Brand in the brainThe biggest open secret in marketing is this: You don’t really control your brand, and you never have.

This is as true today as it was when your mother said, “You can’t control what other people think of you.” Because that’s the truest definition of a brand: what other people think of you. It’s not your name, your look and feel, or your message. A brand is not even what you think of you. A brand is what other people think of you.

But that’s just why brands are such powerful marketing assets. The reason brands are trusted as shortcuts for decision-making is precisely because they live inside the audience’s mind.

And, while you can’t control your brand, you certainly can cultivate it. You can define what you ideally hope your brand to be. You can look, talk and act like that ideal. You can become that ideal, and then, more often than not, that ideal will become your brand.

Today, marketers have more tools than ever to look, talk and act like their ideal. The digital marketing revolution hasn’t changed the definition of a brand, but it has empowered the tactics of branding. Marketing’s online transformation can be seen as a brand manager’s treasure in (at least) three key ways:

  1. Speed: As the pace of change in our world continues to increase, buyers’ pain points shift rapidly. Market events create unseen opportunities overnight. Messages that are relevant one day are old news the next. Digital assets like a responsive, content-managed website are a foundation for marketing speed and agility. They are just one way digital marketers can quickly prioritize messages or immediately promote solutions. Marketing that acts in real time with customers fosters a brand that is more human, that is more responsive, that seems to “get it.”
  2. Segmentation: While marketers often talk about “The Customer,” you know that your audience is not a monolithic block of people. Customers range from the familiar to the unaware. Some are close to buying; some are just searching. Some will use your product or service; some will just influence the purchase. If you have a diverse offering, the diversity of your audience will multiply with it. But, the days of speaking to that diversity with a singular “lowest-common-denominator” message are long gone. Data-driven campaigns can target any combination of variables in an audience and integrate across any combination of channels. Marketing automation technology makes personalization easy no matter how complex the segmentation. It all adds up to you having highly relevant interactions across a wide variety of buyers. With technology like this, brands that speak directly to individuals have never been more possible to cultivate.
  3. Socialization: Modern marketers understand that the brand is not the only thing out of their control. Today, you don’t always control the message either. Social media has put word-of-mouth marketing on rocket boosters, and your customers are now as much the messengers as they are the audience. But marketers who embrace this truth are succeeding. Creating valuable and shareable content for customers to use in their buying process helps frame conversations that are about you but may not include you. Interactive tools like online assessments, ROI calculators and data visualizers can help buyers make the case for purchasing — to their peers or to themselves — long before they contact your sales team. Marketers who recognize that customers are also messengers can use these tools to positively frame how others speak about them, cultivating a brand that is seen as helpful and trusted.

So, as with many things in life, the answer to getting what you want is to give up control. Your customer’s idea of you — your brand — is still the most powerfully persuasive asset you can cultivate. And cultivating an effective brand has never been more possible than with the speed, segmentation and socialization afforded by the digital marketing revolution. Like your mother said, “You can’t control what other people think of you.” But, you can work every day to be the company you want them to think of.

Do you agree with my thoughts on brand cultivation in today’s modern marketing landscape? Let me know in the comments section below.

This post originally appeared on The Mx Group blog.