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The same thing we do every night – Try and take over the Discourse:
Brands as Memes
By Chris Cox
Declaration of plagiarism
I, _________________________, hereby declare that: I understand what plagiarism entails and am aware of the university’s policy in this regard. I declare that this final research script is my own, original work. Where someone else’s work was used [whether from printed source, the internet or any other source] due acknowledgement was given and reference was made according to departmental requirements. I did not make use of another learner’s previous work and submit it as my own. I did not allow and will not allow anyone to copy my work with the intention of presenting it as his/her own work.
Declaration of plagiarism Content page Abstract 1. INTRODUCTION 2. LIVING IN LANGUAGE 2.1 Natural hierarchies 2.2 Technologies of the self 2.3 Ways of interacting 3. LIVE AND LET DIE 3.1 Living in the moment 3.2 Brands are central 3.3 Evolution of a new way 3.4 The power of resonance 4. CONNECTING DEEPLY 4.1 Deep identity 4.2 “Just knowing” 4.3 Branding without branding 4.4 Contact in the right light 4.5 Interaction escalation 5. CONNECTING IN THE RIGHT WAY 5.1 Social violation theory 5.1.1 Social proof 5.1.2 Calibration 5.1.3 Permission 5.1.4 Social Roles 5.2 Managing expectations 5.3 A product of discourse
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6. DOMINATING THE DISCOURSE 6.1 Nurturing niches 6.2 Frame control 6.3 Dealing with power relations 6.4 Ascendancy 6.5 Holding court 7. CONCLUSION 8. SOURCE LIST
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Abstract: This paper argues that peoples’ lives and experiences are socially constructed, and that social constructs are linguistic-social constructs; as such brands are cultural-linguistic constructs (memes) whose goal is to dominate the discourses within which they are involved. The importance of that is that they cannot act as objects communicating outwards, but as evolving self-designed mental entities designed to prosper in a specific environment (just as their physical counterparts would). The world of human social interaction and social hierarchy are ones embedded in language; humans (and now brands) make use of sophisticated ‘technologies of the self’ in order to control the ways in which they interact and are perceived to be interacting in this milieu; brands as memes however require human hosts and must ensure that they understand the various factors and resulting techniques that will best enable them to survive and replicate. As a result this paper argues from the basis of myriad social science sources that brands stand to benefit by reframing their understanding of reality accordingly. First brands must ensure that they not only have deep and authentic identities that (at least purport to) extend well beyond profit-making, but that they must also engineer interaction with audiences that drives audiences ever-deeper into the reality of the brand, all the while their communication, especially all of those factors that register below the level of conscious perception but nonetheless shift people’s perceptions of an interaction, must communicate this identity authentically. Second, brands stand to benefit by engaging critically in audience-communication, understanding first and foremost the intrinsic sense-making mechanisms of individuals and the rules that govern social interactions in deeming actions ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ and assigning value, and the techniques to leverage these. Third, brands can benefit by realising how they can achieve the dominance and control of a discourse, by understanding how to select and nurture niche markets into the mainstream, by controlling the shared understanding and experience of the discourse by all parties involved, by making use of specific techniques in regulating, equalising and even creating power relations, by making use of specific techniques in order to achieve ascendancy over competitors, and finally by engineering and subverting discourses around a brand.
1. INTRODUCTION The existence and use of a medium of expression places at its mercy those who make use of it. Sapir (1958:69) makes the assertion that the concept of non-verbal thought is in fact a fallacy, and all thinking is in fact linguistic; hence, the worlds in which different groups live are, in fact, distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached: “[people] see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as [they] do because the language habits of [their] communit[ies] predispose certain choices of interpretation.” Language, Whorf (1956:213) asserts, is an obligatory agreement between members of a group to organise, ascribe significance to, and codify that which we perceive in specific ways, as guided by the language’s pre-existing constructs, and reflected in the patterns of their language. No person, object, idea or action that can be articulated can thus be devoid of significance, of a categorisation, or of associations and emotional connotations. Conversely, Chandler (1994a) posits that the language used by the individual is influenced by the way in which they see the world. Brands do not exist outside of this matrix. The world of commerce and economy is a linguistically constructed world that lives and breathes and exists within the broader social world. In fact, this very principle is the cornerstone upon which branding exists, and its raison d'étre – without the power of emotional connotation and of a linguistically defined world all that remains is bland, flat objectivity. Yet simultaneously brands, as entities with the ability to articulate concepts and ideas (albeit on a much larger scale) are not confined to the realm of the object – that is, the article being defined. They are able to also contribute to and co-create discourses. Furthermore, although the exact mix and flavouring of perceptions of the experienced world, and the conceptions surrounding, are unique to each individual, the realm of shared understandings, perceptions and conceptions of groups of belonging is the vaster by far. Humans involuntarily enter the contract of their medium of expression at a very young age as individuals. But language is not a static entity. Even as language novices children begin to twist, distort, conjugate and misinterpret terms, which are occasionally even adopted by adults; this process becomes increasingly more effective as the language user becomes more adept, and as levels of interaction increase these language mutations become increasingly common. Dialogues within groups, and between groups, shift and incrementally evolve, and at times even radically change the meanings of terms. When this insight is considered in connection with Sapir-Whorf’s hypothesis that language defines the human experience of life, it is clear that the life experiences of individuals are socially constructed, to at least some degree (dependent on the extremity of the -7-
interpretation taken of hypothesis is) as they share ‘sociolects’ – that is, the shared languages of groups (Chandler, 1994a). With this realisation comes the opportunity for brands to enter these dialogues not as objects hoping and attempting to be interpreted in a specific way, but rather as active participants who, making use of the rules of the discourse they intend to enter as regarding engagement and reinterpretation, utilise their unique (and given the proper application of these rules, remarkably powerful) voice to shift the discourse in directions favourable to the brand. Upon the consideration of the fact that the perceptions an individual has of what is outside of him/herself are linguistic and social constructs, the logical conclusion must be reached that the perceptions and relationships with these entities (people, objects, ideologies, etc.) are constructs that ‘live’ in the mind of the individual. As such, these perceptions and relationships are not objective constructs, but rather subjective and evolving ideas: what Dawkins (2006:189) calls “memes” – the cognitive equivalents of the genes; units of cultural transmission. These memes, and their combination, necessarily (building from the argument previous) form the basis of the individual’s experience of life. Memes often exist in clusters of more-or-less integrated cooperative sets, known as memeplexes – explaining the way in which upon joining new groups people often take on new language (the ‘sociolects’ spoken of previously) and new seemingly unrelated attitudes and behaviours. Arguing that most of what is unusual about humankind can be summed up as “culture”, Dawkins (2006:191) asserts that cultural transmission, while mostly conservative, like genetic transmission, can give rise to a form of evolution, citing the example of the evolution of language, which clearly does not evolve along genetic lines. However, it is not only language, but also fashion, customs, art, architecture, engineering and technology, amongst other things which all evolve in a way that “looks like highly speeded up genetic evolution, but really has nothing to do with genetic evolution.” In the online world, blog posts are clear examples of memes: one can observe a given blog post an author has written, follow it (through Trackbacks) as other various authors engage with and mutates and spreads it, and in turn how their readership too engages with it. As one of the constructs, and units of culture, that ‘live’ in the minds of individuals, brands are in fact memes; if this is so, brands then have the ability to impact upon their human carrier’s experiences of life in a deep way; brands are internal to their ‘human carriers’, not external; they are social entities, not objects; they need to interact with people as groups of human individuals, not as masses. They need to learn to be sociable. As such, the task of this paper will be to give an -8-
account of at least the most significant and rudimentary means whereby groups interact with memes, drawing from the social sciences factors that make specific memes more effective in their quests to both survive and replicate in social group settings, with a particular focus upon how memes are able to not merely survive but in fact dominate a particular discourse. This new perspective may enable brand communication professionals to reframe some views related to branding, enabling the viewing of branding practises in a sliver of potential new light and spark new potential territories for thought and research. Additionally, in accordance with the postmodern perspective of this paper, its aim is primarily to be useful and to generate beneficial explanations and territories for others to do likewise, as opposed to aiming to be ‘true’ or giving an flawless explanation of an objective ‘reality’. 2. LIVING IN LANGUAGE 2.1 Natural hierarchies Brands, and memes in general, do not exist in a static environment; as such, like their organic equivalents, they are forced to adapt and develop, for only those most effective in survival and replication have futures. Godin (2000) asserts that “[w]hen you create an idea and lay the groundwork for it to become a virus, it pays to study the vector you’d like it to follow. Why? Because there’s plenty you can do to influence its vector, and the vector you choose will have a lot to do with who “gets” the virus. The vector controls the hives through which the idea flows.” In the same way, but potentially more significantly, and earlier in the design process, it is crucial to understand the elementary tenets of change in the contemporary environment wherein they exist, so as to understand the changes that they necessarily must undergo in order to survive. The contemporary commercial environment has become increasingly similar to the natural environment – it is increasingly cluttered and highly competitive, it is unforgiving, it requires quick adaptation and implementation, it requires the development of communities of trust and trusting synergistic relationships. Schumpeter, according to McCraw (2007), argues that the American “scheme of values” in the 19th century, “drew nearly all the brains into business …and impressed the businessman’s attitude upon the soul of the nation.” Furthermore, business in this manifestation constantly fights for its survival in the competitive environment, developing what modern business schools call “strategy,” that is, “an attempt by firms to keep on their feet,” as Schumpeter put it, “on ground that is slipping away under them.” Considering this it is inevitable that innovation ensues as -9-
monopolies’ profits are swiftly eroded by the vigour of new entrants to capture share of market through superior perception management and through superior competitive offerings – all of which drive innovation in their respective areas, and moreover speed the rate of environmental change, which reciprocally drives the rate of necessary innovation. The contemporary situation is defined by change and innovation at an accelerating rate; the key to long-term success lies in brands’ abilities to dominate particular discourses, and in order to do so innovation is important in their ability to develop and evolve with, and ahead of the environment and offer value in unique and sustainable ways – that is, ensuring that the brand exists in a favourable way in the minds of its audiences, making use of authentic and effective social interaction, and through what Godin (2000) styles “sneezable” product/service offering-experiences – that is offerings that are easily spread and incite users to spread them. Ensuring that brands exist favourably in the minds of audiences becomes increasingly complex as one considers the implications of brands as memetic entities, existing within complicated social structures, whose ultimate goal is to dominate particular discourse; fortunately, this perspective also avail the brand of increasingly powerful and effective tools and perspectives. Social value and hierarchies are created and exist linguistically in social settings linguistically as this paper has asserted previously. Baudrillard (2002) argues that:
“Meaning is based upon an absence (so 'dog' means 'dog' not because of what the word says, as such, but because of what it does not say: 'cat', 'goat', 'tree' et cetera). In fact, [he viewed] meaning as near enough self-referential: objects, images of objects, words and signs are situated in a web of meaning; one object's meaning is only understandable through its relation to the meaning of other objects. One thing's prestigiousness relates to another's quotidianity.”
As such it would seem a pertinent to engage the topic of group theory. If the human experience of what is perceived as ‘reality’ is in fact socially constructed, then it is also true that it is constructed from an innumerable multitude of sources, both those that have aided the individual in its construction in the past, and those that ongoingly aid in its construction presently. An individual is at any time under the influence of a vast number of “groups of belonging” (past and present) and is under the influence of and is taking part in a number of “discourses”, all of which merge in a complicated self-interpretative and negotiated compromise that is the ‘personality’ of the individual. The manifestation thereof occurs through the filter of what Foucault labels the “technologies of the self” – referring to the “ways in which people put - 10 -
forward, and police, their "selves" in society; and ways in which they are enabled or constrained in their use of different techniques by available discourses,” (Gauntlett, 2007). Groups of belonging and discourses encountered are generally linked; and owing to the memory of humans, and their need to generate fictions to account for their experiences, exposures and cognitions, however temporary, ‘live in’ individuals. That is, their effects are lasting, and like myriad chemical elements continuously added into a single test-tube in varying quantities remain inert or mix and react spontaneously, rendering unique individuals, and driving action in those individuals. Unlike the chemicals in a typical test-tube however, these elements need not form a coherent solution, and are more-or-less cordoned off from one another, oftentimes acting and generating action in highly paradoxical and even contradictory fashions, which the host may or may not comprehend. 2.2 Technologies of the self Brands, like natural entities strive to ‘insert’ a consciousness, personality and interpretation of their pasts and world experiences, constantly encountering and interacting with surrounding discourses, and negotiating power and perceptual definitions. However, unlike natural entities, brands have a far greater scope for identity and level of control of the creation and implementation thereof. That is, their technologies of the self tend to be more developed, and the finances and skills, as well as media available to the brand to represent itself offer far greater flexibility and scope than the options available to the typical individual. Yet, brands would seem to be unversed in the social discourses into which they are necessarily placed, and the rules, regulations and power constraints with which they are faced in these scenarios, oftentimes brazenly ignoring these factors to their (relative) detriment. All ‘personalities’ are in one sense memes, and any individual and group will have specific relationships with them: regardless of whether one regards a human, a tangible object, or even an action or abstract thought, all are socially constructed memes. In this sense, everything is a brand. However, memes in the popular sense are contagious (or attempt to be contagious at least); this leaves an interesting quandary: how does an entity manipulate its technologies of self in such a way as to both imbed itself in others as a concept for a sufficiently long period of time (longevity) for so as to enable it to spread to new others (fecundity) with a degree of accuracy (copying fidelity), while also ensuring that its host is under its command in some sphere and takes a desired action – some memes are primarily ‘actionables’: for instance a person singing and thus spreading unconsciously a specific version of a specific song, despite that version not - 11 -
being taught to them, or even authorised, owing to them hearing another person accidentally sing the incorrect words (Dawkins, 2006:323); but many memes are primarily ‘view-shifting’, in that they distinctly take ownership of a specific territory in the minds of individuals that has impacts upon other memes and ways of viewing things and acting, and may secondarily contain an actionable component. This should however not be seen in a binary fashion, but rather as a gradiented continuum; most brands fall neither squarely on one extreme or the other, but rather at a point in between, although it would be reasonable to expect that more low-involvement brands would be situated nearer the actionable extreme, while the converse would be true for higher involvement brands, as one would tend to ‘define’ oneself more by their higher involvement purchases (although it must be noted that for different individuals and groups different items will be perceived as low- or high-involvement, and also those perceptions projected onto others; for a specific group of teenagers bound by a common group and discourse around skateboarding, one’s choice of cola may be an intensely defining moment of self – brands can never lose sight of the fact that in this framework their identity makes up a part of the consumer’s identity, and their very being must intrinsically give rise to meaning and value). To be sure, even the concepts collectively making up communication practises and what it is to ‘be’ groups are memes; these ideas can be exchanged, interlinked, spread and can evolve dynamically (as well as be actively fostered in a given direction, given proper care). The implications of this entire section is that both memetic entities and their technologies of the self (in the case of sentient entities) both function within specific frameworks of discourse, and are also made up of specific frameworks of discourse; they can only act and evolve as these discourses enable them to. 2.3 Ways of interacting Like humans, brands have ‘living’ personalities and manifest them through skilfully managed technologies of self; only the media involved differ. Yet, brands for all their insights into others, skills in developing communication, and their budgets in ensuring communications brands frequently fail to engage positively with the one key area that it is easiest for them to forget, as essentially non-physical entities. It is this same area whose interpretation is the key basis for social skill to the socially savvy human, and it is this same area that brands would be best to learn in order to best ensure their success, and this is element is the understanding of discourses of social group interaction. Brands, as pure memetic entities like texts, are not self-validating in the way that humans are – human beings can and will construct memetic entities to create - 12 -
