Citizen Brand Managers?

Businesses rely on their customers for long-term success. I know that is a pretty obvious statement. In this post, though, I want to discuss the manner in which we rely on them, beyond the need for customers to buy our stuff.

News outlets use citizen journalists for different story angles and helping fill in coverage gaps.

Trawl through Engadget.com and you’ll find any number of hacks and mods of software and hardware from people that like making things their own or seeing if they can just do it.

This isn’t necessarily a new trend—neighborhood newsletters have existed for decades and many early PCs were custom built by those geeks at school—but social media make their use and deployment wider in scope.

I’ve often written in this blog that direct interaction with our customers and ultimate consumers is the only way for us to know whether we are delivering the right thing in the right way and for the right price. Now I’m thinking that there is merit to having those same individuals contribute directly to how you manage your brand.

My idea here goes beyond what we see with open source technology, where you rely on expert users to improve your product, or product customization, where your customer has the option to mix and match different pieces of your product puzzle to get what suits them best (or close to it). It’s even more than contests of creativity for ad campaigns, user interfaces and the like.

The real benefit I see is in having your existing and potential customers work with you to improve how you operate your brand (remember, I am a firm believer that managing a brand is no different than managing a business, for they are one in the same). Sure, much of the feedback will come in the form of product modifications and new ad ideas. But if you reach out to them the right way, they’ll help you identify ways to trim costs, educate and support your staff, refine your message, manage your content.

You won’t be abdicating your responsibility for managing your brand. Far from it. You, in fact, will become more accountable for integrating that feedback and insight with your brand promise. And you will have to weed through a lot of crazy, off-the-wall ideas, some of which will propel your business to unprecedented success. Ideas that you would not have developed or been able to execute on your own. Ideas that will separate you from the competition.

It’s a model that can work for any brand. The resources needed to pull it off will vary greatly, depending on your existing reach and level of interaction with customers.

Look at your own business. How much do you rely on your customers’ input in building your brand? What steps, no matter how small, can you take to make them an influential part of the process?

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