I'm a big fan of feedback. Understanding how others see you, and hearing how you can improve is a critical part of personal development. As John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, says "I'd rather be green and growing, instead of ripe and ready to rot." But when it comes to brands, feedback is not the breakfast of champions. Indeed, too much feedback can actually be harmful, especially for successful brands. Spending too much time 'watching your own tapes' can lead a brand to become a caricature of itself.
The best illustration of this for me is Top Gear. It's one of the most globally successful TV franchises of recent times, but in the UK at least it's become a caricature of itself. As a viewer, it feels like there's too much focus on the bits that they've been told people like, rather than just being themselves. For example, the way they 'accidentally' bump into each other's cars during their Specials now feels somewhat tired and formulaic. It's like they're concentrating so much on being 'on brand', that they've stopped being spontaneous and just being themselves.
I was reminded of this last Saturday when I was in a Brewdog pub. They make great beer, have a clear ethos around what they do and, in a good way, they're not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
But I'm starting to detect 'the dead hand of marketing'. I can't put my finger on anything in particular, but I can start to see signs that they feel they have a brand to manage, and as a result seem a little too conscious of projecting their 'best bits' in a loud and uniform way. The trouble is, this could actually make them feel less real and authentic, and more like someone who's playing to the audience.
This is a fate that can particularly befall those charismatic founder-led companies attempting to make the difficult transition to a 'professionally' managed brand. So, whilst it is important to listen to consumers and have an ongoing understanding of how they feel about your brand, you can listen too much.
Thankfully for Brewdog there’s still plenty of time to avoid this.
And my advice to any business like this would be resist the temptation to hire Brand Managers, or to codify and repetitively play back your ‘best bits’, instead of just focusing on being yourself, idiosyncrasies and all.
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(Feature image courtesy of Bernt Rostad.)