meaning in a given scenario. Hence, brands need an audience (a host), as well as an author (cf. Chandler, 1994b; Fish, 1980) in order to have meaning – thus they must exist in a social context and take part in the particular sociolect of a particular group in a particular context. It is clear that the brand must employ a variety of communication messages and techniques in order to successfully escalate interaction, particularly in a properly calibrated media effort. Barthes (Hawkes, 1977:114) argues that two fundamental styles of texts exist, in terms of their engagement of the reader: the readerly (“lisible” in the words of Barthes, or perhaps a more relevant term in the digital era, from Chandler (1994), “userly”) and the writerly (“scripible,” or perhaps “makerly” (ibid)). A readerly text leaves a reader with a simple ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ response to the text, treating the writer as the producer and the reader as the passive consumer and suggest their ‘reflection’ of the ‘real world’ (examples are that of a telephone directory or a dictionary). On the other hand, a writerly text requests the active participation of the reader, and takes a level of involvement in the construction of reality (for example, a poem or short story tends to fall into this category). Ironically, it can be argued that for many people it is the readerly texts that tend, in fact, to be described as 'readable'; whilst writerly texts are often referred to as 'unreadable' as they require a far more active involvement and analysis. However, it is not only the style of the text, but also the manner wherein the consumer of the text engages it: for instance, poem might be used as a source of biographical information, while a dictionary might be used as a source of ‘found poetry’ – with experienced readers the usage of a text can depend entirely upon the reader, although the text might position itself as facilitating a particular use more conveniently and effectively, which can be equally important, in what the age of the “time starved” postmodern consumer (cf. Bellman et al., 1999; Grewal et al., 2004) However, with the encroachment of postmodernism into Western society, and its gradual infiltration on both conscious and unconscious levels into the mainstream, it would seem that increasing amounts of content are entering the realm of the makerly – for instance, a vast amount of MTV’s generated and broadcast content could be classified this way; as could the contemporary trend of blogging, forums and other so-called ‘Web 2.0’ content and mobile media. The growth of “New Media” – over the period 2000-2007 Internet usage alone has grown 225% to just under 18% of the world’s population, with some regions reaching almost 70% penetration as at 30 June 2007 according to Nielsen//Netratings (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2007) – appears to lend itself to the argument that the contemporary consumer seeks a more interactive, self-generated, and credible (to their own worldviews and language surrounding) experience (cf. McCarthy and Wright, 2004; Szmigin 2003) – which may, owing to its interactive and highly - 13 -
targeted (albeit oftentimes self-targeted) nature, straddle the definitions of userly and makerly. For the brand this represents opportunities to define itself and be defined in ways that will be insightfully favourable to the brand – i.e. it is not always favourable to promote oneself, or one’s claims explicitly, it may be more favourable to use a more makerly approach – for instance, while targeting a number of highly diverse consumer groups with a single message (owing to budget constraints, or in order to reduce message complexity, or even to establish a greater degree of consumer ownership of the brand and its messages). The Savanna cider brand in South Africa may be a good example of such a strategy, where the only brand advertisements are at best tangential to the product itself, but whose content and tone facilitate a makerly interaction with the brand, as a variety of audiences interpreted the brand into their own contexts and linguistic constructs. This effect can oftentimes be enriched through the use of micro-targeting strategies wherein dialogue is created. It could be argued that makerly communications are the ‘indirect’ method, soft sell (cf. the early work of Rubicam of Young & Rubicam fame) method of advertising which best facilitates comfort and rapport building – but that it is possible that these brands leverage moments of userly communication and directness in order to capitalise on comfort and value created (as Savanna does from time-to-time with its various promotional offers). This argument could be extrapolated to hypothesise that the reason social and cause branding is effective is only partly due to consumer’s values level identification with the firm, but also owing to the manner wherein consumers are able to engage with the branded material, constructing their own conceptions and being ‘trusted’ by the brand to do so, resulting in a higher level of rapport and trust it allowed to built through such an interaction. Needless to say, this is not merely a message construction constraint, but a more allencompassing consideration that extends to choice and placement of media, as well as target audience insights and roles. Media choice is a particularly important consideration in this view as certain media are more prone to the facilitation of certain types of interaction, by certain audiences in specific roles and states, at specific times. For instance, a businesswoman who is also a mother of two children may experience an advertorial placed in the business section of a newspaper publication on her public transport trip to work in the morning as an interactive debate, where she actively considers the opinions of the authors and debates them with her own evaluations, allowing them to spur her on to further evaluations and musings, but may experience an aesthetically appealing advertisement in a woman’s magazine read during a lunch - 14 -
break in a park in a highly userly manner, merely accepting or rejecting the information, considering only the credibility of the source and her own experiences in the matter. Likewise, a teenage school-going girl may glance upon the same aesthetically appealing advertisement in a the same publication and engage with it in a makerly manner, constructing semiotic and experiential meanings and attaching them to the message; but may engage with a television advertisement for a petrochemicals firm played during the evening news in a highly userly manner, accepting or rejecting the message based on anecdotal and experiential sources. Although closely related, userly and makerly modes of interaction are not to be confused with Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) central and peripheral routes of persuasion, which deals predominantly with the person experiencing the message and their ability or inability to process the content, and the according effects this has upon them, where’s the work of Barthes as applied here is concerned with constitution of the message and the format wherein it is engaged by the consumer, and the impact that has upon the reception of the brand. 3. LIVE AND LET DIE 3.1 Living in the moment In order for the brand-meme to obtain said hosts they must perform the two essential functions of organic entities: survive, and replicate. Both require the brand to at least purportedly provide benefit (or threat of harm if removed or not taken on) to their host or potential hosts. For a brand to survive, it need only fend off offending competitors (see Ascendancy under 6.4) – which may include subtly unrelated other memes that may slow or stop consumption behaviour. For a brand to be readily spread, or be “sneezable” it must necessarily resonate on a most deep level with the audience it hopes to engage with, in the environment it hopes to engage with them in, ensuring that its communication is appropriate to the mental state and role of the audience – what is known as “need-states” (Schreuder, 2007) (cf. Rodgers, 2004), which draw from the theory that there are a limited number of primal human desires (for instance ‘health and beauty’, ‘power’, ‘status’, etc.) and that these are manifested more or less strongly in certain moments, and that products should be engineered, marketed and made available to meet those needs in those moments. Failure to do so results in the “wallpapering” of brands – brands whose commercial messages blend into the unnoticed background fabric of the audience. Need-states are related to, although not the same as what can be called consumer’s “secret expectations”: consumer’s expectations, like their need-states, are often not explicitly known to - 15 -
even themselves – yet, it is clear that they are responsive to them (as a corollary, this text rejects the dichotomy between characterisations of consumers as ‘dupes’ and consumer sovereignty (“power of the consumer”) as superficial – both of these states exist simultaneously, but are manifest by specific need-states at different times and in different ways in different interactions). Unlike need-states, the secret expectations of an individual regarding a product or category do not necessarily reveal the most effective way to communicate it, rather only the most “fitting” – meaning, the manner wherein the consumer would be most accustomed to experiencing such communication, which may in fact be the least effective manner in some cases. In a world where the consumer and brand live together in synergistic relationships, much like birds who in gaining nutrition from the fruits of plants also spread their seeds, what influences the consumer influences the companies that wish to reach him/her – understanding these forces will define brands and the economy going forward (Bellas, 2006). 3.2 Brands are central To shift the analogy back, brands – like genes, their organic equivalents – have the greatest chance of survival not alone as solitary organisms fighting for survival in the primordial communications soup that is the discourse; but rather as the engines and the drivers behind the survival machines that are businesses, and much more, as replicating, diversifying, evolving organisms. This view necessarily places the brand at the heart of the business; it is the essence of the business and its essential reason for being. The make-up of the brand may or may not be altruistic or driven by values (as this paper later argues brands with developed identities have a greater chance of survival), but in all businesses the brand is central as the essence of the business, whether or not executives choose to consciously perceive it in this manner. Hence, the definition of brand used in this paper will follow and work from Thoma’s (2007) definition as “the sum total of all that is known, thought, felt and perceived about your company, service or product,” where that definition encompasses not only the visual and communication elements as the definition given by the Dictionary of Business and Management’s does (Building Brands Ltd., 2005), but rather to all that can be perceived of the brand in the human capacity, and applies not only to the mind’s of the consumers as the definition of Aaker (ibid) would seem to lend itself to (as he speaks of the “value provided by the product or service” which would seem to lend itself to a clearly consumerist orientation), but rather to all persons with any contact with the brand – both external stakeholders of all varieties, but more importantly in ensuring a brand’s survival and evolution into the future, internal stakeholders of all varieties, particularly management. - 16 -
3.3 Evolution of a new way In yet another return to genetics, Darwin’s principle of “survival of the fittest” is really a special applied case of the much larger principle that is survival of the stable (Dawkins, 2006:17). In previous times, perhaps not even over a quarter of a century ago, a stable brand (i.e. one whose identity was consistently manifest and introduced into consumer’s lives, and who overcome cash-flow difficulties to ensure its longevity) was fairly sure to triumph through the “televisionindustrial complex”: the ability to ‘interrupt’ consumer’s lives with advertising messages, which in turn drove product purchase, and thus the repetition of this cycle (Godin, 2004). This cycle is unfortunately ended – ended, just like the early stable organism’s success by the superabundance of competition and in this case media choice also, leading to increasingly niche and fragmented markets, dominated no longer by brands but by empowered consumers (Lindstrom, 2006). Those that now succeed are those that are nimble and quick to change and evolve: those that best sense the external environment and adapt. Thus, the evolution of the integrated and strategicallyoriented brand: Aaker describes how brands must move beyond mere integration, and seek strategy and understanding of the environment within which they operate, in a far broader sense than merely target audience media consumption, but deep insights, macro-economic, and sociopolitical understandings (Singh, 2006). These new strategically-oriented brands are akin to the earliest organisms with sensory capacity, which in many cases greatly aids their ability to survive – but just as in evolution, some sensory evolutions were not accurate and led their hosts to destruction, and as such were weeded out of existence: so shall it be with branding. Yet, those that do survive will face new challenges – the memetic pool is now too crowded for it to be dominated by one strain of thinking, and soon competition will arise that is better equipped to deal with the realities of the discourse than these brands even; this paper suggests that this new species of brand will not be merely functional, as those of the industrial age were, nor will they be merely persuasive, as those of the twentieth century were, they will not be merely strategic as those of modern times are; each generation builds upon the last, and only its strongest survive and adapt, it is suggested that these will be the brands that are embodiments [of the epitomisation of a discourse]. These brands will embody and epitomise the key values of the particular discourse within which their audiences are involved, in all aspects – the first purposefully, holistically aspirational brands (cf. Millward Brown, 2007).
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Lindstrom (2006) asserts that despite this need to adapt and build relevant relationships, and moreover interactions, with consumers, many, if not most, brands remain unable to make this leap successfully. First, many brands find themselves unable to penetrate the cloud of clutter that envelopes the contemporary consumer (Godin, 2005b), unable to gain their attention as they are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of communication and put on their selective attention goggles – so much so that Porter (2006) believes that trusted sources account for most purchases, citing an NYTimes article that notes that at least two thirds of NetFlix rentals are generated by recommendations. By its very definition clutter means that most advertisements are not noticed, probably more than advertisers would like to believe. Second, many brands find themselves without impact on the contemporary consumer, even once they have broken through the clutter; and when impact is achieved brands often find themselves “punching below their weight”, failing to achieve the levels of impact they would desire on their budgets (Interbrand, 2007). Finally brands find themselves oftentimes struggling to build rapport and trust with consumers in a world where word of mouth and direct experience are the most, if not even the only, credible sources; in fact, it is alleged that ten percent of the American population makes decisions for the rest of the population through this process, on issues ranging from political voting to evening movies (Keller & Berry, 2006). The contemporary consumer on the other hand, can be summarily described as seeking three attributes in their brand relationships. Firstly, consumers have grown accustomed to having a “voice” and a say in brands and branding – desiring to contribute to and co-own both the communication and the offering itself (Lindstrom, 2006); brands must engage consumers in ways the consumer seeks to engage with them in, while they are in the correct state and playing the correct role to be engaged in that way. Thus branding leaves the realm of activities directed ‘at’ audiences, to enter the realm of an activity performed ‘with’ the audience; brands become jointly constructed (Locke, et al., 1999). Secondly, consumers seek human interaction and a feeling of connection – one could argue, as some theorists do, that consumers experience a sense of anxiety and alienation owing to capitalism’s and now technology’s isolating effects, as well as the effect of increasing pace of living and shiftings away from tradional values (cf. Aaker, 1996; Arvidson, 2005; Socialist Review, 2000). Thirdly, consumers seek authentic developed identities and values, not mere functionality – to draw from Godin’s (2003) terminology, functionality can only be a “purple cow” for a limited period before it fades back to “brownness” and is reabsorbed into the clutter as consumers bore of it and competitors imitate and better it. It is dangerous and controversial to have a developed identity and it can be unpopular for a brand to have opinions and values, that much is true; unfortunately brands that fail to do so are most - 18 -
certainly dead or dying, because brands now depend on conversations with and amongst consumers, and without substance and without provocation and edge all that remains is mundanity, and no conversation exists around the bland and boring – unless it is exceptional for its incredible blandness and boringness (Lindstrom, 2006). 3.4 The power of resonance Brands are losing relevance hand over fist in the new economy, and consumers do not care. Brand managers do though: London (2004) quotes brand guru Aaker: “It seems that just about every company I visit is struggling with this stuff [sharpening their brand management skills, or risking seeing their products become irrelevant]. Either they are not sure which brands to grow, or they have too many brands and can’t cut through the clutter, or they have brands that are losing relevance.” New niche sub-markets emerge at an alarming pace, catching brands in areas where they are simply irrelevant. But how can it be ensured that a brand will be able to dominate or ‘lead’ a group that it enters, save for by chance? For chance, after all is only another term expressing ignorance; it means determined by some as yet unknown, or unspecified means. Surely, better performance than mere ‘chance’ can be achieved, building from the collected experience of the social sciences and their guiding principles and generalisations, as related to interpersonal and group dynamics in the Western climate. Groups are fragmenting and are being further artificially fragmented by marketers in order to better realise the ultimate goal of “particle marketing” – marketing to unique individuals with unique messages (cf. Godin, 2005a:100; Negroponte, 1995:164). Groups tend to be similar, especially when they share traits that are not ‘globally acceptable’ in greater society, sharing many other unrelated traits too as a result of the high level of group viscosity that has developed in order to ensure the group’s survival in a “hostile” environment (Dawkins, 2006:219). Even if the vision of particle marketing is achieved, the reality is that individual traits are memetic constructs, which live and breathe, reproduce and evolve as socially constructed entities – collectively these memetic constructs form a constellation of ideas, which in its ultimate form is known as the discourse. Owing to the fact that brands operate, as groups and individuals do, in specific networks of discourses, with their own defining impacts upon the technologies of self ‘allowed’ to be used, - 19 -
and further, owing to the fact that in order for memes to spread they necessarily must offer, or appear to offer, some virtue if adopted (or threat of disadvantage if not adopted) – the interpretation of which differs between sociolects – they must become shrewd in the construction and constitution of their identities, growing ever more insight-focussed. Moreover, because life, and the individual’s experience of it, is narrative – that is, life is not a clean step-by-step, bulletpoint process; but rather a chaotic tapestry of actions, experiences and unrelated connections – and what is more, that within the present environment the individual’s experience of this narrative is at best cluttered and at worst overwhelming (Schreuder, 2007) the individual’s created internal narrative-fiction, as they recount their experience internally, leaves vast gaps empty, as the individual consciously and unconsciously puts on their ‘selective attention goggles’ and filters out elements deemed to be irrelevant. If as the individual constructs their internal narrative-fiction the ‘real world’ is as a constructed storyboard (which just as with other narratives cannot be too cluttered or too filled with irrelevancies, in order to maintain coherence) to the individual (ibid), and the impact any interaction has upon an individual is a question of relevance, then the natural tendency for any communication seeking impact, especially within such an increasingly fragmented and diverse context, is to craft increasingly niche strategies (increasing niche-ness increases potential relevance to a particular audience, albeit at the potential cost of other audiences), and increasingly experiential strategies (increasing experience of a relevant idea increases potential for impact, as it ‘outclutters’ and overwhelms competing concepts, for a time). The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle made special mention of the power of the tone and style of a message, noting that when an audience buys into a tone, they are far more likely to buy into the logic and emotional experience of a message also (Ramage & Bean, 1998:81) – which is in perfect keeping with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis outlined prior. Further, when groups share common attributes (in reality, memeplexes), they will also be given to share a degree of common tone. In order to thus resonate with these would-be consumers the brand must adopt a posturing similar to that of the group. In fact, the brand must identify the individual memes that comprise this memeplex with as much specificity as is possible, these must then be investigated thoroughly, including their interrelations, and then extrapolated to their logical conclusions (‘epitomised’, so to speak). These conclusions must then be reconstituted into a new epitomised identity whose tone the brand communication engineers involved will reverse-engineer so as to build a brand identity (in the modern, strategic fashion of theorists such as Aaker or Keller). While this is related to the 20th century concept of lifestyle brands, or image branding, it is also - 20 -
