Powerful brands cannot be controlled

Someone asked me a while ago about how we can control the LEGO brand given that it has such a vibrant community? I tried not to laugh, because the person had a very straight look on their face and besides, laughing would be rude – it is actually a serious question that many brands battle with.

Controlling is by nature hard. If you control things too much, you stifle creativity, participation, serendipity – things happening that you couldn’t have imagined. Simultaneously the word ‘control’ is in vogue. We have to control banks from lending to people who can’t pay back, bankers from gambling on the stock market, planes from taking off lest some ash might bring them down, youth drinking too much, not excercising enough.. the list goes on and on. In fact, sometimes the very act of growing up to me feels like we internalise the lie that we can actually completely control things around us – our careers, relationships, earnings and we are shocked when events prove us wrong.

Similarly with brands. They are composed by a trademark that we can control to some extent. Lawyers make a good killing doing just that. The other bit is what we can’t – it is what people emotionally associate with a brand and that’s what brings brands to life – the hearts and minds of those who love you for what you are and stand for. In the olden days it was possible to influence this with advertising. The fancier and more compelling campaign, the better. Somehow the world has changed.

We trust each other more than we trust companies. What a community does with the products associated with a brand is more authentic than what the company behind it tells us we should do. We like people who walk the talk. Better still we like them if they are like us. So control? The horse has already bolted as some would say. Below is a great visual of the ‘conversation prism’. This shows the diversity of platform where conversations about a brand can take place. It is bewildering in its complexity. To try to control it would be futile. The best we can do is to participate as equals in the conversation if we are invited. Brands, just like community members are ultimately trust agents – and you only become one if you repeatedly prove that you are an individual who is deserving of others’ time as demonstrated through actions and words. Control? Forget it.