Paritosh Joshi: Of Marketing & Participative Curation

04 Oct,2012

By Paritosh Joshi

 

“The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience”. Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune wrote these memorable words as part of an imaginary commencement speech published as a news column on June 1, 1997. As good a way of issuing a disclaimer for whatever follows in this column.

 

Got talking with an old friend about brands earlier today. Inevitably the phrase “Brand Architecture” popped up. In the continuing spirit of full disclosure, I do not like it. Never have. It has, unfortunately, gained so much currency of these last few years, probably on account of fancy schmancy, charcoal grey-suited consultant types using it as a jargon staple that it rears its ugly head every time brands are discussed. However, it was only this morning as our conversation developed that I began to understand what it was about the notion of (air bunnies) brand architecture (air bunnies) that so bugs me. Enough prefatory remarks already.

 

Architecture. Cue overwhelming intellect: Frank Gehry. Le Corbusier. Charles Eames. Cue blueprints and plans: sections, elevations, façades. Cue elaborate embellishment: balustrades, colonnades, arches, inlays and marquettery. Cue imposing landmarks. Versailles. Empire State. The Gherkin. That’s it. Imposing landmarks. From the lay perspective, that’s what architecture boils down to.

 

And that is probably the exact notion that the proponents of the theory aspire to in the context of brands too. Overwhelming intellects (at least in their own assessment) creating detailed plans for elaborately embellished edifices that will stand, unchanged and defiant to the deleterious effects of man and nature, for a dozen generations. A notion informed by breathtaking hubris, I regret to add.

 

I could, right about this time, veer off into anecdotes about storied brands that to all appearances look a lot like enduring edifices that have weathered a thousand storms but on closer inspection reveal themselves to the result of decades of endless tinkering by generations of uncelebrated custodians rather than xanadus that sprung fully formed from the imagination of imperious Kubla Khans. My reader, you are well informed about these anecdotes and I shall not bore you with repetition.

 

I learnt brand management in the mid ’80s. Back then we believed ourselves to be in the possession of special tools, called ‘consumer learning’ or similar, that would enable us to develop ‘consumer insights’ that could then trigger the development of ‘consumer propositions’, ‘selling ideas’ and eventually ‘fat bonuses’. We were seekers. The consumer was merely a passive vessel who would submit herself to our incisive explorations into the innermost recesses of her soul and spirit.

 

As you can see, there was a patronizing patriarchy not just in the process but also in its philosophical underpinning.

 

The model worked well enough, though, for us to survive our brand management years reasonably unscathed and move on to fancier designations where the cut and thrust of everyday skirmish was no longer our bailiwick. People who now run Marketing divisions in large corporations across all sorts of sectors belong to this cohort and their understanding of how brands are built has been ossified circa 1985.

 

The reality of brands though is light years distant from what the fossils are thinking. Consumers are no longer quiescent bovines who will passively feed on whatever the brand owner masters of the universe place before them. They are confident, opinionated, often raucous commentators who are insistent on dialog with their brands of choice, not platitudinous sermonizing.

 

This too has a label that those smarmy consultants use: brand conversation.

 

Let’s say you knew nothing of the way consumers are really weighing in on brands and all you had heard was this label “brand conversation”. Wouldn’t you start imagining a well appointed place with subdued lighting and comfortable chairs where small knots of people were engaged in friendly banter? Well then, think again. Less Chambers and more Chandni Chowk. Busy, bustling, boisterous.

 

How does a brand owner or manager do anything useful with the loud marketplace of ideas that her brand catalyses?

 

Think of another world that is marked by posturing, contentiousness and endless ferment: the world of art. Now think of the last time you were at a museum. A meander through any of its galleries would suggest such tranquility and orderliness, you could be forgiven for imagining the art world as particularly genteel and bucolic. How does fervid reality transform thus? It doesn’t, really. It is curated.

 

Curators are incredibly clever storytellers. They work with a huge heap of (mostly) verifiable facts to construct a plausible, but more importantly, compelling narrative. All the provenances of each individual strand of the tale they spin can be fact checked, however the whole that pops out is always going to be greater than the sum of its parts.

 

The future, scratch that, the new reality of brand management isn’t supercilious architecting. It is participative curation.

 

P.S. And trust Mary Schmich on the sunscreen.

 

Paritosh Joshi has been a marketer, a mediaperson and a key officebearer on industry bodies. He is developing an independent media advisory practice. He can reached via his Twitter handle @paritoshZero

 

 

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