distinct – where those approaches were concerned with the discovery of elements of the individual’s identity so as to discover their highest manifestations, this approach suggests that the brand collect and reconstitute that knowledge into its own identity, and aims to embody that identity – for instance, taking a single element as an example: where image branding might suggest that a specific target market aspired to the lifestyle and fame of professional skateboarders and then produce advertising suggesting that the use of their product would avail the audience of that experience, epitomisation aims to embody such fame and fortune by literally having the brand embody that experience by understanding what the defining expressions of key memes are in that audience’s epitomised profile, for instance the brand targeting persons aspiring skateboarding heroes would recognise that the defining expression are ‘realness’ and ‘comical irreverence’ and become the most comical but aggressively blunt and opinionated brand: it would alienate a vast portion of mainstream consumers to be sure, but the niche market being targeted would love the brand beyond any other. 4. CONNECTING DEEPLY 4.1 Deep identity This is not to say that “lowest common denominator” communication strategies are dead, and that there can be no overarching principles of communication; indeed, they exist and they do thrive, and it is likely that they will do so, so long as there remains large bodies of humans who are linked in common languages and cultural formations (and thus fundamental philosophies, worldviews and experiences), (Whorf, 1965:213). But their forms change, one should not confuse the principle with the vehicle of execution – no longer are “lowest common denominator” communication vehicles (such as national television advertising) successful; rather, a message must have the freedom to evolve and be customised and take on different forms, so as to best ensure their prosperity in their potential hosts. Before this paper considers several overarching lowest common denominator communication principles for the success of a meme, it is important to consider the impacts of the contemporary context upon the constitution of the meme, if it is to be successful. The contemporary brand requires an authentic identity that reaches beyond the mere sale of products – it certainly can no longer afford to be obviously constructed (a symptom of shallow identity and values), or to fail to offer value within its communication itself (a seemingly simple challenge, which becomes increasingly difficult upon integration with all other identity concerns). A successful meme meets two requirements in the minds of its hosts: meaning and - 21 -
relevance. Product functionality with a twist of personality can of course fulfil these two requirements, however the role of branding is to make sustainable that which is otherwise unsustainable, to make competitive that which is otherwise not competitive, to add value where there is none. This approach would be shallow and short-sighted for a number of reasons, chief amongst which is the fact that the value of the meme is rooted in its physical manifestation – which is not necessarily dangerous, however in this case it is as the value is functional, and thus the threat of a competitor copying or simulating the functional benefit is of great note, leading to commoditisation (or worse, if the competitive product is able to add value using branding identity techniques). Of slightly longer term concern is the threat of changing consumer needs – a product will thus require revision or even complete replacement to meet these needs, but owing to the lack of defined brand identity continuity is most limited. Thus, positioning centred on being “the best [product]” is not a sustainable strategy. Consumers ask two questions upon encountering a brand, and it is suggested that they are asked (counterintuitively) in this order: first, “what do you mean to me?”, and second, “who are you?”. The first can be answered by any brand, but the second requires depth and an appearance of authenticity – for only with the second can the interaction be negotiated as between two identities, as they seek to understand their respective roles; without this, the interaction is decidedly one-sided. This communication as a rule should not be explicit: as a rule subcommunication is both more powerful and more credible and authentic than explicit communication (Rumbauskas, 2007) (many brands violate this rule owing to the challenge of drawing audiences sufficiently into their reality as to become aware of sub-communication, this is owing to both limited budgets and creativity, as well as poor Frame Control (discussed under 6.2)). 4.2 “Just knowing” In the ruthless world of memetics, perception, as unfortunate as it is, is reality. If only the most beneficial and useful memes spread there would be no war, no greed, and no questions of truth and morals. Sub-communication is all of the cues that enable a potential host to assess the validity and benefit of a meme – in the same way as a person might meet another person, look at someone and hear them talk and interact with them it is possible to ‘get a feeling’ for what kind of person they are, and of person hangs out with this person. This is not always the case, of course, oftentimes one might interact with a person that ‘isn’t their type’ and be won over by their charm, empathy, or humour – as one discovers other memes in common with the other, or - 22 -
commended memes that are held by the other, that were not apparent upon the initial encounter (Rumbauskas, 2007). So, while the niche of identity chosen by the brand plays a role, and predisposes certain people and groups of people to and against it (this is an important facet – the more niche an identity is, the stronger the connections towards it will be, and the easier satirised it will be), it can also be subverted given sufficient resources (Godin, 2006b). In effect, some messages have more credibility than others, they simply resonate with the worldview of their audiences more powerfully – they are not necessarily more objectively true or false, instead they are fictions and accounts of happenings, ideas, objects and the world of ‘reality’ whose structure and composition resonates more powerfully with the experiences and worldviews of the audience (Godin, 2006b). In terms of branding, it is clear that as memes brands set out with a disadvantage from the ubiquity of publications and conversations across media criticising brands, advertising and marketing for developing ‘marketing speak’ and other tools to synthetically veneer poor offerings. Years of inauthenticity and hyperbole have turned branded communication into the commercial equivalent of junk-science in the minds of audiences; even a powerfully resonating brand has still to do much work in order to overcome this credibility gap and connect at all. One of the chief complaints levelled against corporates engaging in ‘marketing speak’ is that in their communication no human life-experience shows: the communication is sanitised, and consumers can perceive the cues that offer them the impression that the message was not expressive of the sender, it was made purely because it was they perceived that the recipient wanted to hear. By and large consumers are desensitised to it to such a degree that they no longer expect any better – oftentimes purchase is closer to picking the lesser of two evils (Locke, et al., 1999). The typical approach taken to this problem, with some good effect, and which cannot be ignored, is simple; Sink (2004) calls it the “Law of Candor [sic]” – that is, “when you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive,” building from the respect given (especially in light of the ubiquity of ‘marketing speak’ audiences are exposed to) by audiences to organisations courageous and honest enough to admit that not everything is perfect, or aligned with their brand images. The ability of a person, writes Von Markovik (2007:173), and how much more true of a brand, to admit vulnerability demonstrates and creates an emotional connection between them. This is kind of emotional connection is created not only by the ability to face up to and confront actual weaknesses and vulnerabilities (in fact Von Markovik argues that if none are apparent to the audience, one should structure opportunities to ‘accidentally’ reveal them), but also other intimate types of communication – for instance life stories (which Von Markovik (2007:179) - 23 -
calls “grounding” because of the way these interactive routines are able to draw the connection between a more flamboyant and intimidating (or at least incredible) identity, and the reality of the audience), as well as speaking openly and honestly about negativity and the hard truths of life (with a very strong caveat: with the world-view the audience will find strong and appealing; an honest and authentic brand is great, but no audience needs a whining, insecure or miserable brand in their life). The revealing of vulnerabilities in a sincere and believable way builds comfort; comfort itself is merely a lack of discomfort. It is partnered with trust, which is generated by reliable independence of values and motives (discussed in paragraphs to come): comfort is the belief and feeling on the part of the individual that the brand has good intentions towards them, while trust is the belief that in situations where they feel uncomfortable the brand will do whatever they can to make that alleviate that sensation, and make them feel safe (adapted from Von Markovik (2007:160). Scoble & Israel (2006) claim the success of blogging, particular in reference to what differentiates it from other corporate communications, is due to the fact that real people are simply more believable than actors pretending to be real people. In 1999 the movement for the human-voice approach towards marketing was popularised by the Cluetrain Manifesto (Locke, et al., 1999), characterised by the view that:
“These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked… Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.”
4.3 Branding without branding Popular culture archetypically accepts the existence of an internal ‘discoverable’ identity, alterable in manifestation by circumstance and experience, but fundamentally immutable. All of these positions are grounded in the flawed assumption that there is some kind of a natural and undefined human self and communication. So when the Locke, et al. hope to liberate people from "Suit speak" this is a noble aim, but it remains a misphrasing of the real situation. In light of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Foucault and other postmodern readings, it is not possible to take this statement at its face value – it would seem that people are indeed more believable when they are comfortable and they adopt the personality they have cultivated over many years, rather than one forced to be adopted, especially when that forced personality is to represent an identity that - 24 -
they do not really understand, and much worse, that they and their audience do not in actuality believe. But make no mistake all identities, all personalities, are contrived and practised entities some are merely more practised and collected than others; some are picked up almost 'osmotically', while others are sought out and assimilated consciously. What must really be understood is that upon entering any context a person will also enter a specific frame of mind and take on the views of a specific frame of reference, and act according to certain rules (Ronnlund, et al., 2005). Employees do not need to be 'liberated' from these rules, for all interactions have rules, they are simply different rules, and at times more or less relatable to a person’s ‘native’ scenario. What is truly necessary is the understanding of a new set of rules, which are more compelling to these individuals and their interests, and equally to the external stakeholders they are engaging with. These rules must emanate from the brand and its culture as the driver of the business – which incidentally may be the reason many successful brands are often driven by strong cultures emanating from strong leaders who are able to define the brand culture (Venture Republic, 2007). The power of sub-communication, social dynamics and memetics offer the opportunity to evade the trap of inauthenticity, in part at least. So then, the key is not to get employees to act (all communication as defined in the previous paragraph is actually acting, but in this sense it is acting out an identity they do not believe or desire to enact), the key is to get the brand’s employees to genuinely believe in identity and to either consciously (because it is seductive and powerful) or osmotically (because it is popular and the culture of the organisation unconsciously pressurises them to) take it on. At the same time, planned communication must reflect and live up to that developed identity and congruently merge those realities, making use of social dynamics principles, techniques and gambits. In order to evade the trap of inauthenticity the key is thus simple, at least in concept: brand, but do not appear to be branding. That is, brands should not prescribe themselves to consumers, but rather simply make themselves available (ostensibly as a manifestation of themselves taking action upon some aspect of their identity) so as to ‘allow’ audiences the opportunity to ‘discover’ them. It is envisioned that this approach would literally translate the brand into an activist group in the minds of a specific group: how the brand conducts itself, the attitudes and beliefs it holds, these are those of the cause – the level of authenticity required is very high, and it is highly advisable that the cause and identity the business is purported to be is based upon a true reflection of their interests, lest they be accused of inauthenticity, damaging their reputation beyond any gains they might have achieved. - 25 -
The hypothesised success of this tactic is based on at least two related principles: peacocking (dealt with under Social proof under 5.1.1), and deep identity. Apart from the mere difference of communication that sets the brand apart from the presumably ‘salesy’ communication of the rest of the category (peacocking), the entity is perceived to have a ‘deep’ identity beyond the mere sale of products (in effect, a motivation for the sale of products that inspires it to be who it is and do what it does), capitalising upon the empathy and reciprocity generated between the individual and the brand as the individual conceivably perceives the brand no longer as an entity merely performing a function mechanically because it must, but as an entity that cares more about that individual than they need to (humans only ‘write to say “hi”’ to friends – it is a decidedly authentic and amicable gesture), or something a person similar to that individual cares about. 4.4 Contact in the right light For this reason it is beneficial to create the impression that the agenda of the organisation is not only that of selling and commercial gain, but that they are actually doing what they are doing because they are authentically interested in being true to themselves, having a relationships and living their values. Hence, when the organisation communicates with individuals using various media it should not stem from a need on the part of the organisation to "find" and communicate with these audiences, so as to turn a profit. No, rather it should be done because like any good friend who has values and cares about their friend, there is a desire to communicate, and to be together, and share their lives together. The reason the brand approaches and opens conversations with new people is (ostensibly) never because of their need for business – it is always a manifestation of their core values, their selves being reflected through action, which often involves such tangential contacts with other humans, and if their values coincide with those of the brand, or if they simply respect those of the organisation – which the organisation should necessarily have crafted their identity to do so – then they might want to join the brand on its quest; after all, it has status and power and a voice, and it can do things for them and with them, and in the process each entity will get to know each other and serve each other. This is not to say that all media contacts will be idyllic and Utopian – but rather to emphasise that brand contacts occur, at least ostensibly, as manifestations of core values; that is, when an organisation makes a selling offer it does so because it (ostensibly) believe that for its values to be best realised it needs to sell a specific kind of product, manufactured and distributed in a specific manner, to a specific audience in a specific way; and this much should more-or-less be - 26 -
sub-communicated to the audience. Google is an excellent example of a brand who lives and breathes their values – engaging in a number of purportedly benevolent acts merely as manifestations of their values and mission. Thus the need for the use of different media in different roles, achieving different goals – not all media are fruitful in making first contacts with consumers; not all media are useful as relationship building platforms; not all are of service in the attempt to sell. Hence, it is crucial to understand the messages that the use of specific media give of a brand, its perception of its audience and the contact (of course, it is not impossible to make a good first contact with a billboard, for instance, but its difficult and not likely to foster good relationship; the brand would seem to have essentially telegraphed only interest in the audience for profitable purposes, and not identity, and definitely not interaction – more on this under Social Violation in 5.1). Another important technique in creating brands that resonate deeply with audiences, and as memes thus are more likely to be adopted on deeper levels is the power of humour, especially that of the self-depreciating variety (Locke, et al., 1999) – it reflects a number of positive attributes, chief amongst which is confidence: confidence that they are, despite their occasional shortfallings and other potential negative idiosyncrasies, a good and a positive organisation; confidence that their products are of quality even if there are mistakes from time to time; confidence that the company has strong values. Organisations, like individuals should accept their flaws and be willing to poke fun at them (See Frame Control under 6.2), even publicise them if their existence is commonly acknowledged; if their flaws offend people they should apologise for them and make efforts to change – for them to act that their flaws do not exist is to insult their audiences; for them to become defensive is to lose their audiences’ trust. Owing to the ability of memes promoting confidence, passion, ambition and persistence’ success in triumphing over blander attributes, by imbuing their hosts with effective competitive advantages over competing hosts these memes have come to represent ‘high value’. Other memes that encourage or own these attributes as a part of their own identities (whose images are able to convey this to potential hosts) are far more likely to survive (Von Markovik, 2007:24). Drawing from the work of Tolle, Cook (2007a) – writing under the pseudonym ‘Tyler’ – writes that self-esteem and ego are two opposing states existing in the mind of the individual; selfesteem is a naturally occurring state in human beings, that it is their ‘default’ emotional state: one of contentment and confidence. Ego, on the other hand is the sum of all the rational justifications and stories told internally attempting to rationalise sensations of confidence and contentment: a - 27 -
superficial veneer for the inability to deal with inner woundedness, that people can sense, and which repels them (hence the colloquialism, “there are too many egos in this room here today!”). He argues that only insecure people are easily offended, and cannot accept rejection, feeling the need to justify themselves or attack others. Despite the high level of abstraction involved in this portion of the discussion this would seem to be of great moment for the brand, which traditionally has acted in ways that would cause an onlooker to believe if human the brand would be an insecure egotistical person, discontent and being ‘bold’ (as opposed to the subtlety and certainty of confidence) attempting to overcompensate for insecurities. In another post Cook (2007b) notes that when an externally dependent attribute becomes central to an internal identity, while potentially beneficial in the short term may cause a person becomes “reaction-seeking” requiring the ongoing validation of that element, and in its absence experience a crisis of identity. It is possible that this is also true of brands, who in asserting their dominance over a category, attribute, skill, insight or group of people, may lose sight of their broader identities becoming focussed upon that singular essence, and worse, in its absence lose their identities and credibility both internally and externally. One fear that may drive some brands to the use of external attributes as defining characteristics of their identity is the fear that their identity alone is not sufficiently deep. After all, a brand cannot ‘live its values’ if it in fact has none. Locke (1997), citing Zen master Roshi, asserts that corporates need to “relax”: “to control your cow, give it a bigger pasture.” They should make efforts to express themselves more organically and experiment with things, such as identities, images, and values – in short they should remember their origins of humanness, for it is through these origins that they are able to resonate with their audiences and thus spread. 4.5 Interaction escalation The way wherein brands transition is equally important as the actual communication and media choices it makes. This text appropriates the term ‘transitioning’ from the ideas of venuechanging, time-bridging and mental state-changing used by members of seduction communities (cf. Von Markovik, 2007; Savoy, 2006). The general line of argument there followed is that through the exercise of venue-changing and by making use of a number of highly contrasting highly intense emotional states it is possible to create the illusion of a deep connection and thus deep rapport over a short time period. The leap between media, which often includes a timedelay element (the ‘transition’) should not be harsh, providing the audience with too great of a difference in communication style and identity (if identity must be shifted over time because - 28 -
