In the last post in this series I talked about brands as living systems. Their meaning can’t be determined by management but is created moment by moment among stakeholders. It’s in the detailed interactions everytime someone buys from, sells to or in some other way interacts with the organisation that a brand’s meaning is made. And one person’s meaning is going to differ from another’s.
Now plenty of brand consultants get this and then leap to the conclusion that, therefore, all the “touchpoints” must be closely controlled, in an effort to stop the brand story from going off at a tangent.
For instance, consider this horrendous list of topics for a conference on internal branding, which I quoted before:
Equipping your leaders with tools and techniques… for Successful Delivery of Brand Values
Achieving consistency.. to ensure everyone is speaking the same language inside and out… ensure management team are using the same vocabulary, look, feel and tone of voice in all forms of communication from post-it notes to emails
Driving change in colleagues behaviour
I’m not against organisations having rules and procedures, but this is absurd and unpleasant. It harks back to the idea that the brand is a fixed thing that can be controlled. Taken to extremes, this kind of thinking is going to squeeze the spontaneity out of all human transactions, a sort of IBM dark suit of language for the 21st Century.
It seems like everyone these days is talking about “storytelling ” in brands, and cultivating “word of mouth”. But they don’t want natural word of mouth where people get to add variety. No, they want a consistent, rigid retelling of the tale according to on-high.
We live in the most heavily branded culture ever known, yet my own day-to-day experience, as well as copious amounts of data from Gallup, suggest that most employeers are disengaged from their work.Brands are supposed to be interesting, but mostly they are boring us to distraction. I think it’s because the likes of Kevin Roberts come along with their egocentric formulae that want to drive the spontaneity out of branding.
They distrust spontaneity because it threatens the perfection of their formula for how things should be. It’s one example of the reverence for the abstract and the material, over the relationship and the people (more on this soon). It leads to the deadening formulaic “have a nice day” customer service instead of allowing human beings the possibility of creating some fun together in a way that works for them in the moment.
I work a lot with Improv because it provides lots of experiences of going with the spontaneous, without the earth swallowing us up. Improv exercises allow us the thrill of discovering life can actually be more fun when we’re not totally in control but are open to what happens in the moment. I remember trying to explain to a client that I wouldn’t give him a list of the exercises I would run for his offsite with a matching list of the “learning points” because such thinking ran totally counter to what Improv was about, at least for me.