Are you the Passenger or the Driver: Who Controls a Brand

August 15, 2018

Who is in the driver’s seat? Have you ever thought about who really controls a brand, its conception, production, sales, expansion, imagery, etc. A brand’s product or service has a life cycle that is divided into four stages: introduction, growth, maturity and decline. So who controls these stages? Is it the company, the brand manager, the consumer or a combination of all three? Who is driving the car?

A quick response to this question would be that a company, individual or entity controls a brand or at least its initial inception and test drive, but what happens after that? Do you wilfully hand over the keys to the consumer, or do you wait until they make their own set of keys? The consumer has the capacity to drive a brand with or without your permission and has the ability to speed up a brand’s evolution or to slam on its brakes. Kickstarter, secret menus at Starbucks and McDonald’s, or the consumer boycott of to drop the Ivanka Trump shoe line are all instances illustrating the leveraging power of the consumer. One of the most memorable examples is the global boycott of Nike in the 1990s where everyday consumers drove the athletic giant to become accountable for its supply chain. These are just some examples where the consumer is a driving force in the change, creativity or culmination of a brand.

Why is it important to define who is controlling a brand at any given point along the road? There is no lack of choice in the world so brands look to stand out and to build trust and loyalty. Ultimately, a brand wants to connect emotionally with a consumer, to develop a lifelong relationship, and to become irreplaceable to a consumer. To successfully achieve this, it is advantageous to have a strong understanding of who or what is influencing a brand and fuelling its innovation, development or finale. Because there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a brand’s life cycle, control will vary from brand to brand, but identifying the key drivers at each point is crucial as these details contribute to how that brand is marketed now and how it will be marketed in the future. Defining the drivers means understanding the road and having the ability to navigate the terrain.

At some point, however, does a brand not eventually hit a dead end? Does it not ultimately come down to the consumer controlling a brand because can a brand truly exist without the consumer? If you build it and they don’t come, isn’t that really the end of the brand? You have a road, a driver, a passenger, but no vehicle. I guess you could start walking.


Written by Brooke Allen