first-contacts for whatever reason do not allow the brand to give the impression of themselves they would desire, this should be a gradual process); it should not be a process whereby the brand directs and dictates to the audience to interact with them elsewhere and in other forms – to do so would both confuse and incense the time-starved and media-bombarded modern consumer. The transition should be a seductive process, luring its audience to a new medium at a new location at a new time (or any combination thereof), providing incentives, making known why the brand itself will be there, and how it is congruent for its own identity to work out there in that setting. The term ‘calibration’ (Von Markovik, 2007:38) is used to describe the manner wherein pick-up artists dynamically alter communication strategies as they ‘elicit the values’ of the ‘target’, and are able to respond to the challenges of dynamic communication scenarios with polished and tested ‘material’ (interactive routines or stories) – in its application to branding this paper interprets this to be the manner wherein the brand makes use of detailed insights into the audience’s mental state and worldview as at that moment, and delivers communication thus ‘calibrated’ to meet these requirements in the formats and timeframes and flow necessary. ‘Micro-calibration’ refers to the manner wherein pick-up artists make use of a five-factor simplification model of communication to dynamically interpret the ‘target’s’ communication cues into easily actionable data, ensuring appropriate up-to-the-moment actions; in application to branding this is interpreted to refer to the manner wherein technology (through elaborate and sophisticated databasing, and complicated algorithms interpreting this data through a web of communication-recommendation engines) in the foreseeable future could allow brands to develop up-to-the-moment interpretations of audience mental state changes. Calibration is a process pre-existing in the brand communications industry, although it could be argued that its dynamism could be improved (and is likely to, given the necessity for brands to be relevant in consumer’s highly connected and high-paced lives); while micro-calibration remains a pipe dream awaiting sufficiently complicated data-capturing and interpretation software, and sufficient budgets to be realised. In terms of a practical process: the brand opens a conversation with an audience, demonstrates value, and strikes up a connection, etc. The brand then takes its audience and entices (or perhaps catches, if it has not yet established sufficient rapport to ‘lure’ the audience) them to engage with either that same medium, in a different way (e.g. an advertisement leading into a press release) or at a different time (e.g. a series of linked advertisement), or with another medium. This is effective in the ideal scenario owing to the fact that contact time is important with consumers, and ‘rapport acceleration’ can occur by maximising its impact by making use of synergistic media choices, and if sufficient rapport exists this can function as one of the first compliance - 29 -
tests performed by a brand, that is calling the consumer to a small action which will indicate whether or not they are in rapport with the brand – if they fail it of course this is not a serious blow to the brand, it only means that they have not yet built enough trust, and so should focus on building more trust, and demonstrating more value. In the optimal scenario the brand would hypothetically want to structure opportunities for audiences to move with them to new media as rapidly as possible – although further research is required in investigating consumer perceptions of time-bridging (it is hypothesised here that too short a time-bridge will damage rapport in some instances, appearing mechanical) – and with as natural and organic an interaction escalation process as possible. For instance, a brand might know that a group of its consumers commutes to work daily at a specific time, and so advertises on a specific radio station during this time; this commercial message would be linked to a press advertisement in a publication the audience subscribes to, which might offer incentives for consumers to access an Internet site and/or text message or take part in other mobile interaction. Oftentimes one of the results of such a sequence of interactions may be that a consumer gives a brand their details. This paper hypothesises that this action in itself is of no significance, and that such details are merely the ‘receipt of interaction’; if the interaction was not good, the details are as good as ‘wood’ – wasted paper – and thus will be the follow-up efforts of the brand (how often do consumers forge details in order to pry around brand’s entry barriers particularly in the online realm!). However, if the interaction occurred in a proper fashion, and succeeded in creating solid rapport then the next interaction will occur on the terms of the brand, as the consumer (ideally) seeks them out – the initial interaction is always on the terms of the consumer, as the brand enters their reality, demonstrates value and generates rapport - now, the brand will want them to meet the consumer on a slightly more neutral setting and preferably in an environment over which they are able to exercise some degree of control. It is here that the branded message begins to differ more significantly from more organic memes, as the brand has a level of control and adaptability in engineering the encounter and its own spread. If the brand is unable to simply ‘bounce’ its audience to a new medium (or a new type of interaction within the medium, sometimes it is undesirable to switch media, particularly if that medium is lending itself to a successful interaction) at that moment, then the emphasis is on the functional need of wanting to create a way for consumers to connect with it at a later time: the only reason brands should get details this early is in case something goes wrong with that encounter, and to confirm it – apart from this the brand will be risking receiving false details, and worse, violating the consumer’s trust. Nonetheless details are occasionally a good way of continuing to build a connection and trust, but it is also very difficult, unless the brand is certain that their particular - 30 -
audience is receptive to this type of interaction – and it is a high-pressure interaction, in a lowinterest environment (regardless of medium). Continuing interaction escalation (drawing the consumer into ever deeper levels and ways of interacting with the brand) is important, allowing the consumer to become immersed in the world of the brand and its realities, never imposing action upon them, rather allowing it to emerge organically from the predisposed attitudes cultivated in the brand meme. Purchase is a natural extension of an already fulfilling interaction (in terms of ‘true’ brand purchases, not functional needs in situations of relative ambivalence facilitated by the player with the greatest market dominance (Hofmeyr & Rice, 2000:101) – and even repeat purchases, this paper hypothesises, should occur as a result of the consumer seeking to return to the brand and be immersed in it, continuing to use free samples, download and use widgets, take part in communication and communities, play games and know the brand story and its key people’s beginnings. Anything less would seem to be a threat to credibility, as the brand ‘blows its cover’ by attracting attention to its desire for purchases; no brand wants to be labelled a “greenwasher” or equivalent – brands must allow consumers to invest in them. Every escalation, no matter what it is, should always be based on consumer insight and an understanding of the present roles they are playing and the mental states they are in, leading the brand to understand what they are ready for – a process this paper dubs ‘calibration’ – another term appropriated from Von Markovik. Thus escalation is never about the brand, and following a specific process rigidly, brands must develop complex webs of insights on consumers and translate these into algorithms (not processes, which is potentially an easy pitfall for brands to fall into, particularly in regards to technology) for determining appropriate media opportunities and messages, which ideally should be micro targeted down to individual levels (and naturally where this is impossible down to the smallest level the brand is able). Brands should not be afraid to take steps ‘back’ either – in fact, if Von Markovik (2007:37) is correct that people choose what is not forced upon them and that which is slightly elusive, they should probably offer it, allowing the consumer to feel in control, giving messages such as, "hey so-and-so, we see you aren't using [some facility], are you sure you want it?" This paper hypothesises that this willingness to back off and walk away, and to respect them, ostensibly putting their interests first is what will draw consumers to love a brand and give it their respect in reciprocation. Finally having transitioned and successfully time-bridged, now having consumers in a more neutral scenario – i.e. one where they have sought out the brand (the process is not linear, and the - 31 -
brand might start here too, for instance off a web-search) – the brand continues to unveil a deep identity organically, but more importantly should be hypersensitive to any return communication from consumers, and should engage the power of ritual to sub-communicate purchase, for it is at this stage that the brand is able to capitalise upon its dominance thus far (of course, they might just get the sale straight away without any of this, but that is the ‘fool's mate’ of branding: it does not necessarily mean that the branding is any good, it only means that the brand struck it lucky with a pre-interested customer). The power of ritual is simple, basing its success from the principle of anchoring in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (that is, the linking of specific states, actions and experiences with specific cues, in a Pavlovian fashion), although its implementation surely requires in-depth research, and it is simply this (inspired by Von Markovik, 2005): odds are that a given consumer has bought something from an enterprise of similar nature to that of the brand; and with any purchase is an accompanying rhythm, pattern and set of actions taken, in an environment with a specific tone. This, alongside powerful recommendation engines (whose ease-of-use arguably contributes to ritual) accounts for the success of many online stores, as they tap into consumer’s ritualised experiences of online purchase, preconditioned by other brands such as Amazon.com. This also has implications across experience types: for instance Twitchell (2004:193) notes how museums have at times taken on the trappings and organisational styles and structures of commerce in order to improve visitor experiences and curio sales, and how upmarket commercial entities have at times taken on the trappings of museums in creating reverence and respect for goods, and a sense of lingering and sacredness of presence in their stores. The understanding of the role of ritual, and its subsequent deliberate creation by brands is highly important in brands’ ability to take advantage of positive social expectations and rules. 5. CONNECTING IN THE RIGHT WAY 5.1 Social violation theory The mere fact that a consumer has appeared to engage a message, and possibly even has engaged a message in a particular way, as is in accordance with aforementioned theory is by no means indicative of that message’s success or failure. Outside of changing the actual content and type of message, there would appear to be little that brand communication professionals can do to improve the success of their branded messages. Yet, owing to a history of preconditioning, and necessary social programming, a strange phenomenon exists in linguistic cultures: ‘social rules’. A narcissistic and self-involved person might find that people will be [acting] interested in them for a while, and will engage in mutually beneficial interactions with them, will take useful things - 32 -
from them, some of which will validate and sometimes even help the distasteful individual; but the reality remains that that individual has never truly connected with them. This is called Social Violation theory: social violation theory is a theory is loosely based upon several other related theories (cf. “Role congruity theory”, relating to gender roles and expectations, as presented by Farris, 2007; “Expectancy violations theory”, relating to the development of verbal and nonverbal expectations and interpretation of violations of these expectations, presented by Burgoon, Stern, & Dillman, 1995), and made practical to seduction by “Lovedrop” (2007) whom articulates the notion that within in a given sociolect there are social norms at play, which can be discovered through trial and error, and once known can be exploited in order to gain ‘higher value’ by not making social errors, and conversely baiting competitors into doing so. This theory is of particular moment to brand communication professionals, who frequently fail to acknowledge social norms and thus lower their own value – at a point, the violator’s value becomes sufficiently low that social groups with whom they are interacting will make active attempts to remove them from the group and perform other violating actions themselves, which are condoned owing to the fact that the violator deliberately and powerfully violated first. This exact scenario is played out verbatim on a daily basis when promotional staff approach strangers, when television advertisements intrude on ‘family-time’, when brands interrupt consumers but fail to understand their lives and their problems, and then fail to involve them in attempting to understand them, and when consumers try to resolve product issues only to be faced with further tedious resolution systems. The opposite of social violation is charm; the truly charming put their egos and objectives on the backburner (in a congruent arrangement with the need for authentic and independent identity and values, of course) and make a decided effort in being genuinely interested, understanding, asking questions, and helping (Hand-Boniakowski, 2003). Counter-intuitively, it is this behaviour that in fact lends power and control in the interaction to the ‘charmer’ (this paper posits that the ‘holder of court’ in this way is the holder of control under Holding Court in 3.2.2). However if it were only so simple, the woes of brand communications would vanish. Alas, it is not. At times it is necessary to violate social norms, occasionally to test and evolve approaches, but more often in order to generate sales – the task is not to remove this social violation entirely, but rather to minimise it, and to compensate for it where necessary. 5.1.1 Social proof
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The brand’s first violation typically occurs upon the opening of the initial dialogue with the would-be consumer, as they beckon for attention, bursting into the already cluttered world of the consumer with a (typically) non-urgent request. For one thing, people of modern Western societies are socially conditioned to be suspicious of strangers, especially those with "no apparent reason" for talking to them – should a stranger merely approach asking questions they will certainly appear blackguardly, unless the environment has already disarmed them to their overtures (Von Markovik, 2007:76); otherwise you need to figure out a way to do that yourself. Worse, they may even brush strangers off for no reason other than that they have pre-categorised them. This is not a negative judgement, this is simply the social reality within which they exist, this is a simple necessity within their reality for efficient survival: when random beggars approach them and ask for money they may either give out of pure principle or turn them away mindlessly. Both are preconditioned responses: it makes no difference that perhaps the beggar in question had the most beautiful story of need to tell; they were unable to negate their target’s protection shields. It is most rare in all spheres of life that such shields are disarmed. Violation effects can be minimised in several ways. First, it is significant if a brand is able to approach with an appropriate level of status and by harnessing the immense power of social proof and ‘peacocking’ (however, this strategy is almost impossible to implement on initial communications campaigns with a typical product, on a typical budget if the consumer base is not already substantial). Brands should build status first, and then social proof, in that order: status by embodying what the target aspires to, or at the least, what they respect or appreciate, social proof by being the observed, not the observer. Following this the brand should open interaction non-threateningly, conveying their deep identity that has been developed, and just be, without an (apparent) agenda. There is no quick fix in branding anymore. Brands can no longer afford to go into interactions and sell in the first 30 seconds – partly because of social violation and partly owing to the poor frame control facilitated in this mode, (potentially the reason for the status of the thirty second television commercial as a dying and sometimes dead creature). Brands need to be ‘themselves’ and authentically connect with individuals, as individuals. Cialdini (2003:99) recounts research showing that despite both audiences’ and artist’s distaste towards canned laughter its practice remains widespread owing to the simple principle that audiences nevertheless laugh longer and more often and rate material higher when that material, especially poor material, is dubbed with laugh tracks. Gaylord (2007) notes that forty percent of auctions on eBay sell for more than their "Buy it now" price (eBay is a digital auction website, - 34 -
and the “Buy it now” price facilitates the avoidance of the auction process, purchasing as one would in a typical retail environment). When choosing between identical items, users tend to go for the one with the most bids; auctioneers are also much more likely to get bidders when they do not use secret opening prices. This is all a result of the principle Cialdini (2007:99) calls Social Proof, which he defines as: “determin[ing] what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior. We view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.” A person is more likely to be perceived as funny, interesting and attractive if other people who appear to be enjoying their company surround them. This principle can be observed in action in the world of branding by observing the manner wherein the very incidence of a brand being popular leads to its ongoing and increasingly popularity – arguably the most significant driver of the great success of the iPod, a product many consumers had little desire or use for but purchased nonetheless, as well as in the world of readyto-drink alcoholic beverages in South Africa’s emerging market where Savanna premium cider grows rampantly, both building from the perceptions, mindshare and connotations created by their social proof: “everyone else has one, it looks cool, it must be pretty good, I’ll try it”, where it would otherwise possibly not even be in the consideration set of consumers. This principle’s positive (or indeed negative) impact can be augmented by another related principle, that of “peacocking”: Von Markovik (2007:24) describes it as the use of techniques to increase noticeability, in his field largely clothing and accessories, but in the field of branding this relates to a far greater set of techniques in the developed area of breaking clutter and getting attention. While this section will not go into great depth on these techniques themselves, it is important to realise that their effect is that of increasing social pressure on the brand, and enabling consumers to open dialogues (positive and negative) with the brand despite disinterest in the actual offering. This has no value taken alone, and is generally likely to decrease the brand’s success alone, category norms exist because they are the ‘safe’ and trusted options; however, once the interaction has been opened the brand is then able to demonstrate congruence with its image, which is a definite demonstration of higher value – Von Markovik (2007:25) asserts:
The congruence is the critical point. A man with a top hat and a feather boa, with two women on his arms and surrounded by laughing friends looks like the man. Everyone in the room will notice him and women will whisper to one another that they want to be introduced to him. But the same man sitting by himself in a corner could end looking like a social reject.
