Can brands be in control of their message?
About a week after everyone got their hands on the seminal new media book, The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger in 1999 (yes, that's almost twelve years ago), a new meme starting bursting out of the Intertubes and into the boardrooms of companies (small, medium and large) across the globe. These companies were being put on notice: they were no longer in control of their brands. The war to control the message had been lost. Because of connectivity, the Internet and online publishing, anyone, anywhere could say whatever they wanted about a brand in text, images, audio and video and there wasn't much a brand could do about it except listen, and - if they were really good - engage and connect.
Was it ever really about control?
In my first business book, Six Pixels of Separation, I made the argument that brands still do control the message. The shift in this world was less about control and more about the volume/loudness of the message in the marketplace. Brands simply could not scream louder than their consumers because the Internet and it's ability to instantly publish to the world equalized this volume. Brand still controlled their vision, mission and the marketing materials that go along with it, while consumers could now say whatever they wanted to about the brand and mash-up those materials as they saw fit.
What happened to control?
You rarely hear Marketing theorists talk about the brands inability to have control over their message anymore. It seems like even discussing who has control is a topic that is dead on arrival. You see, it doesn't really matter if a brand opens up anymore. They don't need customer reviews on their websites, they don't have to Blog and they certainly don't have to be active on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. Why? Because consumers don't need the brand's platform to publish what they think about them. They don't even need a third-party platform (like Yelp!) to post their accolades or dissent. Publishing has gone from expensive to cheap to free to ridiculously free in the blink of an eye. Nobody just consumes content anymore online and most people have multiple publishing platforms to post their thoughts in multiple media formats. Not only can brands not control that, if they choose to ignore it what are they really saying about their ability to be customer-centric? 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.
Control may well be dead on arrival.
Isn't that at all interesting to you? It is to me. Control goes away and we don't even talk about it anymore. Like it never mattered. Like it never happened. Like no one really cares. This is a big deal. This is a game changer. This is changing business (and it continues to do so daily). It amazes me that companies are now forced to answer to their public... in public. That these online channels have become the court of public opinion and that individuals are changing the rules of business each and every day. Let's not kid ourselves either, the majority of businesses are being forced (kicking and screaming) into this new world (which in and of itself tells us something about the true nature of business).
If we're this laissez-faire about control disappearing, I'm left wondering what's next?