We often under estimate the role our brand plays in the lives of our customers. As companies, we downplay the value of direct communication (of any form - social media, face-to-face, hand written letters, etc) because we don't think anyone cares enough about our brand for this stuff to matter. This is a problem derived from a combination of two corporate self esteem issues:
1) A brand's fear of being called out for being something other than its corporatly controlled definition
2) combined with a brand/corporate/marketing culture focused on 'the mass' rather than the customer. Our brands have long tried to get bigger, but only rarely focuses on getting better.
As a result, we avoid situations where the brand message is open for public interpretation. We over manage every piece of advertising just in case our customers notice (or even care) that our product is facing left instead of right and as a result decide jump ship. We tell our retail stores to sell but take away the opportunity to keep customers by always referring them to a 1-800 number or passing the responsibility to a higher power.
Be a brand that believes in its customers more than its ego.
One example of a brand who has made the effort to overcome its self esteem issues is T-Mobile. I've talked before about their current obsession with flash mobs. They've taken their benign, easily comparable mobile phone product, and repositioned it in favor of the customer (rather than the masses). They removed technology from the equation and made it about sharing. The Life's for Sharing campaign has so far be quite successful. I can't comment on T-Mobile's ability to fulfill the promise, as its service is unavailable to me.
The latest attempt at a flash mob involved 13,000 people in Trafalgar Square singing Hey Jude together. It has seen mixed reviews. Some digital marketing folks are slamming it as disappointing and a failure. Lucky for T-Mobile - those guys aren't really their target. The most allusive consumer are those who are 25 years old or younger. This also happens to be the sweet spot for the communications indusrty. These folks use the most bandwidth (= most profit) and have little loyalty. Mobile carriers around the world have been trying to figure out how to reach them. I think you could almost define a new category targeting this market within the mobile phone industry (thinkBoost, Fido, Virgin, Koodo).
So what are these consumers saying?
"These T-mobile events are great, keep them coming, im proud to be with T-mobile!"(15 year old CraigTaylor94 on YouTube)
“OMG, I love the new T-Mobile advert that just premiered tonight at 9! #Trafalgar Square” (from this excited tweet) Source: ViralBlog
That's not everyone - but the fact that a 15 year old would say that he's proud to be with a brand from an industry full of boring players is a huge step.
Give you customers some credit. They are waiting for you to surprise them. They almost expect it. Eliminate the legal/corporate mindfield of what would make everyone happy and focus on what would make the people who care about your brand happy - a focus on the individual instead of the masses. You'll get people talking and your customers will reward you for it.