It’s a world where corporations hire personal brands, leverage cause-based activity to boost reputation, and affiliate with other brands to enhance (or destroy) their image. Before the social web, this trend manifested itself in a well-manicured set of partnerships through corporate marketing and sales. Those days are over. Now individuals and companies alike can bolster their reputations — or worse “brandjack” — by simply swiping a badge, converting a logo into a complimentary or negative image, or affiliate themselves well-known personality via a link or a photo. Companies struggle with and usually fail to control the unlicensed widespread use of their brands.
Affiliation and alliance-based identities are no longer linear and sometimes include unwilling participants. Today they represent a mesh-like confluence of identities and reputations, commitments and past experiences. These coinciding moments occur with the click of a camera, the insertion of some HTML code, or a casual reference on Twitter.
As a result, friending MC Hammer on Twitter becomes a moment of triumph and credibility for long adoring fans. And companies can make big waves by hiring the Internet Famous, such as Fast Company’s troubled hiring of Scoble and Israel. Consider how Guy Kawasaki‘s Alltop has built a perception of a powerhouse aggregator by simply encouraging bloggers to boast about their listing.
Smart organizations are already leveraging the brandjacking trend with great success by promoting affiliation. Consider the (Lil) Green Patch program. Individuals get to look environmentally conscious with their personal green patch on their Facebook page and the Nature Conservancy receives matching donations to fight rainforest deforestation. The effort claims to have saved more than 96 million square feet of rainforest so far.
Image (by David Alston) from left to right Jim Long is interviewed by Twebinar Host Chris Brogan and Radian6′s David Alston. Radian6 dramatically increased its visibility by hiring Brogan (and Long) to execute the Twebinar series on their behalf. The Twebinar series was a smorgasbord of brand affiliations.
This trend is one I’ve had a lot of fun mocking this past year. However, it’s a trend that will only accelerate as the social web becomes more common and corporations become more savvy in their adoption of corporation social media and their ability to affiliate themselves with disparate personalities and brands.
Yet the era of “sampling” brands and reputations raises a lot of questions and possibilities (image by Shashi Bellamkonda). For while affiliation and alliances with other reputations can boost credibility, sooner or later a reputation needs to stand on its own. Or does it?
We may be entering an era where the less discerning eye can be easily swayed by images of grandeur. Substantive transparency could be less valuable than smart brandjacking — what was often called name dropping in the 1.0 world.
The new bubble won’t be venture-backed or real estate-driven, but instead a bubble of false perceptions may rise. And this time it won’t come from marketing machines but instead the social web itself. Could the anti-PR machine become its own worst nightmare creating celebrities and brands without substance?
But ultimately the smart will stay smart, and reputations will sooner or later return to their ultimate barometer: Performance. While brand affilitiation may work for a period of time, without core value many lesser composite images will fall to the wayside. Markets ultimately want real answers to concerns, desires and needs. The era of sampling will need more than glue to build the house. Substance is required for long term success. That means product marketing becomes even more valuable for the CMO’s office.