Social Media did a whole lot more than just connect us all in 140 characters (or less) and through Facebook status updates.
If you're not sure what "more" means, drop everything and read the book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger (hint: if you click on the Cluetrain link above, you can read the book online for free). In short, "more" means: open. The battlecry for transparency, honesty and for all sorts of industries (this includes government, businesses and more) to open up has been the central talking point around the power of Social Media.
Can brands really open up?
Between us, I'm not so sure anymore. When it comes to customer service and listening to what people are saying about a brand (positive, negative and neutral), Social Media can have a huge impact on a brand. The public policing has done a lot to change the traditional "command and control" mentality that many organizations have for their brand. In this instance, having a brand that is open to listening and engaging with its consumers makes sense, but I'm not sure that is the same thing as an "open brand." Listening and reacting has made brands more accessible and has enabled and empowered consumers to interact and engage (as much or as little as they like) with brands.
What about true brand innovation?
When it comes to sincere innovation, I'm not so sure. Apple's Steve Jobs is often quoted as saying, "It's not the consumer's job to know what they want." It's not just a great line, because anyone who works on the inside guts of a brand - at the truly innovative level - knows that it's going to be near-impossible to pull true innovation out of the crowd just because you created a virtual suggestion box on an augmented wiki platform and have encouraged your consumers to tell you what the brand should do next.
Is innovation the tweaking of a brand or the reinvention of a brand?
If someone heads over to Starbucks' My Starbucks Idea platform and gets people to vote up the concept of a coffee stir stick that snaps into the sip hole of the drink cover so that nothing spills in transport (which is a true story), does that represent true brand innovation? Does that make Starbucks an open brand? Before you answer, consider this: does Starbucks invite (and respond) to every comment on their new new logo design direction? What about posting next quarter's advertising campaign online for all to see and vote on? Better yet, why not leave the next branding campaign to us? I mean, after all, they're now an open brand, right?
Before you go freaking out, please check this out...
Here's a Blog post titled, Looking Forward to Starbucks Next Chapter, written by Starbucks Chairman, CEO and President, Howard Schultz shortly after the company announced their new logo/positioning. Read some of the 850-plus comments that fall beneath it. Does this sound like a brand that is now in the hands of the consumer because we now live in the age of Social Media where everything must be open and the consumers now control the brand? I'm not picking on Starbucks (or Apple or any brand) at all, but let's be honest: brands are only "open" so long as it's a good Marketing, Communications and Public Relations. The net output of that may lead to some semblance of product adaptation or the introduction of a new product or service (or, like The Gap it could also lead to some back peddling), but that's hardly a truly open brand where the innovation and growth comes from the consumers and the community in tandem with the employees of the company. The reminder here is that words are powerful and you can't just be open or have a democratized brand when it comes to Marketing... it's either a part of corporate DNA or it's just another Marketing tactic.
What do you think about true innovation and the power of a brand? Can a brand's true innovation come from the consumers?