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Similarly, the Savanna brand with its oddly shaped and slightly dysfunctional packaging might be seen as interesting but undesirable were it not popular, yet owing to its popularity its packaging lends it an additional differentiation and a chic appeal. The application of social proof extends even to manner wherein media is utilised by brands. Schreuder (2007) relates that consumers engage in both passive and active media consumption, which relates to the concepts of userly and makerly media, but from the perspective of the consumer not of the message and that brands need to understand how their consumers are interacting with their messages and media. In the case of more passive media consumption Schreuder (ibid) implies that social proof (brand building) are its primary function – consumers are not actively engaging with the medium, but consciously or unconsciously take note of its message, and this builds the brand socially (consumers tend to see brands able to afford mass media advertising as ‘big brands’ – a form of social proof) as the consumer recalls having engaged with the brand at later stage, but not actively. 5.1.2 Calibration
Second, brands can minimise violation by engaging in sophisticated calibration techniques – if the message content and type of interaction (for instance being userly or makerly, and what mode thereof), message timing and channel planning are sufficiently well calibrated there is a very high chance of at least opening an interaction, from which point ‘damage control’ can commence and recover the brand by both demonstrating a developed identity, as well as by diverting attention by symbolically compensating the audience and offering value (note: this paper recommends implicit value demonstrations [i.e. captivating and entertaining interaction and authentically helpful and unrelated benefits/opportunities to the audience], as explicit value demonstrations [promotions] may dilute the brand by appearing to be ‘buying’ the attention of the consumer, and will most likely alert the consumer that the brand does not have a developed deep identity). This should not be confused as saying that brands should understand but follow category norms: category norms and social rules and distinct. Category norms refers to the manner wherein the bulk of brands in a given category tend to engage with consumers; social rules however refers to what is and is not acceptable from a consumer perspective in regards to interaction (whether that be with a brand or with another human – although these will likely be slightly different, further research is required on this point). Enslin (2003) avers: “the unconventional and unexpected point of planned brand contact can break through commercial clutter barriers to impact on consumers and communicate or reinforce the single-minded - 36 -
positioning of the brand.” It is only by understanding the rules governing social violation that brand planners are able to intelligently design such alternative brand contacts, in a sustainable way. It is suggested that those that follow both category norms and social rules become “wallpaper”, while those break both category and social rules experience temporary success, but soon are rejected and are unable to make lasting impacts; hence it is the carefully crafted brand that succeeds in following social rules, yet breaking category norms that is able to ensure for itself a path into the future – of course, this requires ever-increasing consumer and environment insights as well as ongoing innovation in order to lead to its desired outcomes. 5.1.3 Permission
Third, brands can take a longer-term view to marketing, taking on what Godin (1999) calls “Permission Marketing”, making the brand available to the consumer and allowing the consumer to seek it out as they have need, giving the brand permission to sell to them; and by marketing through social networks as networks recommend the brand amongst themselves. 5.1.4 Social roles
Fourth, brands can (with their detailed insights of the audience gleaned in calibration) extrapolate the particular social role being played (or aspiring to be played) by the audience in that moment, and extrapolate from it all of its caveats and implications, thus possessing a social norms frame to hold the consumer to (Cialdini, 2003:92), and play from these rules, politely and humorously insinuating that they aren’t ‘playing fair’ if they break them – these rules do not need to be logical, or even connected, what is important is that the consumer believes them implicitly and responds to them. For instance assume a person frequenting a prestigious restaurant – such a person might not follow particularly more high-culture customs or be more ‘cultured’ than any other person, yet given the context of polished wine glasses, dim lighting, expensive linens and well-dressed waitrons, such a customer is far more likely to take on a ‘cultured’ role and act and think according to those norms of wealth and high culture. Hence, a waitron might further this ‘cultured’ role by playing to it in speech and in action – when the time for ordering food arrives the customer is far more likely to continue to think, feel and act in terms of the role being played, that is wealth and high culture; the creation of this experience can be utilised by the savvy waitron in order to upsell customers, offering the more expensive and classy foods and wines in language that would appeal to the sophisticated role being played by the customer at the moment; given this role the customer is unlikely to choose based upon price - 37 -
constraints, while they may consider them silently, by now it would be unpleasant to leave the sophisticated role, and equally important, it would be socially inappropriate for them to now play a new role and question based on cost. By understanding the experiences they offer and their consumers in this way brands can enhance consumer experiences and maximise profits. Further, this principle of consistency can be applied bi-directionally. That is, both in the manner of interaction and purchase escalation described in the previous paragraph, but also in the opposite ‘direction’, that of “compliance testing” (Von Markovik, 2007:144). Compliance testing is a technique that involves making some kind of abstract and non-committal overture (which in and of itself is insignificant, but bound in the context an entire interaction can have far greater significance), which the aforementioned principle of consistency as well as the principle of reciprocity largely facilitate (Cialdini (2007:20) discusses reciprocity as the feeling of indebtedness and social obligation following one person’s unrequited actions towards another). This overture is designed to be responded to in some specific way, which would require little to no thought or effort, which offers valuable information to the initiator, draws the other into the ‘frame’ of the initiator, and builds rapport; the response, whether compliance or ignorance, is reacted to appropriately by the initiator. Von Markovik (2007:146) describes how a man would squeeze the hand of a woman and notice her returning the squeeze, or putting her arm in his and walking about the venue, noticing her compliance; in the reality of branding one might apply such techniques in the form of data capture (importantly this must be followed up by positive reinforcement, lest the feeling of manipulation arise in the target), link offering (offering targets a link to click on in the online arena, or driving them to other areas of engagement which would not take substantial effort to enter into – for instance, promoting at an event should not link offer to a website, but rather to a nearby physical brand experience area), sampling, and even obtaining contributions (content or otherwise) and participation. This accomplishes at least three important ends: firstly, it draws the target into the frame of the initiator (more detail under frame control), secondly it builds rapport and comfort in this frame, Third, it gives information to the brand (at least in digital and interpersonal contexts) regarding the level of relationship presently existing and gives direction to the path of communication necessary in order to escalate the interaction – additionally, it can be used as a tool to condition targets that within the frame of the brand positive responses receive positive reinforcement, and vice versa. Von Markovik (2007:147) encourages his readers to make particular use of their opportunity to create precedents based on responses. Negative responses should be treated with “indicators of disinterest”, that is signs that the pursuant is not in fact interested in the target (in terms of - 38 -
branding this translates better to the ideas of qualification in Dealing with power relations under 6.3), and followed with “demonstrations of higher value”, whereby the pursuant subtly demonstrates that they possess the qualities sought by the target – in branding, this might translate to further demonstration of resonance with the aspirational and respected values of the discourse of the target, demonstrating social proof, or offering value in the communication itself by entertaining or educating – interestingly enough one can also demonstrate lower value, by demonstrating undesirable traits, and particularly by making these demonstrations of higher value explicit: “a rich man doesn’t tell you he’s rich”, this only puts them in subservient and needy low-power positioning in relation to the target, hence lowering their social value. Finally the brand should perform another new compliance test and repeat the process, gradually building compliance and ‘compliance momentum’ (all compliance builds upon itself, positive or negative, and once existent it requires little effort to maintain): the entire process up until and including and beyond purchase is compliance – thus all brand actions must be calibrated to generate this momentum. Von Markovik (2007:149) also describes a ‘compliance threshold’ – that is, a point reached where the consumer realises that they achieve their ends better by complying: that is, trust; at this point the brand has asserted control of the frame (on a related note, he also notes (2007:147) that rewarding should not necessarily be consistent, as trainers utilising intermittent reward schemes tend to achieve better results than those utilising consistent ones, possibly owing to the elements of anticipation and surprise). 5.2 Managing expectations The overarching caveat in any kind of interaction escalation, and particularly in compliance testing is that brands must always demonstrate on every level that they are being congruent with their deep identity – if there is ever any kind of perceptible (on any level) deviation between the brand and its actions and its communication, or any indication that the brand is not committed to a course of action it will most likely fail. There are several methods of gaining compliance including: getting the target to invest (should a target participate in an activity, contribute content, or spend even a small amount of money compliance momentum is created), getting the target to engage with the brand in a variety of different ways, ‘locking them in’ (not forcibly as the South African cellular industry does with its ‘lock-in’ contracts, rather seductively as Google does with its iGoogle page, Google toolbar, Google notifier, etc.) with a value-adding utility of some variety, by utilising social pressure (for instance using social proof and fashion), by offering value directly in the compliance test (if following the instruction clearly offers value in some form compliance is much more likely – e.g. watching a humorous video or taking part in a - 39 -
test for an entertainment product such as a PlayStation III), and by making use of subtle threat (no brand should ever genuinely threaten their audiences, but they may, for instance, make use of the principle of scarcity to insinuate that by not complying the target may lose out entirely), (adapted from Von Markovik, 2007:150). However, social violation theory should not only be applied to compliance with self-oriented norms and expectations of the entity (regulating the manner whereby the brand interacts with society and the external environment), but also in generating fitting responses to other-oriented happenings (responding appropriately to relevant goings on initiated by other parties) – if, for instance, a party that the brand should have a say over violates substantially, the brand should take socially appropriate action in dealing with it: for example, First National Bank’s controversial cancelled anti-crime advertisement directed against government’s perceived failings amongst its audiences had the potential to fulfil what the audience perceived as the socially appropriate action for the brand to take (however, the controversy in this particular instance arises owing to the lack of agreement amongst stakeholders on the issue). Audiences needs and expectations should be met in the way in which they expect them to be met, and where possible profiting and streamlining the business of the brand. A large part of this is the concept of what Enslin (2003:40) calls moving outside-in: that is, the idea that the consumer experience must not only meet their needs in the “what”, but also in the “how” (for instance, McDonald’s must not only have a salad bar, but they must have a salad bar that appears the way the consumer finds a McDonald’s salad bar to be intuitive and accessible both visual and functionally – whilst all along breaking category norms, where this is coherent and useful for the brand and its identity). However, female interest magazines are particularly successful in this are – AdAge (2007) reports one seemingly mundane, but relatively latent revolutionary idea employed by them, where they monetise advertising by making it serve a consumer need:
“Of the whopping 482 pages in the September issue of Vogue, which weighs in at a back-breaking 4 pounds, 9 ounces, a full 87% are ads! In other words, people are willing to shell out five bucks for the privilege of looking at ads. Is this a great country or what? Meanwhile, NBC Universal believes people will pay just to watch ads. Its USA Network subsidiary announced it would in early 2008 launch Didja.com, a portal that will collect new and classic TV spots, along with other brand content, such as movie trailers and short films.”
