We are moving from representing ourselves online to being online. The expression of our online identity is no longer what we’ve accomplished in the past, but what we are doing in the now. Just like us, brands can no longer work on their heritage, but are challenged to actively engage in the now.
Something that has been distorted by the thick clouds of mass media, became clear once more: a brand is only a group of people working together with a common interest. In that way it comes as no surprise that brands become more like individuals. The lack of two-way communication allowed brands to act like aristocrats directing the world from within their invincible castles. These days however the villagers found ways to unite against the aristocrats, making it impossible for anyone to hide and deny responsibility behind the anonymous face of a brand. In a way it can be seen as a step backwards in time to an older model where people bought their products from local craftsmen with whom they had a personal relationship.
Top-down, directed and centralized communication is being replaced by a bricolage of presences that are dynamically generated by the multi-directional and decentralised interactions of the crowd. The brand identity is the result of this complex interaction, and it’s defined every day anew by experience. This connected and shared experience is made out of a multitude of conversations, faces, comments, quotes and images that float around the brand (but no longer controlled by it) and they define a fluid and ever changing identity.
The reason that the top-down brand strategy became obsolete so fast is that it turned out to be even less useful than pre-social media. The consumers got together faster than their rulers could divide them. More and more we will see it happening that a group of people who all have a strong personal brand come together to form supergroups. A famous example of course is CSNY, but you can see it happen in every industry. Brands should avoid being an abstract entity, and start to make clever use of the strengths of the group of people they represent. Only by putting individuals in the foreground will there be enough trust generated to truly engage.
Social media is a toolset that allows the villagers to unite themselves. The old aristocrats are still welcome among them nevertheless, but only on the condition that they leave their shield and sword at home.