Maintaining Brand Integrity in a Flat World

November 14, 2007

Christopher Columbus was wrong. Thomas Friedman is right: The world has officially become flat. In a 21st Century world empowered with socializing technologies and global communications, consumers have the ability to directly communicate with the world - sharing frustrations and exuberance over products and services - and even corporate elite. The big can act small; the small, big.

In the past couple of months, we have seen Apple, Inc. foster direct communication with their consumers via blog posts on their website. Bowing in part to social news network giant, Digg, Steve Jobs, Apple’s legendary CEO, released the following back-pedaling apology regarding the iPhone's support for native, 3rd party software. This certainly wasn't the first coup for Digg, nor will it be the last. This form of open communication has not only made corporate giants seem more transparent, but it has begun to allow marketing to better understand their consumers and their desires.

With a company such as Apple, brand integrity is paramount to success. Apple enjoys an absolute passionate following. As their marketing has changed, so has the message behind their logo; however, the brand itself continues to draw Believers - it’s quite a bit of responsibility for Apple to live up to. That is possibly why, in order to appease its loyal customer base, Apple's CEO issued an open letter after reducing the price of the iPhone by $200, shortly after launch. After a barrage of emails from the Apple faithful, Jobs felt compelled to offer them recourse and a refund. His decision not only allowed the company to maintain its brand integrity, but strengthen the brand’s value by directly appeasing to consumers.

Apple hasn't been the only company listening to the market. Microsoft Corp. was recently in a somewhat similar situation with its Xbox brand. When rumors began to fly that the company's Xbox360 had a faulty design for the cooling system, a flood of complaints from angry consumers filled blogs and other social sites about the product’s defects and the limited warranty. This prompted company CEO, Steve Ballmer to issue an extended warranty to fix those units - free of any charge - that had been affected. Said Ballmer, "We have to learn from our mistakes. It was painful to announce the write-off …, and yet we knew we had to take care of our customers".

It’s amazing to see that all of this change was prompted by a response from consumers. The giants are becoming smaller, the "little guy", a bit bigger. I suspect that as the world continues to flatten-out, there will be no need for that compass: brand integrity points the way to brand value.

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