This gives rise to the thought that brands have the opportunity to literally embody the ultimate communication value add to consumers: they can become the valuable content the consumer seeks out – it seems likely that this strategy would best suit highly niche brands and brands with more eccentric and intense identities, although it is possible that this tactic could be adopted by - 40 -
any brand. This has been done with varying success from executions as varied as the BMW director short films, to various brand community websites offering value to consumers (e.g. Dentyne Ice dating website). Brands can make use of these modes of engagement (and where possibly monetising them also) to create such unconventional – as well as profitable – brand contacts as an “Everyone loves Kulula” sitcom (involving the Kulula.com brand hero-character), or a Gibson guitar jazz band. These manifestations can only stem from the most developed of brand identities and of target market insights, and the very most faithful, uncensored and authentic of executions, as the brand considers exactly its own human manifestation, becoming – literally in many instances – a celebrity. 5.2 A product of discourse The answer to the likely critique of certain fringe groups objecting to this scenario owing to its dehumanisation of arts is that all identities are merely constructs, as are all communication executions, whether they are performed by individuals, groups, or ‘artificial’ identities as brands – thus, the claim is irrelevant and without substance (unless of course it is believed by the target market, in which case the practices in question should not be initiated) – and in terms of expression the claim lacks validity as it fails to recognise the brand as an authentic living identity: brands live as groups do, as memeplexes in the minds of collections of individuals, thus they are able to experience, feel and react to stimuli as a collective consciousness. For this reason it is crucial that brands not think of themselves as owned by the corporation that “invented” them, but rather having been born of these corporations, like children, now having lives and evolving personalities of their own, made up by the cells that are the minds of all those that buy into the brand, each contributing to the brand for their own selfish ends; collectively, through the arbitrator that is the brain of the brand, the marketing department (although it is suggested that brands should find unique names for internal functions such that the internal culture reflects not only the aspect of generic business but also the aspect of individual brand identity), be able to move and speak and express themselves in ways that are authentic to its identity make-up. Do not be mislead, the fact that the marketing department gives birth to the brand and has a large input in arbitrating and evolving the identity of the brand does not make it its own, nor does the fact that they contribute in ways to the brand to realise the selfish objectives of profit ensure that they own the brand (or even that theirs is the, or sometimes even a, dominant voice – all the cells in this metaphor have selfish motives for contributing to the brand, and some of the other cells’ voices are more significant than those of the corporate marketing department in its evolution – - 41 -
the tools in this paper are designed to enable brand communication professionals to understand these relations, why many executions of traditional media fail, and how they may possibly remedy this). The brand is a meme, and memes cannot be owned, only allowed to survive, take action (express itself in this context) and replicate. 6. DOMINATING THE DISCOURSE 6.1 Nurturing niches To best achieve this brands must understand as fully as possible the discourse into which they intend to enter, and the memeplexes, and thus the needs, beliefs, desires and modes of action preexisting there of the individuals and groups functioning within it, and the priorities of these needs, and of course the manner wherein they manifest themselves – which circumstances are likely to evoke the predominance of which memes – and finally, the manner wherein these needs are met. Target market insight becomes more and more important as brands travel into the future, and the world of memes. However it is not only understanding an existing target group that is vitally important, it is also the selecting and nurturing of one. A meme is useless without a carrier – and carriers for brands can be chosen, and equally important, carriers can change and evolve, their own memes can spread; brands can and should be part of this nurturing process. Occasionally groups can prosper so well that they grow from small local clusters into larger local clusters, and from large local clusters grow so large that they spread out into other areas, areas that had hitherto been dominated, even dominating the mainstream itself. “Sales and motivation consultant Cavet Robert tells his sales trainees: ‘…95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators…’” (Cialdini, 2003:101): while this may not be technically accurate, it remains that radical changes almost universally emerge from small influential groups and small, subtle shifts. Gladwell (2000:8) describes the process of minority groups turning ‘mainstream’ as that of ideas reaching the ‘Tipping Point’, which is roughly equivalent to Dawkins’ (2006:191) ‘knife-edge’. Gladwell (ibid) argues vigorously through several case studies that almost all radical changes have three essential characteristics: one, they are clear examples of contagious behaviour; two, little changes can and do have big effects; and three, change occurs not gradually but in one dramatic moment. This is of significance because if Gladwell is correct, these will be the principles by which any meme will spread when it is able to dominate a given discourse, and even universes of discourses. - 42 -
Memes in this contagious ‘epidemic’ mode of spreading do not spread linearly, rather they spread exponentially in what is known in mathematics as a geometric progression (ibid), hence, the rapidity of their spread; as such they do not need to emerge from, and are rarely successful in emerging from, large groups – hence the need for only small and seemingly insubstantial changes: a change need not affect a large group, it need only affect a single opinion leader or group of opinion leaders, catalysing the creation of sufficient instability in the test tube that is their minds for the various memes to react and form new compounds, and thus create new action, which these leaders will spread. The sizes of social groups imbue those groups with different attributes: groups of under one hundred and fifty members typically display a level of intimacy, interdependency, and efficiency that begins to dissipate markedly as soon as the group’s size increases over one hundred and fifty. There is no denying that there can be a large element of chance in this process: most memes have no guides (to ensure the path of their spread) and even if they did they would likely struggle to ensure that the correct exposures were made to the correct persons in the correct contexts. However, for brands with their budgets, banks of insight and talent, this task should be far easier. Gladwell (2000:29) highlights three rules of epidemics that enable their spread, which upon examination correlate closely to the practical manifestation of the mission of memes: survival and replication. The first, The Law of the Few contends that before widespread popularity can be attained, several key types of people must champion the meme before the Tipping Point can be reached. Gladwell describes these key types as Connectors (persons with large social circles), Mavens (persons with an in-depth knowledge about something), and Salesmen [sic] (persons with a charisma and quality, or even position, of leadership who are able to consciously or unconsciously spread a meme) (cf. the concept of the “Wildfire Index” from the UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing, 2006). If individuals representing all three of these groups endorse and advocate a new idea, it is much more likely that it will tip into exponential success. In virology it is well known that a handful of exceptional carriers are generally responsible for the spread of a disease (Gladwell, 2000:16) – and so it is also with epidemics of all other kinds, including the memetic. For a brand to dominate mainstream culture create it can be worthwhile to dominate a fringe culture with the potential and likelihood of exploding into the mainstream (which can also be nurtured), rather than attempting to take on the mainstream directly – hence, the brand must attempt to create or at least be connected to a Tipping Point. The second rule, which Gladwell (2000:22) calls the Stickiness Factor is the quality that compels - 43 -
people to pay close, sustained attention to a product, concept, or idea: the survival value of a meme. The way that the Stickiness Factor is generated is often unconventional, unexpected, and contrary to received wisdom, and is highly dependent on context; there are nonetheless several relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a large difference to the level of impact achieved. The concept that Gladwell terms the Power of Context is enormously important in determining whether a particular phenomenon will tip into widespread popularity. Even minute changes in the environment can play a major factor in the propensity of a given concept attaining the tipping point. Also, Gladwell defines the term context very broadly, discussing the implications of small variations in social groups and minor changes in a neighborhood or community environment as shifts that can cause a new idea to tip. Based on these rules brands should approach the selection of their target market carefully – and it should be a highly evolutionary process based on a depth of insight (into this target group itself, the wider environment itself, and their interactions with mainstream society) rarely seen in modern branding, particularly if they are successful in attaining a Tipping Point. These target markets should be highly niche, specific local groups – they need not be singular however (although specific groups may be targeted down to individual level, tracking specific individuals and influencing them – hence the high research requirement and the high need for subtlety), brand communications professionals must creatively profile, blend and harmonise the various types of necessary persons (the connectors, mavens and salesmen) in the correct combinations and connections and timings so as to ensure that the brand is able to dominate their highly niche local groups, and thus spill over into the mainstream. To find these niche markets and innovators brands must look for people with passion: if there is a good concentration of activists or highly vocal persons there (especially on issues relating to the category), the brand is likely searching in a good place (regardless of category) and should continue to engage with these people reciprocally, taking from them insights into the next ‘fashion’ of their product, and also imbueing them with the tools to spread it – there is often, though not always, something about these people that makes them stand out, for instance the regular ‘preppy’ guy in the hardcore band club, or the young lady with blue hair. If the argument of this paper previously is correct that word of mouth and direct experience are the most, and sometimes the only, valid sources of knowledge to the consumer then this is surely the most effective strategy, regardless of the product in question – it must be stressed that high - 44 -
levels of creativity and insight are necessary, and the market being targeted will many times not be the ultimate market aimed for (although a level of supporting communication to that market may be appropriate – especially in instances where the ‘underground’ feeling of discovery is not such a significant requirement for the particular niche market). This strategy may require longer time-frames than traditional campaigns, but it is suggested will obtain higher quality, and more widespread penetration given time. It must be stressed that although it facilitates it and gives emphasis to it, this approach is not a substitute for a differentiated and highly relevant offering; it is unlikely to save a poor product with no market presence. For brands to be spread they must be “rumourable” brands – brands that are worth talking about (hence the need, particularly initially, for strong differentiation – the ‘purpleness’ of a brand in the language of Godin), but preferably not too rigidly defined, there should be room for the niche market to adopt and give identity to it, and for them (particularly the salesmen and to a lesser extent the connectors) to translate and sharpen the brand in ways that facilitate public consumption – communication professionals should follow this translation process closely and with great zeal, offering timeous and highly relevant (though often subtle) guidance, ensuring that the brand’s evolution does in fact shift in ways that will enable the broader mainstream to adopt it. One of the most significant ways brands can manage this evolutionary translation process is by facilitating their niche translator group in translating and taking ownership of the meme. The niche market must take ownership of the meme, which often occurs by them customising or tweaking or altering it in some way: brands must allow and encourage this, making use of their detailed knowledge of its individual or group and their behaviour. For instance in a fictional example with fabricated insights and techniques, the brand is a an anti-aging cream positioning itself on its scientific credibility, and it targets a small group of connected cosmetics mavens it might run an otherwise entirely ineffective advertisement in a preferably niche publication of some sort that it knows they read, which reads as a scientific advertisement on what is essentially a chemical produced by well-meaning and hard-working isolated researchers, which offers free trial. The advertisement will likely be ignored by the bulk of the publication’s audience, but insights reveal that this particular individual will read it. The niche group will then engage in a limited trial of the product, as this is part of their makeup, being mavens. The trial offers its reviewers further brand communication related to the researchers and their stories, as well as the product, and includes an option for further trials in return for a review of the product. The reviewers being the connected mavens, that they are, share these ‘fascinating’ stories with their - 45 -
several circles of friends over glasses of wine and share their further free trials with their friends. Many details of the stories will be lost or ‘levelled’, while others will be exaggerated and distorted for effect or ‘sharpened’, and finally some parts of the story will be adapted and owned to their context to make more sense to them, or ‘assimilated’ (terminology: Gladwell, (2000:202)). The brand continues to put their niche group in positions of power and strength through the product and where possible offers them platforms to spread the product ranging from these free trials, to paid-for space in publications where their reviews are posted, to sending them scientific accessories, apparatus and giving them training, in order to better assess their and other’s skin. The team promoting the brand must accept their role as catalysts of the brand’s spread and recoil from the glory of spreading it themselves: in this way brands can help their niche markets to explode into the mainstream. 6.2 Frame control By adopting this approach brands are able to take advantage of the fact that groups, as well as memes, are living things in states of dynamic change and evolution, and as such brands can harness the power (and no longer lament) of their organic formation and memeplex spread and evolution in dynamic consumer groups. In order to execute this successfully, drawing groups in its reality and thus infecting them with its meme, one of the most powerful understandings in the brand’s repertoire is that of frame control. Having now found effective carriers, the brand must ensure that it not only plays properly in their world (which has been addressed previously under Social Violation Theory and its applications), but moreover that it is able to draw them into its own world, its own reality: its own frame. Von Markovik (2007:28) asserts that when a person experiences a certain state, regardless of what brought it on, that state is associated with the present surroundings, particularly people. Hence when one communicates with any kind of agenda, there is a need to control that shared experience. This shared experience and understanding is known as the frame. The frame is the underlying meaning, the context, the implication, the unspoken assumption in all communication. The frame supplies meaning to the content and gives the ‘rules’ for interpretation of the content, further expression and even emotion. “He who controls the frame controls the communication itself,” (Von Markovik, 2007:134); while this reality may not be particularly fair, it remains true, and the successful brand must learn to subvert it – hence the need for what is known as ‘Frame Control’. Frame Control is all the techniques related to consciously developing strong Frames and thus obtaining control of the shared frame of meaning - 46 -
in the communication. A common phrase borrowed from Korzybski in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a science claimin to be “The Study of the Structure of Subjective Experience and what can be calculated from it,” (New Oceans, 2002), is that the “map is not the territory,” referring to the way that words, and thus ways of thinking, are not the objects they represent, meaning that although “once upon a time, the geometry of Euclid was the geometry of space, the universe of Newton was the Universe… [with] the advent of Lobatchevski and Einstein the geometry of Euclid proved to be only a geometry of space and the universe of Newton proved to be a way of looking at the Universe,” (Marthes, 2006), owing to the fact that “[a] map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. If the map could be ideally correct, it would include, in a reduced scale, the map of the map; the map of the map of the map; and so on, endlessly…” (Korzybski, 1973:38). The map literally guides and informs its holder’s experience of the territory, and should the map differ so the experience will also. Owing to the fact that every individual thus has their own map, and that those individuals are involved in a process of social intercourse where those maps are not only created but are in fact also negotiated and applied, and that in a given social interaction for the parties involved to be able to coherently interaction there must be a shared map there occurs a struggle for the control of whose map is implemented; like two tectonic plates colliding: one dominates the other in a slight collision, the other slides underneath it in subservience. Hence, in order to align meaning Bandler and Grinder (1976) suggest a “Meta Model” – an attempt to map the map, or at least to question and thereby clarify it – making use of specifying questions in order to recover that which has been deleted or left out and reframing distorted and overgeneralised thinking by feeding it back to its host, as well as altering creating anchors (linking specific experiences to specific cues) and altering sensory-specific submodalities (e.g. the brightness, size or location of internal visual imagery or sensory representations). The ultimate importance of frame control is that by defining the frame, one has the opportunity to literally set the rules for the interaction if they are able to convince the other parties involved to buy into their frame; if one’s frame is sufficiently strong one can “get away with anything” (Von Markovik, 2007:134). The key to successful frame control is congruence: the brand’s communication and representation at every point must be a manifestation and reflection of its deep identity – if consumers can be sufficiently coaxed into buying into the brand’s frame and the brand is able to be consistent with that frame, the brand can literally do anything. On consideration of the fact that the strength of the frame rests on its executor’s congruence with it, - 47 -
it becomes clear the reasoning behind the need for an authentic deep identity and strong culture with a tone and consistency that runs throughout for the brand – without a deep, developed identity, and a culture that permeates this identity richly to every point of contact the brand can easily be toppled and become incongruent, thus (often with detrimental and irrecoverable effect) lowering the brand’s value in the interaction. Sack (1988:643) makes the assertion that stores are in essence life sized advertisements – however, it might be more appropriate to invert the emphasis in that statement, saying that stores are a kind of brand interaction; while advertisements are more like “bite-sized brand interactions.” Upon consideration of advertising in terms of frame control the typical thirty second television commercial is akin to being at a cocktail party running around greeting everyone in the venue with a cleverly crafted, interesting and distinctive greeting and line of patter, introducing oneself to them, perhaps telling them a random fact and then running off. It is not possible to build depth in this way, or through the use of most traditional advertising channels and techniques; it is simply not possible to draw the audience into the reality and the frame of the brand in this way. There is clearly a need for a revision of understanding of consumer engagement. Schreuder (2007) discusses the movement from initially the “all-powerful brand”, to the “power of consumer” to what she calls creating participation – a context of increased equality between parties and interaction on shared terms. Creating participation is crucial and apt as a defining name for the new age of brand-consumer interaction: only when both parties are participants, not merely sender and receivers, in the communication interaction (which becomes a bona fide interaction, not a plastic imitation posing as one but actually delivering only an unconvincing monologue) will brands be able to succeed in drawing consumers into their frames and engaging them constructively, only then will consumers have consistently satisfying and authentic brand experiences. Hence this paper’s focus on the impact and potential of New and Alternative Media (and alternative usages of traditional media) owing to their facilitation of more authentic and participatory brand-consumer engagements. It is not necessarily a negative or a manipulative thing to draw consumers into the frame of the brand – of course it can be, but for the most part it is actually a desirable effect for both parties. In order to do so insight is key: the brand must always have to know their state of mind and their frame – and then subvert and redefine it. While more than slightly challenging in reality, increasingly niche target markets and ever increasing depths of insight, as well as new - 48 -
