Why Crowds Now Build Brands

David Brooks insightful Op-Ed article about now living “in the middle of an amazing era of individualism” reveals many emerging truths. For branders, understanding that we live in an increasingly individualistic society puts the burden on brands to position themselves to fit onto someone’s life. Said another way, we can no longer rely to the same degree on the social structures of family, church, community, etc. to validate and help us form preference. Brands need to focus on this more on our own than ever before.

Brooks speaks about the transformative changes spanning affluence, feminism, the aging of society, and the information revolution coupled with our inherent skepticism in many things, especially marriage. Without restating his premise, what this means is that we are more alone than ever in forming our own conclusions about many things, including brands. Without the social structures around us, the task has become even more difficult.

Emerging communities (e.g., social networks) are the only remaining bastion of receiving validating information to help shape our preferences. The consequence is that brands need to recognize how important these networks are and develop them very carefully. This does not mean spending heavily on online advertising. What it means is embracing the “richness of crowds” to understand how they fit a brand into their lives, and then adjusting strategies and tactics to build on these truths. For example, if consumers or customers are telling you something bad about your brand, embrace the learning and modify what you are doing. Don’t see the crowd as an adversary, but as the most perfect leveling force giving you real-time feedback to optimize your brand.

The “The Wisdom of Crowds” (2004) by James Surowiecki set the framework for understanding that group decisions were often better than any single member could make. It follows that social communities can provide the most valuable information if accepted and understood.

Knowing that the crowds are the evolving social structure and validating force in shaping brands today… seize the opportunity and run with it.