The evolution of a super brand—and the power of community ownership

  • Digital
  • January 26, 2011
  • Alex Erasmus
The evolution of a super brand—and the power of community ownership

I recently read a great article in The Economist about Starbucks' decision to remove the words ‘Starbucks’ and ‘coffee’ and also the circle around the siren from the logo. As the writer says, there are relatively few brands that are recognised purely by a logo—think Nike, Adidas, Playboy, McDonald's and Apple. So it’s part of the evolution of a super brand to announce itself as such an integral part of our lives that words are no longer needed. The company now transcends the product itself, which tends to be tied in to the fact that it can now start selling things it wasn’t traditionally associated with. And for Starbucks, this means alcohol and various beverage accessories.

I won’t go into any more detail about why companies do this and why it works or doesn’t as The Economist covers this off well. Instead, I’d like to discuss the other element of this move: the community and its ownership of a brand.

Starbucks is so popular and has done such an excellent job at fostering consumer involvement that customers feel they own the brand as much as the executives. This is great in that it helps sell more to a loyal, predictable audience who give honest, useful feedback all the time. But it also creates a problem in that customers get really angry when things change, even if they are right for the business.

The debate around Starbucks is probably a case of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ to a large degree. But what’s the deeper meaning for PR people? Well, the article informs us that the average supermarket stocks 30,000 items and America’s patent and trademark office issues some 200,000 patents a year. That’s an astonishing amount of choice, which is why creating smaller communities hosted by brands (like Starbucks has done) can be really powerful. Once you start involving outsiders in the creative process, you have to always involve. Action creates expectation, if you like.

What brands do you feel are more than just a product or a service to you? This may not be obvious at first. For example, I looked at what I buy and realised I have five Nivea products that I regularly purchase. Once you’ve realised what you’re a fan of, as opposed to just a customer, consider how this kind of feeling can be tailored into communications for the company you represent. And also consider whether you want this for the brand. It’s all or nothing in a world where we all have a voice.

This is the basis for today’s #markchat (12.30pm on Twitter): what it means for a brand to become super and the benefits and pitfalls of giving control of the brand to the community. Come and join in with your opinions, using the hashtag #markchat.


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