technology are beginning to better facilitate this. Palahniuk (2006) argues that it is more profitable to not resist a problem directly, but rather to subvert it from within and redirect it. The brand should offer and provide a new story and a new state, as opposed to destroying the existing one – rather allowing the two to coexist, and by having the dominant frame, and by pacing and leading the audience (next) coax them into the more positive one. The idea of pacing and leading has its origins in NLP where pacing (literally akin to walking alongside) refers to the way in which a party can mirror elements of another party’s state and frame, thus accelerating rapport, and leading refers to the way that party can then question, reframe and make subtle adjustments to the paced elements so as to subvert the state and the frame of the other into the desire outcome (Anon, 2007). If an audience is in a bored and negative state it is argued that it is less profitable to attempt to jolt them out of it suddenly and provide an abundance of stimulus and positivity, while this may likely be effective, it is likely more profitable to match their state (visually, verbally, aurally – on all levels of the communication), and then to ‘jump around’ to more positive realities, allowing them to co-exist and eventually allowing the more negative elements to decay sufficiently that they are eventually cut out – cf. Von Markovik (2007:107) on multiple conversational threads – art of engineering organic conversation and creating an illusion of conversational rapport by having several topics of conversation open at one time. This kind of pacing and leading can be a powerful tool in developing effective alternative brand contacts. For example one way of engaging the previously mentioned bored audience might be to open with contextually appropriate content which then shows ‘flickers’ of another reality and eventually switches to it – for instance if they are reading a newspaper on public transport one’s content might appear as a piece of editorial which is in fact an entertainment column; if they were watching television waiting for a specific programme the media would differ, perhaps making use of a long-format commercial of sorts subverting the conventions of the surrounding programming with a humorous twist as the CellC “Switch to Silent” cinema executions did, but the methodology remains the same. Pacing and leading can also take place on a far more macro-level, that of the discourse, as opposed to merely that of the individual manifestation thereof. As this paper has previously shown, the individual can only think and experience reality in the language known to them in the frames they find themselves. As such, a brand whose benefit and experience lies outside or peripheral to the language of a specific discourse may be excluded de facto. As such brands aiming to open those target markets to themselves cannot merely enter the discourse and sell; they cannot even perform the micro-reframing discussed prior as despite the relevance of the - 49 -
codes, the offering is likely to lack relevance. As such, brands must ‘adopt’ cultures and ‘give’ them the positive language they need in order to positively engage with ideas and activities. This is a long-term approach that is likely very costly, but whose potential is enormous, potentially creating a kind of Pygmalion effect. The implementation of such a tactic involves great subtlety and patience, involving such projects as sponsorships, developing discourse-specific media, etc. It is thus critical to understand context. People speak and act differently at different times, and particularly through different media. By way of example, a brochure typically performs an entirely different function to a direct mail, which typically performs an entirely different function to an email. Yet, what must be remembered is that those ideas are constructed norms, not universal unyielding rules. Email is not ‘meant’ as a medium for sales according to popular expectations, but really it is only so because those expectations are not empowering one for the brand. They can be subverted if the brand understands the way their audience understands the context. This type of disruption may take many forms: at times the brand may simply jolt the audience out of state and maintain congruence in that manner; at other times they may pace and lead and walk with the audience. Brands need to consider how they can create participation and draw audiences into their frame, not merely how to convey a message; this will require a reunderstanding and creative subversion of channels – if a brand is best able to control its frame and draw audiences into it thus demonstrating its authentic deep identity and building relationship through a six minute television commercial they should execute it, if it is through a full-length song or even CD, if it is through sophisticated computer software that enables consumers to have conversations with the brand over text message, it does not matter, it should be executed. The time for rules in media is gone. Some groups are intrinsically closed and are near impossible to access without performing major social violations, but authentic deep identities manifest through creative channel and message planning can enable brands to breaking through closed groups. Arguably the most challenging communication scenario faced by brand planners today is online (at least in offine scenarios creative alternative media can often be developed) with the more technologically savvy users utilising “AdBlocking technologies” which literally filter out the advertisements from digital content automatically before the user even sees them; this technology is only likely to become increasingly widespread in years to come and evolve beyond the tricks of marketers – how then can it be countered? The greatest counters are two-fold. One, relevance: that is, understanding how audiences are engaging with a medium – e.g. technologically savvy audiences tend to run more applications, subscribe to more newsletters, and be more involved in community content – - 50 -
so the brand must decide whether its identity can be authentically manifest there, and how, and then get into that type of content. Two, innovation and value-adding: the content must add to the audience’s experience of the medium, not parasitically piggyback on the existing strength of the medium; and naturally must defy category conventions if necessary. An example of an offline brand that achieved this might be Persil with their ‘Stain Solver’ – a knowledge-base type resource teaching consumers how to extract various types of stains. The question for the brand to ask itself is what is its intrinsic value, what is its raison d’étre, what does it offer the world? From there the challenge becomes far simpler in merely translating that thing into a digital and interactive format – if the brand’s intrinsic value has worth in reality and its translation is relevant it will be successful. The most immediate manifestation of rapport and a shared frame is purchase. However, frame control, and branding in general, should never end at this point. The post-purchase time is almost as crucial as the pre-purchase time, as it is during this time that brand fanatics are create, only at this point are the igniters – the influential niche markets the brand intends to use to facilitate their spread – ignited. The brand must help coach customers in their product, offering appropriate follow-up communication, and where appropriate surprise and delight their consumer by offering bonuses. Brands should continue to build the relationship with their consumer, and very importantly, take this opportunity to cement the relationship and reinforce the brand’s identity and frame, making use of every suitable brand contact in order to do so – brands should be equally creative in crafting their aftermarketing contacts, as they are in other contacts, possibly even more so, as this is the time when repeat customers are developed; this can be applied across categories and product types: even FMCG goods such as chocolate bars, which might could contain inserts in their packaging with branded anecdotes, possibly even sales promotions (this is the most targeted communication the brand is ever likely to achieve, selling to its existing consumers). The scope of techniques in achieving these ends is too great for this paper; nevertheless it remains crucial that the brand collects data on their consumers, interprets that data, and generates creative and fitting brand communication to draw these consumers ever deeper into the reality of the brand. Finally, the control of a brand’s frame is always incomplete until it includes every contact channel the brand offers; one critically overlooked channel is that of all of the internal human elements within the organisation. The brand must control frame within the organisation in order to develop and maintain a specific culture, so that the represented brand to the outside world remains a congruent identity, thus enabling external frame control to function effectively, and - 51 -
thus enabling the effective management of the brand-meme to discourse dominance. The scope and detail of all the techniques and methodologies available and necessary for the creation of such a culture is well beyond the scope of this paper – but all of this is achieved through internal frame control and discourse epitomisation. The brand internally must represent the highest aspirations of employees (who should naturally be chosen for this trait), and must ensure that it is able to draw internal stakeholders into its reality and make them its hosts in its more powerful manifestations. This requires the creation of open internal conversations with a high level of authenticity and aspirational values, in order to spread the meme, and media messaging in order to seed and manage it; amongst other contemporary management techniques. Further, in an adaptation of the doctrines put forth in the Cluetrain Manifesto (Locke, et al., 1999), it is suggested that research be conducted on the de-restriction of employees in creating branded communications, hence allowing the company’s internal culture to be freely known to and influenced by external stakeholders and happenings, with only limited oversight from ‘brand mentors’ whose responsibility it is not to enforce the brand upon internal stakeholders, but rather to analyse and resolve incongruence between brand identity and its practical internal manifestations, as well as coach and guide internal stakeholders, versing them in brand values and communication praxis. It is postulated that this practise, akin in some ways to the removal of international trade tariffs, will be problematic in the short-term particularly as brands struggle with the lack of direct control, and as employees foreseeably take advantage of their newfound freedoms by voicing unsavoury opinions and creating unsavoury branded communications; however, with the right quality of staff, particularly those involved in brand mentoring, and given patience and a high level of effort in resolving internal stakeholders’ now openly visible qualms with the values and praxis of the brand, it is foreseen that this approach will yield a far more robust brand and brand culture, whose development and evolution is expedited by the ability to articulate, model, experiment with, challenge and discuss insights and theories in the brand community (which may come to include ‘volunteer labour’ from passionate external stakeholders if such a high level of transparency is favoured) resulting in a far deeper knowledge and insight base, with internal stakeholders who genuinely buy-in to the brand and support it as a matter of personal values (which in fact it will be, if the brand-meme is hosted in them in a powerful form). As this paper has demonstrated, under this section, frame control is a crucially important tool in - 52 -
ensuring that the audience’s experience of the brand is that which the brand hopes to bestow, and is appropriate and fitting for them at the particular moment of contact: frame control enables brands to best leverage social rules and to take optimal advantage of the insights and praxis of social violation theory. 6.3 Dealing with power relations Yet, even in a strong and well-controlled frame there remains the challenge of consumers who have not necessarily sought out the brand but may share an underlying desire for the brand and the category. The discipline of advertising has historically made use of extensive techniques to bring this desire to surface; however this section will cover some techniques from the perspective and language of interpersonal communication owing to its greater applicability into the world of memetics. “Negging” is the principle technique advocated by Von Markovik (2007:97) to equalise distorted social power relations and thus increase the desirability of the host in the eyes of the target. This technique involves (in the field of seduction) lowering of the target’s value through a process of active disinterest and screening – that is the seducer disarms the protection shield of the target by creating the appearance that they are accustomed to the company of target’s of a specific quality, and creating the appearance (real or fabricated) of screening (that is, the seducer is ‘searching’ the target for specific traits – a kind of role reversal, especially when this technique is activated upon targets of unusually high quality as deemed by society in general (Von Markovik, 2007:134)). This is activated practically through an indifferent approach appearing as a manifestation of an authentic independent identity with its according body language and speech patterns – Von Markovik advocates the use of planned communication ‘routines’, snippets of stories, games, “negs”, gambits, lines of banter, and what is known as cold-reads: tests which function in similar fashion to astrology, generating human truisms in response to specific queries. These function to reduce the complexity of for the pick-up artist thus enabling their focus to be on application and calibaration of material, as opposed to its generation, and enabling the generation of predictable patterns of engagement and escalation. One of these techniques, the “neg” functions by differentiating the pick-up artist’s approach from other approaches, demonstrating his value in relation to hers by revealing her vulnerability: insults are dysfunctional in this context as they are both typical and they alienate the target; however subtle acknowledgements of socially perceived shortcomings are functional as they serve to level social inequalities (these should never be related to identity level issues, only highly superficial issues - 53 -
such as “fake nails”; the target responds by generating ‘qualifiers’: tests of the approacher’s congruence and value; collectively this process is known as flirting. In the case of the brand this relates to two factors: qualification and the creation of abstract desirability of the brand, as well as the more concrete creation of desire and need for a specific type of offering. Qualification always increases the value of an artefact or concept – this is the basis of the premium pricing strategy, and of myriad other value-increasing strategies which require the consumer of an offering to contribute to a level of (relative) sacrifice (Murphy, 1997); however, the principle also contains a converse: that which cannot be sacrificed to achieve but remains in the hands of an ‘elite’ of sorts remains high value and as such separates those that ‘have’ from those that ‘have-not’ (Millward Brown, 2007). Brands typically only attempt to qualify individuals on a pricing basis; and it would likely be inappropriate to attempt to explicitly qualify on other bases. Nonetheless, it can be done with sufficient creative input, this can be noted predominantly (in the view of this paper) in the creation of a strong external brand culture, requiring the purchaser to meet certain requirements in order to be able to take part in the culture and ‘own’ the brand (tangibly and intangibly – or risk being judged or ostracised by the community). One meritorious example can be found in Harley Davidson, another (although arguably to a slightly lesser extent) would be Apple computer, and even the Episcopalian church in the United States: the consumers of these brands own more than mere tangible artefacts, in fact physical artefact they own is only a part of what they buy into when they purchase the brand. To an equal (and arguably greater) extent these consumers buy into not only the typical intangible benefits of premium brands, but in fact into the elite brand communities; they buy belonging and social circles, connections and status. These brands are able to create such strong cultures and create such clear cut definitions of insiders and outsiders and the roles played by each in their frame that a clear and significant value-add is generated (some principles surrounding this are touched on under Building Cultures). The success of this principle is based on “Cat theory” – this ridiculous sounding theory derives its name from the animals whose behaviour inform it: cats, unlike dogs, tend not to learn or follow instruction, but are easily tempted to chase; they are driven by curiosity and jealousy, and while easily distracted once invested in the attainment of something it can easily become their single-minded focus (Von Markovik, 2007:34). In the high paced, aspirational and hypercompetitive contemporary Western environment the consumer is oftentimes akin to this - 54 -
characterisation also, seeking the unpredictable, the unusual and the prestigious. Hence, the brand-meme must be constantly evolving and innovating, and constantly creating new higher levels of qualification (always keeping each new level accessible and attainable, while ensuring that the lower ones remain simple and accessible to outsiders – lest they become disillusioned). Qualification and elitism can also be highly successful elements in disarming initial “protection shields”, and tools in minimising social violation. “Why do you suppose we only feel compelled to chase the ones who run away?” asks the Vicomte de Valmont (de Laclos, 1989). Whatever the reasons, the creation of an elusive but attainable goal is a staple in the toolbox of the persuader, and is standard advertising praxis. Whether articulated and conscious or not, all the work of persuasion and communication professionals is based and depends on the selective high and low lighting of and application of social rules and realities – this is not necessarily unethical, it is a natural product of any frame. In a strong frame the brand is able to do this; but the fact remains that all of persuasion is social rules. Hence, the brand is able to create not only the abstract desirability of qualification, but also more specific and concrete desires. In its application to branding negging is the brand communicating to the audience that in their frame and shared reality there are specific criteria, expectation and norms for specific elements of the audience’s identity (note: these cannot be mere arbitrary dictations, except in very rare instance; they must have some anchor and a level of pre-existence in the audience’s own independent reality). Thus, in buying into the frame of the brand the audience buys into these criteria and feels a (now internal) pressure to manifest them. The audience thus feels a shift in social value, which once shifted sufficiently toward a particular meme, be it category or specific brand they take action to remedy it – it is postulated that in traditional non-participative and culture-based communications, and when the brand is not initially recognised and respected, because there is a far lower degree of qualification and pre-existing status and relationship, the social status merely slips away from the audience internally and in the discourse, but does not necessarily empower the brand. However, the applications of these principles of negging have been very simply and transparently applied in the past in general, with little consideration for long-term relationship or authentic individual identity. Brands typically communicate (for instance): “this is what good skin looks like (we're sure you do want good skin don't you?) and we can give it to you”. However the development of deep relationship in the context of deep authentic identities and a - 55 -
strong frame enable brands to become far more intense and much more complex than that. Relationships facilitate for much more complex social realities than momentary chance encounters – frames and developed identities allow the development of a fully-fledged system of social rules that govern both party’s shared reality, which in the relationship can be gradually unfolded as increasing levels of interaction and compliance are achieved (as an aside: their reality is shared, and not enforced by the brand for two reasons: first, the consumer has input into the creation of the frame at two points, when the brand designs it through research, and when the brand implements it through participation; secondly, the consumer may choose to reject the frame of the brand at any stage, or any of its elements if they are not conveyed appropriately or are perceived to be unfitting to the individual). As such, the brand can neg consumers on criteria that are without direct correlation to the territory of the brand, but still have impact into that territory and the relationships within it. By way of example, when a pick-up artist picks up a beautiful girl he typically negs her beauty, as he attempts to convey that beauty is common and so shifts the power relations, driving her to then qualify herself within those new power relations on a non-beauty item: her personality. Similarly, an upmarket grocery retailer such as WoolWorths might neg something they believe naturally gives their audience status, such as the type of car or home they live in, humorously insinuating this is a staple of the WoolWorth’s consumer, (remembering that negging is not insulting nor is it offensive, it is merely highlighting a particular aspect of the social reality the parties share in a way that demonstrates a commonness about it, and showing it for what it is); only then should the brand neg their grocery shopping habits (implying as their current campaigns do that anything less than the WoolWorth’s difference is unsatisfactory) and only much later making efforts to sell to them directly. Once again the importance of insight into a target audience comes to the fore; it must be noted that this particular type of ‘complex brand negging’ has its best application in niche markets, larger markets may have too diverse values, or respond to communication in too diverse ways for it to be reliably effective. 6.4 Ascendancy Frame control and negging are powerful tools in managing consumer relationships; however, the brand and its identity, being a meme, does not reside in a vacuum; no, the brand resides in a chaotic and hyper-competitive high-paced world, where it must fight for its existence on a number of levels. The ability of a brand to interact successfully with a consumer is worthless if it dominated by a competitor, or subverted by a seemingly unrelated meme. First brands must recognise that they exist as memes on not only the level of individual brands, - 56 -
but also as categories (Schreuder, 2007), as well as thoughts and habits. A brand must apply all the aforementioned insights in this light; moreover, the brand as a category must consider the ways it will compete with other categories (typically called “indirect competitors”), and further how it will compete with and otherwise relate to related thoughts and beliefs and habits (this is significant as the impact of a seemingly unrelated meme can be detrimental upon a brand, and sometimes they lie latent until they react with new memes – continuous and creative research is required in order to understand these in the target market). Next the brand must also recognise that competition is not necessarily an entirely negative phenomenon, competition contributes to the power of the brand as a category, and it has been shown that competition consistently increases consumption, and one would assume thus willingness to consume; ideally all that remains for the individual brand then in this milieu to be successful is to demonstrate superiority in some manner, whilst their competition and its communication indirectly grows its market, before it subverts them. Competition however must be engaged properly in order to ensure that they can in fact be subverted and defeated, but there are proper and improper ways of doing so. Explicitly attacking them, sueing them and other ‘full-on frontal’ tactics are not recommended by this paper (although at times they may be necessary and unavoidable), as they tend to demonstrate insecurity as a brand, lack of understanding of social conventions (despite their legality, they violate social norms that would be acceptable in interpersonal relations, although it would seem that they are viewed less severely owing to their status as corporate entities) and they generate publicity for their competitor, who is typically cast as a victim (cf. Beyond Madison Avenue, 2007). In a series of collected posts Cook (2006) describes techniques used to “out-alpha” others in social situation – that is to own the position of alpha male of the group, and lower their social value and even to exclude them entirely. These have been summarised into four key techniques and applied to the world of brands as memes. The first, setting the precedent for the remainder of the techniques is that the brand takes a confident and nonchalant tone, always giving the impression that they do not consider their competitor to be a serious threat, and that they do not take their own image too seriously (even if their image is serious).
