Developing Modern Brands is all about Sociability – but that doesn’t scale well in the offline world

How is marketing is adapting to the digital revolution and the effects of Long Tail economies?   How can companies evolve to survive? Can ‘old fashioned’ business models offer any insight? These are the questions I’ve been pondering in the last few weeks.  I feel I’m getting closer to working through them because I’m forcing myself to write my thoughts down here.

It seems to me that
‘marketing’ was used to be about ‘ doing’ a service or selling a product, or both, really
well. Developing a relationship with your customers was vital. Then what happens is you can’t scale your own
skills, attributes and relationships so you use an intermediary, more people probably,
who you then train to manage the customers in the same way you would.  And then you scale further and use something
which stands in for the things that you do so it can replicate and be ‘transferable’.  One would be standard practices – Taylorist approaches perhaps, standard measures for your products or services so they ‘mean’ the same thing for every customer. Fine.  But you also need to communicate that you embody these same values and practices and the customer can enjoy the same ‘experience’.  You use your name, let’s say you use “Sarks and Mencer”. Sarks and Mencer then comes to define the
innate qualities – the values – of your core services and products… but the rub
is that it needs a lot of help to do this at
a distance.
It requires a strong
‘network’ [see my earlier post for what I mean by this].

as an industry sprung up to help that network and to support that name that
stood in for the qualities of whatever it was that was being sold, often
intangible things like ‘wellbeing’ [health] or ‘risk’ [insurance]. It spawned ‘brands’ and ‘brand
strategies’ and various methods and tools like ‘brand core’ for describing your

However, where marketers dug their own
grave was in believing that the network and the brand were more powerful than
the service or the product or the network that they came to represent. Successful brands like Virgin that have managed to become transferable ‘values’ are the exception.  Brands do not make for strong
associations in and of themselves – they need a *lot* of help.  Now we
find we’ve come full circle because the move to marketing as conversation is really nothing more than an
appreciation that the qualities of the service or the product and the
relationship with the customer is the key. So new buzz terms like transparency
are really nothing more than a realisation that you need to be honest and open
about what you do. Otherwise people won’t trust you, they won’t engage with
you.  Let advocates and evangelists sell
your stuff for you and help them to do this.

But how can this scale?  How can you ensure your values, services and products work ‘at a distance’ and are communicated to different audiences?  Does marketing as conversation only work for niche products?  And, if so, does this mean the end of big brands in the digital age?  Well, no, it can’t, but I believe it does mean that the underlying principles of old fashioned marketing as I described above have to be embedded within the service and the brand in digital companies, especially Long Tail companies .  Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay, Google, all exist as massive brands partly because of the sociality that they have built into their services.  It’s easier and, on the whole cheaper, to create systems that allow for a certain ‘sociality’ than it is to create good customer service – just look at the massive problems encountered around call centre service and customer satisfaction.  These digital giants recognise that it is the experience that drives the brand and not vice versa.  And their solutions do scale, partly because of the network effects themselves, with little noticeable detriment to the experience [Ben’s post on eBay’s Trust model is one example of when these monilthic companies and brands do get it wrong, however.] B&Q [British hardware store] are trying hard to create a brand that is recognised for its customer service – and their current ad campaign is based around there ‘human’ customner led approach.  But as anyone who actually goes to their store knows the experince never lives up to the image we are broadcast by the company – and that’s where old fashioned marketing priciples are being lost and why the new digital companies are winning out, because their models are inherently more social.  Of course I’m not saying this applies scross the board but I do see it as a underlying trend.  Who would have thought that 50 years ago we would be using online companies because they were better at customer service and being sociable?