the event’s page on Facebook. But Ferrero hardly had a positive reaction to the publicity blitz — the company had its lawyers send Ms. Rosso a cease-and-desist letter.
Of course, Ms. Rosso blogged about the letter and drew a great deal of media coverage. An outcry spread through social media as Nutella fans wondered why Ferrero would want to stop the celebration. Ms. Rosso reported on her blog, “They were very gracious and supportive and we were able to have a productive discussion about World Nutella Day living on for the fans, which is the whole point.”
I was on the other side of the same kind of interaction a couple of years ago. My son Harry, then 8, sent an airplane drawing to Boeing to see if they’d build his design. We got a very similar letter to the one Ms. Rosso received from Boeing asking Harry to stop using the Boeing trademark in his drawings.
I gave my take on the situation in a 2010 blog post titled, “Is Your Customer Service Ready for the New World of Openness?”. The dilemma for me was whether to tell Harry about the letter and the cold, hard truth about corporate communications — or lie to him and tell him we didn’t receive the letter with the hope of continuing to inspire his childhood creativity for as long as possible.
As you can imagine, the media world blew the story up with articles on thousands of blogs, in hundreds of magazines and even on ABC. While Boeing wanted the story to go away, Todd Belcher, the company’s Director of Communications, reached out to Harry personally. After a few chats, Boeing invited the whole family to Seattle to watch planes being built. It was the trip of the lifetime for Harry and it has continued to inspire his creativity.
But Todd’s actions weren’t only beneficial to my son. By realizing that Harry was just a child with a passion for planes, Todd turned a potentially bad situation into a positive one and Boeing changed the way it responds to the public’s ideas.
Nutella and Boeing aren’t unique in trying to figure out how to balance their need to control their intellectual property with their desire to connect with fans that demand — and have — more access than ever to corporations and a passion for broadcasting their love of a brand in the age of democratized communications driven by digital technology.
In 2000, Metallica sued 30,000 fans for illegally downloading their music on Napster. Likewise,Mattel has battled fans over making their own versions of Barbies. Fedex even used the DCMA(Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to force Jose Avila to take down a web site that displayed furniture that he’d made out of FedEx boxes.
Like it or not, every brand that has a following will have to deal with this unique digital-age problem.
As companies become more digital and equipped with advanced marketing analytic tools that allow them to know and predict consumers’ behavior even better than consumers themselves, they need to be more human as well. It’s time to shift the paradigm. Brands need to not only connect directly with their fans but also rethink the concept of brand ownership. Brands can be owned by both the company and the community of customers, fans, and followers that rallies around them.
As new digital marketing tools and systems are implemented they must be balanced by even more analogue systems than before. The ability to reach out, in a human way, to a Sara or Harry can quickly create either positive or negative momentum for your brand. That makes human interaction more important than ever.
(Source: Harvard Business Review)