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Next, brands if they must engage in a competitive dialogue with other brands should never take it seriously, as if they needed to win, and as if their audience could actually be moved by the rational arguments of their opponents – this does not exclude the brand from producing product comparison checklists, etc., but these should be designed wherever possible with the same humorously patronising and sarcastically revered tone. This tone is executed brilliantly in Apple’s “PC vs. Mac” campaign; the brand’s engagement and tone always stems from their deep, authentic identity – every piece of communication is a manifestation of this, not a reaction to external stimuli. Brands can also engage in a practice known as “labelling” wherein they articulate and communicate some eccentricity or negativity of its competitors in a playful manner: this serves to off-centre the opponent, but much more importantly to demonstrate an understanding of their behaviour, and to push them into a corner, giving them a slightly negative precedent in the eyes of the audience, which they would appear to be weak to then break. For instance, CellC might playfully make anecdotal reference to Vodacom as “you know, the brand that can’t make up its mind where to brand so they brand everywhere.” As soon as their competitors in any way supplicate or make obvious communication errors they should be playfully chastised; if they are involved in a dialogue with the brand they can be referred to dismissively. Finally the brand can dominate the surrounding discourse before challenging a competitor, in this way subverting the culture of the discourse and its language, subtly laying clues pointing to the way things ‘ought be’ and indirectly reframing the present dominant player in a weak mould, leaving the discourse ripe for the brand’s entry. This may also be done pre-emptively, building relationships with potential future consumers and shaping their discourse to be receptive to the brand and hostile to competitors, with the added benefit of appearing genuinely benevolent and authentically involved in manifesting its values in that way. There is of course a wealth of other competitive tactics, as well as ways to enhance generic abilities to give advantage, many of which are highly technical and business not communication orientated, and thus find themselves without particular relevance to this paper’s discussion of brands as memes. The use of these technique to achieve ascendancy over competitors, as well as the techniques relating to qualification and negging are all ‘pull’ techniques, channelling the consumer into the reality of the brand; frame control on the other hand is a ‘push’ technique, offering the meme to - 58 -
the consumer and regulating their experience and understanding of that reality. The ultimate reality control tool, however, is not to be ‘pushing’ or ‘pulling’ at all, but rather to be at the centre of a discourse, allowing it to develop around you and to gradually allow an existing discourse to mould itself around oneself. Thus, the emergence of the collection of ideas known as “Holding Court”. 6.5 Holding court Holding Court is an (officially) undefined loan word used in a variety of social dynamics circles of unknown origin, meaning essentially to command the attention of a group and dictate the functioning thereof verbally and non-verbally, presumably in a manner similar to the way a judge, or the kings of old, would hold court. Brands should never forget the ability of a party to own a conversation. It need not be their words in the conversation, yet they own it. It is almost as if they are on an invisible but very real platform with an invisible but very real spotlight. The mere facilitation of the interaction is sufficient if it does what the participants are looking for it to do. The voice of the brand is not always the best one for the purpose and the occasion, sometimes its customers are smarter, more credible and more attuned than it is; sometimes the brand needs to communicate with only an elect few and allow the others to merely listen in; sometimes the brand needs to allow participation; sometimes it must take a backseat in the discourse and allow it to develop organically of its own accord – the brand should not fight to speak or to be heard during these times, that is to attempt to neutralise the value of their gift, they should use it. What is significant is the sensation of real relationship and the centrality of the brand in the discourse regardless of time (technology allows non real-time communication), geography (technology enables location indifference), channel (it is of no matter how connection occurs, only that it does), speaker (it is no moment whether the other parties are communicated with directly, by another advocate, or whether they ‘overhear’ a conversation, only that they are part of one), or any other factor. Radical Trust (2007) discusses how brands should not avoid social media, rather they should be a part of it, entering, even creating, it actively; fostering a community there. They assert that this community will function as an immune system for the brand: by enabling free flow of conversation around, about and with the brand the brand not only enters their discourse, and becomes a valuable part thereof but also offers a “petri dish” for culturing of connected brandadvocates who will defend the brand long before brand managers even recognise a threat. The value of holding court in a way that develops open brand communities extends well beyond - 59 -
merely the creation of a brand immune system – other reasons for performing this include the facilitation of publicly owned brands, the creation of participation, and the speeding of brand evolution, amongst others. In light of this brands must create forums and user-groups; they will likely emerge organically regardless, only then without the voice and presence of the brand as an anchor and stabiliser. This is an entirely new way of adding value, where the brand is no longer dictating but is subtly subverting, allowing natural development of value around them and their interests. Brands should not however be mislead. These consumers are not their puppets; they can and will turn on the brand at any time if the brand is not clever and careful. Brands must remain vigilant to the conversations consumers are having amongst themselves, especially in new media contexts, and respond and take appropriate action. Instead of allowing them to rant about how your product failed them, let them be involved, let them participate; brands should make their product and their organisation and its actions as ‘open-source’ as possible, these consumers can contribute to their ‘source code’ and improve it; the brand team acts as a moderator and a facilitator, even at times leading important directions but enabling the public to essentially own and build the substance of the brand. The key caveat is that the brand team ensure that all of this occurs within the brand’s conversation, and that this conversation is organised, spread, and executed in the best interests of the brand. Participation is the way things evolve naturally. The brand team’s role is to create ways to seduce their targets to involve themselves. If they want people to buy into an idea, they need to ensure that they either believe that the source of the idea is infallible, or that they themselves created it. Hence the significance of Schreuder’s (2007) statement that the frame of “power of consumer” has shifted to the frame of “creating participation” with ever increasing equality on ever-more shared terms. In holding court and hence leveraging the benefits of participation, connection is paramount: connection to the brand, and connection to fellow consumers, as well as connection to outsiders and new others. Brands will employ each type of connection at different times in order to realise different ends – sometimes all the brand may seek to do is to isolate individual consumers and connect with them one-on-one, sometimes it is most effective to facilitate connection with the group, sometimes the brand may seek to connect fellow consumers and form communities, and even to merge disparate communities and groups, sometimes using less valuable and independently significant groups to connect the brand to the other more independent significant groups the brand actually seeks relationship with.
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These are not uncomplicated tasks: they require large degrees of creativity and deep level insight, as well as inspired execution; however, when accomplished these uses of connection will offer the brand greater value than perhaps any other effort the brand invests in. In 1999 Wunderman, arguably the founder of modern direct marketing, averred that “Direct marketers [were] the only true beneficiaries of the Internet,” (Publishing Direct, 1999). Such a perspective would naturally have been easy to adopt at that stage – before the impact of forums, social networking, blogs, virtual communities, and even virtual lives had been truly felt. Today however the role of the brand, argues Lindstrom (2006), is to be part of the conversation and to kickstart it, not to be responsible for it single-handedly:
Some of the most successful brand campaigns are run by consumers. You know you've succeeded when consumers create sites and blogs about your brand. When you search on your brand's name on Google and find the majority of traffic is consumer dialogue about your brand -- all positive, of course! Or is it? The reality is there'll be negative opinion as well. But this is where the mandate you won from the board comes into play. The board must be aware, from the start, that 100 percent positive discussion about your brand is impossible. The environment must be open and receptive to all comments; consumers won't be interested in participating in a controlled debate. Your role is to kick-start the debate, to fuel the dialogue and make it interesting.
“The future,” contends Godin (2000), “belongs to marketers who establish a foundation and process where interested people can market to each other,” while Porter (2006) notes that personal recommendations remain more effective by far than any other mass media communication in generating sales – brands could (and many times do with some good success, for instance Amazon or Ideastorm) produce elaborate recommendations engines, however, the facilitation of healthy inter-consumer communal relationships and interactions is likely equally significant and possibly more successful. This paper has shown previously that consumers are dissatisfied with being viewed as mere market segments to brands, and being objectified as mere bundles of demographic and psychographic data – they seek to be related to as segments of one (particle marketing) and to be acknowledged as individuals. Given the opportunity they can and will contribute (Locke, et al., 1999). Brands must acknowledge and allow this, retaining control of the conversation sometimes subversively and sometimes explicitly through strong frame control if you have to. In this way consumers can almost be viewed as the new, free volunteer employees of the brand. The brand ultimately should strive to create social and knowledge brand-ecologies around itself, feeding upon themselves, of which the brand is only a small part. They key to so doing is to find - 61 -
out what each and every group of stakeholders really wants, and then to create or otherwise offer it – or to give them licence and allow them to create it. The creation of such participation, communities and cultures cannot be achieved superficially. Isolated text messages exchanged between the brand and consumer is not sufficient. In fact, it is highly unlikely that this will result in the consumer feeling that they are contributing, much less that they are co-owners of the brand, and never enough for them brand to receive free labour, input, value and protection out of. The conversation should be open, ideally entirely uncensored – in reality it is anyway, but brands are able to create the illusion (largely only to themselves) that it is not and that only positive conversations are occurring; these brands are only fighting the tide playing make-believe; as such the conversations surrounding are not properly articulated and appear to be better than they in fact are. Brands need to see themselves for who and what they are, and engage in the authentic discourse in which they are involved – creating a pseudo discourse with which to clothe themselves serves the ends of none but the brand management team in presenting its work to its superiors. In terms of managing the conversation and these connections, there are a variety of strategies – just as there are a variety of market segmentation strategies, which can also be creatively combined. These range on a continuum from engaging with the entire discourse monolithically, to the ultimately individual particle strategies. One novel execution with some potential in this discourse management may be the creation of ‘brand cell groups’, similar to the microcosms of church of the same name, and the support groups of other institutions. It is envisaged that these brand microcosms, literally bound by brand-common social circles and other micro components of social structure, would create fruitful mergings of the valuable communication offered by brand professionals and experts in the field (e.g. topical newsletters) with the consumer run and owned interaction (e.g. internet forums). The groups could run topical discussions, activities, training and other social interactions; there could be a super-group activated occasionally merging them all together in one enormous event, activity or conversation. They need not occur in physical form or even be in geographic proximity, and they can be user- or brand-run: when user-run users can be trained up to do so by the brand for free also (the consumer would likely view it as a complementary service, while the brand would view it as an investment into the creation of volunteer labour, amongst the other profitable benefits of successfully holding court). The brand could oversee them, making reviews, performing ongoing training, and breaking news, product developments and doing testing with group leaders first, or the brand can allow them to be a free-forming body about the brand. The more directly managed and supervised the - 62 -
groups are, the more controlled the groups can be and the more direct benefit the brand can extract, but also the more costly. The approach chosen depends on the volatility of the brand in its discourse, the image it hopes to portray, its budget, and the ends it seeks to achieve. Regardless of the use of brand cell groups, partipants in the discourse must be given the opportunity for recognition and reward (this relates to both internal and external stakeholder). It is not just the opportunity to have a voice, but the opportunity to have their brilliance recognised, and admired that drives participants to take action and offer value. This kind of arrangement results in a win-win scenario: the voice receives status, whilst the brand receives value – even a snowball of ideas, each trying to be better than the last, each vying for a piece of the attention of the brand. That is the goal: the brand become the centre of attention where power resides to reward the parties about them, instead of the inverse. Brands have the money and the power, the insight and the expertise to do it; by creatively developing techniques to increase participation and develop strong brand communities and cultures, solidly holding court in short, the brand may escape from the trap of constantly being subservient and supplicating, entering into a more healthy win-win, egalitarian relationship with its consumers.
7. CONCLUSION "The art of marketing is not finding more money to do more marketing. It's figuring out how to tell a story that spreads with the resources you've got," notes Godin (2007), or in the language of this paper, creating brand-memes adept in survival and replication (where memes are tools to serve the functional human need to make sense of reality and the many facets of their existence – they allow their hosts to construct their own meaning and to understand and better shape their experiences of life). Aaker (2005) avers that in the future “[successful brands] will find ways to truly connect to the customer by building relationship-based loyalty going beyond productcentred and product-driven approaches.” By drawing from a myriad of social sciences sources this paper reframes the challenge brand professionals face, viewing brands as consciously and deliberately engineered memes striving to survive and replicate in the minds of human beings and delivers in its latter part a number of compendious implications, hypotheses, and potential - 63 -
principles for positive and distinctive human-brand interaction in social contexts, with broad and potentially far-reaching scope for further research and elaboration; some of which are logically self-evident, others of which may require further research and testing, in order to advance the science of branding and branded communication, ultimately resulting in healthier brands. Naturally, there are other methods that will be able to achieve success, some of which will contradict those detailed in this paper; nonetheless this paper has sought to understand branding through some of the insights of the social sciences, in an attempt to not reduce ‘chance’ successes with brands, and lead towards the development of a reliable, consistent meme-based model. Memes need their human hosts, and they use their human hosts in order to facilitate their ends of survival and replication; but human beings are also dependent upon these same memes: they also comprise human personality and thought, humans need them and use them also – they live alongside one another, together, in a reciprocal synergistic relationship. Memes enable their hosts to engage with their surrounding realities in meaningful ways; memeplexes in the forms of ‘cultures’ surrounding a specific meme facilitate the broader integration of memes into the fabric of other pre-existing memes in the host, and greater sense-making. Brands, as memes, then are vehicles that enable humans to engage with their surrounding realities meaningfully, and in the ways the host chooses. Brands must develop deep, authentic identities that (at least in appearance) extend well beyond mere financial objectives, so as to achieve differentiated ‘human’ connection with consumers, ensuring their survival long beyond the relevance of the functionality of their products. Simultaneously however brands must endeavour to engineer ever-escalating consumer interaction, drawing them ever-deeper into the world and reality of the brand, that the brandmeme might further embed itself in them; however, the communication of the brand must not at all times be congruent with the deep identity of the brand, so as to ensure that the brand-meme is both credible and able to build connection. It is important to note that possibly the strongest way brands can achieve this is by understanding on a very deep level the core values of a discourse, and subsequently embodying them, so as to resonate most deeply with consumers. By understanding that humans make use of internal implicit sense making technology in order understand reality and assign value to it, brands are able to reverse-engineer those processes in their target niche and understand the rules that govern their interactions, so as to avoid violating them and lowering their value, as well as to leverage them and build relationships and escalate interaction successfully. The niches that this paper advises that brands target for the complex - 64 -
reasons associated with the history and development of branding and the changing environment need not remain niches – niche cultures often boil over into the mainstream, infecting them with translations of their dominant niche values. Brands can take advantage of this, and even facilitate this, by understanding the profile of the type of consumer that embodies the niche values, as well those that are likely to translate that it into the mainstream and targeting them, particularly with offerings and stories that are both highly differentiated and easily spreadable. Brand should engage in practices such as frame control, negging and qualification, as well as competitive ascendancy practices, in order to realise the goal of defining a given discourse and becoming the premier voice in that discourse. The brand should also hold court and develop the discourse about itself and its values – thus the brand communities literally evolve into the discourse. By making use of these insights and techniques and their typical application into a discourse brands are able to increase the probabilities of their own success in entering and dominating that discourse, and thus their probabilities of successfully “surviving and replicating”.
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