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Is Brand Management an Oxymoron?

It depends on your approach to management. Remember the 1960s management theory Theory X and Theory Y. The basic idea was that a company's approach to employee management followed one of two assumptions: Theory X was that employees are basically lazy and need a strong, hierarchical hand. Theory Y assumes that people are inherently motivated and ambitious and just need to be encouraged in the right way.

I think you could view the management of brands similarly. Currently nearly all brand management takes a theory X approach... customers are dumb and lazy and in order to be motivated need highly controlled repetitive messages and standardized experiences. This assumption influences everything about how brands are created. The process of developing a brand strategy is typically linear and didactic. The messages are pushed out into channels. Customers are engaged by proxy through focus groups.

And yet increasingly, we're seeing (as a result innovations in technology) another trend emerge. Some successful brands are becoming much more akin to Theory Y. Apple, Salesforce, Scion are all examples of brands with a high degree of involvement. Customers are "co-owners" of the brand and there is a kind of collaboration between the brands and their customers. But in these cases, the brand managers are willing to sacrifice some control on the bet that it will engender greater involvement and enthusiasm.

Which brings us back to management theory -- we're all familiar with the transformation of the ideal manager from boss to "coach". And we've all experienced heavy handed managers that led through force and we've also had managers that inspired us by offering us their trust. It's time to start seeing similar changes in the bossing of brands.

February 7, 2008 | Permalink


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