Someone asked me a while ago how we can control the LEGO brand, given its vibrant community. I tried not to laugh because the person had a very straight look on their face, and besides, laughing would be rude – it is a serious question that many brands battle with. My spontaneous desire to laugh was not one bourne out of arrogance or the sense that I know better, it is more to do with the word ‘control’.
Controlling is, by nature, hard. If you control things too much, you stifle creativity, participation, and serendipity – things happening that you couldn’t have imagined. Simultaneously the word ‘control’ is in vogue. We have to control banks from lending to people who can’t pay back, bankers from gambling on the stock market, planes from taking off lest some ash might bring them down, youth drinking too much, not exercising enough.. the list goes on and on. Sometimes the very act of growing up to me feels like we internalise the lie that we can completely control things around us – our careers, relationships, and earnings and we are shocked when events prove us wrong.
Similarly, with brands. They are composed of a trademark that we can control to some extent. Lawyers make a good killing doing just that. The other bit is what we can’t – it is what people emotionally associate with a brand, and that’s what brings brands to life – the hearts and minds of those who love you for what you are and stand for. In the olden days, it was possible to influence this with advertising. The fancier and more compelling the campaign, the better. Somehow the world has changed.
We trust each other more than we trust companies. What a community does with the products associated with a brand is more authentic than what the company behind it tells us we should do. We like people who walk the talk. Better still, we like them if they are like us. So control? The horse has already bolted as some would say. Below is an excellent visual of the ‘conversation prism’. This shows the diversity of platforms where conversations about a brand can take place. It is bewildering in its complexity. To try to control it would be futile. The best we can do is participate as equals in the conversation if invited. Brands, just like community members, are ultimately trust agents – and you only become one if you repeatedly prove that you deserve others’ time, as demonstrated through actions and words. Control? Forget it.