For Non-Brand “Brands” Building Their Brands… Much Work to Be Done


If you’re in marketing, especially of the digital variety, chances are you won’t have much trouble figuring out something new to do this week.

With the explosion of the interactive world into all of its social and mobile splinters, there is always another tool, another tactic, and another way to keep busy. So much so that it might seem to the cynical to be a bit of a competition to see who can look busiest, who can learn the most tools, and who can chase the latest fad.

But if you look at the “to do list” from a coherent standpoint — understanding that there is an overarching, transformative task that is x% on the way to being achieved at your company — the bits and pieces don’t seem endless anymore. It can become more obvious that your company is roughly 10%, or 75%, along the road to reaching a state of (if you will) “full online personhood”. So for some time, that’s a big part of what you’ll be going to work every day trying to fill out. You might as well gamify it.

Your online (social, reputational) “presence” — and the task of completing it — isn’t so much more complicated than filling out a LinkedIn profile, at least in the sense that you can get roughly x% through the task if you keep at it.

That has become increasingly obvious to some kinds of companies — especially larger ones. Some analysts of online competence — when they write and speak — direct their exhortations to “brands,” as if brands are people with souls. “Brands should… ”

It sounds funny, but understanding the context, it’s not far off. At one point in time, going online might have meant building a website, or several. Today — and the proliferation of social media presence & monitoring dashboards/tools like Radian6 is a testament to that — one’s online presence as a company forms a sort of multidimensional profile with all sorts of offshoots and strange surfaces and textures. If a company speaks in a disjointed voice, can be found in one place and not another, leaves little breadcrumbs of its humanity over here, but not over there… it all culminates in the overall impression left with the customer, or potential customer.

If all of that “looks funny,” or barely exists at all, then it really doesn’t matter what the reality of the good people and their good products is, for the hypothetical researcher who might somehow be able to visit the company’s executives in person or magically source perfect word-of-mouth through old-fashioned means. If a tree falls in the forest, and all.

So that’s why brands should.

Of course, we were warned. Long before there was a Facebook, a Twitter, or a Yelp, the Cluetrain Manifesto authors did alert us to the fact that “markets are conversations.” This isn’t something the folks over at Hootsuite just discovered.

If you went out and took a hard look of the (gamified) state of many brands’ building from the one-dimensional (“website and search engine”) visibility paradigm (circa 1998) up to a state of contemporary, full online “personhood,” you’d see many of them at 50%, or maybe just a bit better. More than enough, in most jurisdictions outside of Palo Alto, to be lauded as maintaining a transparent, full-featured, bona fide online presence. Maybe even a likeable one.

But not every company is a “brand.” Why analysts and gurus speak directly to brands (Kleenex? The Keebler Elves? Adidas? Boeing?) probably has something to do with a belief that brands have budgets for agency and guru services. Big ones.

But the non-brands still need to build their “brands” in their own fashion. They’re sorely lacking in encouragement. Their industry peers and boards of directors might not see a need. It can quickly move past the point of being a need to a crisis. Catch-up is hard if you fall too far behind. Try starting up a Twitter account today and see how many real, engaged followers you have next year.

The non-brand brands out there — medium-sized companies — are probably 25% of the economy, as against the larger companies that make up 40% of it (and putting aside for the moment the 35% of the economy that are small to very small businesses). They have a lot of customers. For what a lot of customers want and need, they are better than so-called brands. They should be proud of that! They should own it. They are better than “brands” at connecting with the Seth Godin proposition that today, We Are All Weird. And small (or at least, medium) really is the new big.

All have a built a reputation they want to keep. But standing still instead of building it out further means you lose ground, since the playing field has shifted so dramatically. And yet that guru speaking at TED is not going to have his sales team call, asking when you plan to come up to speed. After all, the sales team is busy making presentations to “brands.”

And… in the gamified state of their buildout of this generation of their online marketing, these great non-brand-brands are stuck at “10% done” — sometimes less. They won’t be great for long if they don’t update their toolkits. “Quiet confidence” and “quiet competence” is are things you only get credit for when someone, um, hears about them.

The to-do list for these non-brands is now extensive and urgent. They need to get on it. For the exact same reasons “brands” did. And it needn’t seem like a random array of tactics and means of gaining cool points. I like to think of it as a coherent mission to adapt to the new requirements of building a full, deeply textured, and coherent presence. The technology, and customers’ expectations, have made this both possible and necessary.

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