Is control still an issue for brands?


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Mitch Joel, author of the must read "Six Pixels of Separation" wrote an interesting post recently that got me thinking about control. Mitch wrote:

"We’re at this strange new intersection where the expectation is that every brand has relinquished the control over their messaging and that they’re listening (and hopefully reacting) to this ever-growing chorus of feedback."

I agree whole-heartedly with his comments that in many ways "Control" should now be a  dead issue; something that was surfaced by the Cluetrain Manefesto over 12 years ago and has been discussed to death by leading marketers who have long accepted that their monopoly on control has been eroded (if not usurped) by consumers. As Mitch points out in Six Pixels, that does not of course mean that brands are irrelevant. They "still control their vision, mission and the marketing materials that go along with it, while consumers can now say whatever they want about the brand and mash-up those materials as they see fit." In other words brands can still listen, engage, provide consumers with collateral & material, but ultimately consumers will supplement their view of the brand with their own comments and their own research on what other people are saying etc.

Yet, something nags at me… I don’t agree that the topic of control is dead (or should be dead) everywhere just yet. I am fortunate to work with a wide range of organisations in Europe; some who are at the leading edge of high volume business to consumer digital marketing and others who still think that social networks are just toys for college kids and see little or no relevance of social media to their business. Within less mature Marketing departments I still find that despite all the debate and discussion "control" remains the elephant in the room; the issue that people have failed to address or discuss. This manifests itself in Marketing departments who:

  • Have been brought up to believe that they can control every aspect of the brand right down to the font size and are struggling to let go of that belief
  • Don’t engage with social media at all (the ostrich head in the sand approach, see "Characterising different approaches to social media")
  • Treat social media as an outbound broadcast channel and fail to look at it in the context of the broader customer experience
  • Make meaningless claims about customer-centricity but don’t back those up with their actions
  • Discourage or heavily moderate customer comments & feedback on their site
  • Restrict access to social networking tools internally within the organisation (as 50% of UK employers still currently do)
  • Fail to provide any form of guidance as to how employees can respond to customers using social media (if they allow response at all)

I wish control were a dead issue but at one end of the maturity spectrum (which of course varies greatly by industry and by geography) I still see organisations who haven’t yet go to grips with this basic topic and badly need to. Whilst marketing theorists may well have moved on, I don’t believe every brand has yet.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Laurence Buchanan
Laurence is CEO of EY Seren and leads EY’s global Customer & Growth practice. He works with clients to help them re-imagine growth through human-centered design, innovation and the transformation of Marketing, Sales & Customer Service functions. He is a recognized authority on digital transformation, customer experience and CRM, he has worked across a wide range of sectors, including telco, media, life sciences, retail and sports. He received an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford.


  1. Hello Laurence
    The words change – depending on what is in vogue – and perhaps the behaviour changes sometimes. What rarely changes is the mindset that gives rise to the words and the behaviour. And in that regards most of us have a particular mindset regarding ‘our property’: we own it, we control it, we decide what can and cannot happen. That mindset is alive in all of us and especially in big business. It is not going to go away easily.



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