You own your brand’s experience.

I get frustrated when people, especially those involved with social media, claim that the consumer owns the brand. For those making this statement, the logic says that because people are talking about your brand—especially on social media—and because they are sharing the story of your brand—perhaps even without you—that somehow your customers own the brand.

There is a nuance to this belief that compromises your success: If you ignore the brand strategy because you believe you no longer own the brand, your organization is doomed.

Yes, each customer holds their own perception of the brand. In fact, every stakeholder has their own version of the brand story in their head. And when they share the story with other people, they may or may not be sharing it in a way that will make you happy. It’s called word-of-mouth, and you don’t get to own it.

People hold the conversations about the brand. They don’t own the brand experience.

We’ve always had word-of-mouth. In fact, the world had word-of-mouth before any other form of marketing. The speed of conversations in social media is unprecedented, but it doesn’t make the conversations something new. Word-of-mouth is just different stakeholders sharing stories about their perception of the experience.

But those are just their stories; you still control the experience they are talking about. You still brew the coffee or fly the airplanes or teach the students or feed the hungry or organize the masses or fight the oppressors. Your organization still acts in accordance with your brand story, and delivers an experience.

Tom Asacker said in a tweet to me, “The experience shapes the story, and the story shapes the experience. The key is to be strategic with both.” There has to be a balance between the two—both anchored in the strategy—where the organization builds an experience in pursuit of its goals, and give supporters (and perhaps detractors) something to share with word-of-mouth.

With a brand strategy, you define the experience first. You take a stand for what you believe in, make a promise, and set yourself up to deliver the promise. Then you tell a story; you capture people’s imagination and invite them to share your cause. Once the brand is experienced and a story is shared, there is a constant mixing of the two, drawing people deeper and deeper into a relationship. You own the brand experience while you embrace their stories and explore more of your own.

Then it’s good to let everyone talk about it. Because they will.

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