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Brand Control to Major Tom: The New Rules of Brand Management

by Roger Sametz  |  
December 15, 2009

Yes, the new age of extreme participation is a challenge for brand managers. No, you haven't lost control.

The notion that you can manage your brand by making and distributing messages and materials that you want "out there" is becoming quaint.

Rather, now, monologues need to be replaced by dialogues; formal market research needs to be paired with attentive listening; "advice" is offered round the clock; participation in social media is now table stakes; and customers and prospects who have always trusted friends to help them make decisions often have a huge network they can carry around with them to consult.

What you plan and execute from headquarters can be either reinforced or undermined by what you don't plan and execute. Transparency is no longer an elective. And anyone can create a brouhaha (some 6.6 million people viewed the YouTube video of United Airlines' mishandling of  Dave Carroll's guitar, and many more people know the story); or, conversely, anyone can give you a "brand gift"—the same incident viewed from Carroll's brand-view.

Your brand is now clearly owned by your constituents (though that has always been true)—and you're the brand steward. What's in their heads and hearts—what they've internalized and what they expect and express—is your brand.

Being the brand steward, with some but not all the levers within reach, has many brand "managers" wringing their hands: "We've lost control; we're at the mercy of—well, everyone!"

Not quite. While certainly some control is ceded in our new participatory environment, it is given in exchange for (potentially) much more engaged constituencies; for the possibility of having a huge (unpaid) corps of advocates; for data and learning that can advance your enterprise.

And you—brand manager—can control more than you think of this new, shared enterprise. Furthermore, you can influence what you can't control.

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Roger Sametz is president and CEO of Sametz Blackstone Associates, a Boston-based brand consultancy that integrates brand, editorial, and digital strategy with design and digital media. Sametz Blackstone collaborates with a wide range of academic, cultural, community-focused, and corporate clients.

LinkedIn: Roger Sametz

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  • by Andy Wright Wed Dec 16, 2009 via web

    Great post. I agree with pretty much everything. However, I'm not sure we're handing more control to consumers. They have the same amount of control as before and if anything we have more.

    What social media, online reviews and blogs have given to consumers is a voice on a global scale. The dialogue is absolutely the opportunity. But our opportunity to hear what they're saying about their feelings, experiences and recommendations actually gives us greater power to act and react - in effect giving us more control. Before, these conversations still happened, but locally and without our knowing. Now, as brand owners, we can do something about it.
    I've just given my opinion on this at

    Thanks for the article Roger...

  • by Lou Wed Dec 16, 2009 via web

    Good article. Thanks. But, um, it wasn't Tom Paxton and it wasn't his guitar...and there are probably 6 million or so people who'd likely spot that mistake. Most of them won't be reading this article though, lucky for you.

  • by Vahe Thu Dec 17, 2009 via web

    Thanks, Lou. You are so right. We missed that... even though we've run our share of articles on the subject (including this one: Article's now corrected...

    --Vahe Habeshian (director of publications at 'profs)

  • by Jann Fri Jan 27, 2012 via web

    Excellent overview. Glad to see that you covered the importance of employee engagement. And in the area of control, the fact that you can generally learn a great deal from monitoring the areas you can't control, and sometimes use it to strong advantage. Fixing a mistake can garner more loyalty that doing ir right (and unnoticed) which is weird, but true. One thing I'd add: branding is never over. It's requires an ongoing commitment to monitor and maximize.

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