It was great to see one superannuation fund CEO emerge from the pack to demonstrate an understanding of the essence of brand, in an industry otherwise generally bereft of any concept of the value brand delivers to organisations. The champion? Tony Lally of Sunsuper, who argued that, despite the free discourse facilitated by social media, companies still retained control of their brand.
In the opposite corner was Deloitte Digital CEO, Pete Williams, who pushed the alternative argument oft heard in brand circles now (particularly those of social media inclination) that brands are controlled by consumers. Pete argued that this was by virtue of their freedom to disseminate and amplify brand messages, both good and bad, through social networks.
So what do I think? And 'who cares?' you may possibly ask. Well, regardless of your level of caring, I'm going to proceed to tell you (exit here if you wish).
On the continuum of brand control from 100% organisation to 100% consumer, I'm going to give it 95% to organisation. And the reasons were clearly expressed by Tony Lally. Brand is not about your name, your logo or your advertising. It is about underlying values and the consumer expectations they engender. Aligning these is what effective brand management is about. It's about how you engage with customers, how your products perform and your organisational integrity.
All of these are levers controlled within your organisation. Sure, you'll never please 100% of the people 100% of the time and one disgruntled customer my possibly use Pete's social channels to amplify a negative message many thousands of times. But there are mechanisms for dealing with this - identification and resolution of the issue, conversing with your online community and so on.
My argument is that organisations who are getting brand management right will share control of their reputation with consumers, because consumer expectations will precisely align with brand values. Under these conditions, consumers will merely amplify an organisation's brand values through their social networks, whether online or alongside the weekend BBQ with a tinnie in hand.
An organisation that achieves this alignment has nothing to fear from social media, because the channel is merely a vehicle for... damn it... there used to be an old-fashioned term for this... what was it? Ah, got it! Word of mouth.