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Navigating the Brand Playground in the Prosumer Era

Young people playing American football on the beach.
The interactions between consumer and company shape today's brands.

A long time ago, I assembled a framework based on existing models (Biel, Kapferer, Smith, Berry & Pulford) in which the brand-building process is schematically presented. Looking back, it is still current. Especially the role of the playing field where customers and companies meet is more important than ever.

Until the early 2000s, brand communication was primarily top-down. A company built a brand identity and linked a brand strategy to it. This was then rolled out to the target audience through various channels. The consumer could react (via customer service, but mainly by buying or not buying the brand), but it remained mainly one-way traffic. A brand strategy created certain perceptions in the consumer: a brand image, so to speak. A brand strategy was called successful if the brand image and brand identity closely matched. If that was not the case, there was 'noise' on the communication line and the company had to go back to the drawing board. Perhaps the brand identity was not well understood or there were incorrect assumptions leading to strategic mistakes.

Brand Playground Framework
The Brand Playground is where customer-company interactions shape the brand.

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Entering the Brand Playground

With the advent of new media and especially the social internet (web 2.0), two-way traffic started. Consumers and customers could respond to brand communication by producing and/or distributing content themselves. They've become prosumers. This evolution created opportunities for both parties:

  • Companies could now monitor in real-time how their (potential) customers interacted with their brand. With these insights, marketing communication could be adjusted to achieve strategic goals.

  • Consumers could make their voice heard and thus felt more involved with brands. Unlike before, they are now actively involved in building a brand. In some cases, loyal customers feel like co-owners of a brand.

Building a brand still starts from the company today. But as soon as the brand enters the public playground, a dialogue with the consumer arises much faster. That's why it's important for the brand owner to anticipate this.

The "brand playground" forces companies to be flexible so that they can respond more quickly to what is 'playing' in the market. Successful brands are dynamic and resilient. They are open to change.

Pentagram designer Paula Sher puts it this way:

“If you want something to last a long period of time, you need to have the ability for flexibility.”


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