Out of Control


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The world of brands and marketing crossed a threshold this past week. GAP, the iconic American retailer, reversed course and halted the relaunch of a new brand logo in the face of massive negative online public comment about it. Remarkable were the sheer number of alternative logos developed and suggested from individuals via social media. Further, the company issued a press release to apologize for having failed a.) to appreciate the depth of feeling consumers had about the change and b.) to leverage the new technologies as tools to assist the change.

In its press release, the company stated:

“We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing.

“There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way.”

Crowdsourcing is a means by which companies leverage online social technology to elicit broader thinking and input from interested contributors. Frito-Lay, for example, utilized crowdsourcing to air a TV spot for the 2009 Super Bowl that was developed for $2000 by a couple of brothers named Joe and Dave Herbert. Their commercial, “Free Doritos,” took top honors among critics and fans alike as the favorite ad aired on that Super Bowl. The Herbert brothers split a $1 million prize from Frito Lay. Fame and fortune…not bad for a day’s work.

GAP learned this week first-hand that things that used to be totally in their control, like their brand, are no longer theirs exclusively. Sooner or later, all brand marketers and top management groups will realize the same truth. Consumers have taken control. The insatiable needs to exchange ideas, share opinions, and be heard, now enabled by social media technologies, have changed the game of marketing. For that matter, all these forces are changing the nature of management, too. Check out www.glassdoor.com if you want to see the titles, salaries, and ratings of management inside any major company.

No longer is it possible to “promulgate from on high” a tightly refined message, and control its distribution to the uninformed masses. Monologue out. Dialogue in. Even the word “dialogue” doesn’t really capture what’s going on. That implies a two-party conversation. This is different. It’s a multi-party global conversation…more like a “colloquy”…don’t you think?

Whether we like it or not, we are now in an era of near-total transparency. The boundaries that used to define our companies have gone porous. Carefully crafted brand positioning and personalities are subject to crowd approval. Brand equity is a matter of external opinion. Cultural warts and leadership weaknesses are in full view through glass doors.

What should be done about this? We recommend an embrace of consumer-centric service and openness, backed by authentic leadership and cultural transformation through “Enterprise Loyalty”–a topic we will explore in depth going forward, beginning with the launch next week of our “Enterprise Loyalty in Practice” journal. Just as COLLOQUY stepped up to the programming needs of loyalty marketers 20 years ago, in the new journal we will draw on the world’s experts to help senior leaders deploy a customer-focused operating ethic of loyalty as an enterprise-wide strategy. Stay tuned for a LOT more on Enterprise Loyalty.

Jim Sullivan
Jim directs the advancement of enterprise loyalty at COLLOQUY, an endeavor guided by his almost 30 years of managing in marketing, strategic planning, business development, innovation, and communications. Jim also assists with COLLOQUY's loyalty workshops, seminars and conferences, and serves as an academic liaison for colleges, universities and thinking institutions performing research on Enterprise Loyalty.


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