One of my favorite things, when I was a kid, was to peruse lists of “most commonly misheard lyrics.” Hey, don’t judge. In the 80s having a pet rock was trendy. Anyway, there were a lot that went on my list of favorites, but the two I remember most are “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy” (Purple Haze) and “Ground Control to Mao Zedong” (Space Odyssey).
I don’t know why I liked those lists so much or why certain examples have stayed with me all these years, but I suspect that part of it is how absurdly easy it is to misunderstand or misinterpret even the most famous of people. From there, I wonder about the people who submitted those misheard lyrics. Did someone think that Jimi Hendrix was “coming out?” Did someone think that David Bowie was sending secret signals to Maoists everywhere? What other songs offered a completely different meaning based on one misheard word?
Of course, nowadays there are tons of sites out there that offer somewhat correct lyrics for songs, though often you have to wade through a parfait of pop-up ads to get to the lyrics you want. While lyrics are becoming easier to pin down, something else is getting harder to control. Brand.
Actually, brand technically is not any harder to control than it ever has been. As much as we’d love to think that any negative commentary on our companies, brands, products, or selves can be blamed on those newfangled Social Media sites, the reality is that while technology has changed, humanity doesn’t evolve over a five-year period. Just ask the Neanderthals. People have always said nice things about excellent customer service. People have always complained about a product that turned out to be overpriced. The burden is that now we can hear all of it, and we feel like we need to control it. We are being told that silence is no longer golden. Silence, in this connected world of ours, may represent ambivalence, brand’s worst nemesis.
The other new thing that isn’t really new is that brands can live or die based on what people tell their friends. It’s just that the way those friends communicate is now oh so public and oh so technologically driven. Think about the damage that Rain Man caused to the K-Mart brand through 2 simple words in the script: “K-Mart sucks.” There was a sense that K-Mart was kind of Wal-Mart’s embarrassing cousin before the movie came out, and then Tom Cruise (in his pre-couch jumping days) put an exclamation point on it. But how did all of that happen? We didn’t have Twitter or Facebook. Heck, I don’t even think Friendster was around yet. Word spread because people were talking to each other, just like they do now.
There is one thing that has definitely changed in the battle of the brands. Companies must now learn to get in touch with their corporate souls, and Social Media does have some part in that revolution.
In the “old” days, say ten years ago, knowing and verbalizing your corporate soul was a good idea and beneficial, but a brand could be created without all of that. A company tagline, a logo that appeared on everything from business cards to booth graphics, and a general aesthetic basically got you there. That is because just like our entertainment, “brand” was not an interactive sport. If there were commercials during a favorite television show, they couldn’t be skipped. If there were ads right smack dab in the middle of a really fascinating article, they had to at the very least be glanced at as the page was turned. If someone thought the ad was bunk they might say so via a reader response card. If they wanted more information they might say so via a reader response card. But the brand builders felt secure that they were leading the customer. Their message was out there in all of the right places, and it could not be avoided. Once the ads were out there, once the radio and television spots were played, there was really nothing to worry about.
Now, of course, the exact opposite is true. Brand is no longer something that can be built and then spoonfed. The customers are in control. They want to know why they should believe you before they even contemplate why they should buy from you. They want to know whether your CSR also likes dogs. They want to talk to you. They want to interact with you. And these things, these intangible things, are the new building blocks of brand. You need to know your corporate soul so that when your voice reaches ear, when your fingers reach keyboard, you and everyone under your corporate roof know exactly what to say and how to say it. You need to know what avatars to use, what taglines to use in your profile, what links to “favorite” on your blog and on your Facebook page. That is how you build your brand, and that is how you control it.
Author: Marjorie Clayman is director of Client Development at Clayman Advertising, a full-service marketing communications firm located in Akron, Ohio. You can catch Marjorie blogging at http://reallifemadman.blogspot.com/.