Let Your Customers Own Your Brand

There is nothing more important to branding than the customer and what they have to say.

Traditionally, companies have filtered the conversations surrounding their brands. This is a tactic that gives the customer a reason not to trust your company.

The reality is that customers today will be heard. They have many opportunities for accomplishing this with the numerous social networks and other digital platforms.

Knowing this, why not encourage that conversation and optimize it?

Create Shareable Content – Then Listen

The inspiration for this article came from a keynote presentation by Ford Motor Co Chief Marketing Officer Jim Farley at BlogWord 2011 in Los Angeles. Mr. Farley quoted research that indicates 80% of all consumers do not trust large companies.

This is precisely why Ford has made a concerted effort over the last 5 years to embrace both social and social media – shifting marketing dollars from traditional media channels to social channels. A notable success was a $15,000 investment in a video that has already earned nearly 40 million views.

Compare that payoff to a roughly $3 million dollar investment in a super bowl ad that may result in 10 million impressions (views).

When you give your customers content that is interesting and entertaining, educational, or useful in some way – they will share it

What happens after that is more than likely something that serves to create conversations that will provide clues to what your customers appreciate about your brand – and how you can give them more of it.

This is something that is not possible with traditional marketing.

The paradox is by letting go of your brand you get more of what you want – and so does your customer.

Give Your Customers a Platform for Expression

Your customers have a voice and they are using it to be heard. Knowing this, why not consider giving them a platform for expressing themselves.

While Ford obviously has resources to more readily accomplish this, your small business can do the same with a blog or Facebook page.

All you have to do is set a few guidelines, encourage the conversation, and be an active participant. This requires an investment of time but is nonetheless doable.

If you happen to be the leader of your business, you can enlist others from within or outside of your company to publish content – just as long as you are the one personally handling the engagement.

People want to be heard.

If you provide a forum that welcomes both positive and negative commentary, you will win more customers, provided that you are responsive.

Design Your Business Around Social

Letting your customers own your brand is accepting reality – because they do.

One of the most popular articles I have shared here at JeffKorhan.com is How to Make Your Video Go Viral. The truth is I regret writing it because it probably doesn’t give most folks what they are looking for – a formula or recipe.

So here’s the secret formula for going viral on the web:  Have your customers do it for you.

Your customers own your brand because they have far more credibility than you. If you are providing quality products and services and an experience to match, then you have at least a few loyal customers who will gladly create engaging testimonials for your company.

Here’s the key. The more freedom your customers have to put more of them and less of you into their commentary, the more likely that content will earn more business.

Human beings are inherently creative – but uniquely so. What you may consider being weird and quirky is the stuff that may actually go viral.

Besides, you are a busy entrepreneur or small business owner or manager.  So, let go of the reins. Let that horse run.

Ford Motor is doing well these days because they have designed their business around social.  As Ford CMO Jim Farley notes: “Cars are social objects.”

Think about that. When you get a new car that you are really excited about you want to share your joy with your friends. You want to take them for a ride.

That’s marketing that is driven by the customer – the one who really owns the brand.

What are the social objects of your business, those that when enthusiastically shared will bring you more business?

Yep, it’s your products and services.

Design your business around social and your customers will do your marketing for you – that’s what it means to let your customers own your brand.

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business and host of This Old New Business podcast.

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+