Interacting with a brand is analogous to a personal relationship: We are generally attracted to confident and authentic people with interesting attitudes and find the opposite to be rather bland and inconsequential.
If you enter a packed party and see Simon Cowell, you will probably have an urge to engage in dialogue with the controversial American Idol personality who has pronounced opinions. You may not agree with Cowell's view on all subjects but you must credit his stand and his consistency.
In much the same manner, consumers are drawn to and reward those brands with noteworthy and credible personalities. Today brand conviction is more critical to commercial success than ever before. The same goes for political success. Using the Internet, everyone can swiftly challenge declared promises and values of brands and then instantly share their opinions with family, friends, and the world at large.
Rule the political swarm
Word of mouth is said to be the best medium of all. This applies even more today, because consumers are taking on all the characteristics of swarms through social networking sites. DDB Worldwide's CEO Chuck Brymer explores branding in this new media universe in his book, The Nature of Marketing: Marketing to the Swarm as well as the Herd.
If the brand is worthy of comment, key individuals can and will spread the word to communities at high speed and in dimensions hitherto unseen. This influence can be used to create a stronger brand if people flock around it. Or destroy it if they flee.
President-elect Barack Obama co-created both his democratic brand and campaign with the swarm. He built his bid for the highest political office around the core values of hope and change. Change people could believe in because he himself has lived out the American dream all the way from Main Street to the Oval Office.
Obama engaged the swarm by addressing Average Joe's and Jane's directly through his digital campaign. Millions made donations that totalled over $600 million. At the same time, Obama's viral marketing was cheap as millions joined the social network MyBarackObama.com and spread buzz through other networks. Most of the 130 million Google hits on Barack Obama emphasize this canvassing effect. They are serious and supportive.
You cannot fake credibility
But in order to win the support of the swarm it is essential that the brand behavior be rooted in reality, authentic values and insight into the world of the political consumer. There is no control button to push when critics spread a negative agenda.
Sarah Palin was in a hurry to rise to the occasion when she entered the Republican presidential campaign. The hockey mom and novice governor from Alaska suffered from a lack of knowledge and experience in several broadcasted interviews, casting serious doubt about her credibility. The majority of the almost 50 million Google hits on Sarah Palin were at best sceptical or worse, negative.
Millions have laughed at Palin's unfortunate performances on YouTube: Saturday Night Live parodied Katie Couric's CBS interview with a rambling Palin and actor Matt Damon wondered in an online clip if could Palin be trusted with nuclear codes given her evolutionary beliefs.
Today, neither companies nor politicians are in a position to choose if they want to go to the party – the party chooses to go or stay away. You must now ask yourself: do you view this public involvement and co-creation of the brand as a threat because it is difficult to control, or see it as an extraordinary opportunity waiting to be captured?
Poul Mikkelsen is a partner at DDB Denmark