“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.”
– Joss Whedon
I like this for lots of reasons, but also because it seems to relate to brands as well. In the Olden Times a brand ( whether it was a company, a candidacy, or whatever ) was defined by some higher-ups, codified by the Marketing & PR peeps and made real by designers, writers, and media production people. Out went your commercials, print ads, radio spots, speaking engagements, and celebrity endorsements. These things were the brush strokes of your brand. There were a limited number of places where people could put their eyeballs, so you hit those places for a tidy sum of cash, and your brand was out there.
Back in Olden Times, people watched your commercial and said “Hmmmm. Look what they’ve got out there now” which translates roughly into “Hmmmm, look who they are”.
This is not so much the case, today.
Your brand is art
Twitter, the Like button, Pinning, Skype, YouTube channels, and a zillion other ways to share have an interesting effect on a brand. Now it’s not so much what you put out there. Much more often, it starts that way, but quickly it changes into what people as a group of observers see and share and decide. In a work of quantum artistry the act of observing your brand changes it into something more consensual, in which you ( as the original artist, maybe ) have a much smaller voice than before.
Your brand grows up, and talks back to you, paraphrasing Mr. Whedon.
So brand managers, marketers, PR peeps, and the bigwigs that claim to be defining and managing the idea of the org in the minds of people are no longer like people carving statues. They’re much more like people growing gardens. Or painting something that others come to with their brushes and palettes and add their own strokes.
Is your org down with the idea that your brand is participatory, reciprocal, co-created? Or are you constantly telling people who you are, and caught off guard constantly when they reflect back something different, something that changes?
You give birth to your brand, or change it yourself as you define the UX, visual design, copy, or how it executes. But other forces also help your brand “grow up” as it learns to talk back to you.