Can you afford not to crowd-test?
The media traction that the ‘new’ Gap logo is getting should surely be a lesson to all of us in testing, crowdsourcing, or both. It has been quite a while since we have seen a rebrand take up this much media coverage, and potentially this is because people feel strongly about it. Over the weekend this has taken two further developments that will fan the flames; On the one hand, international branding firm Siegel+Gale has penned an open letter to Patrick Robinson offering their services to ‘course-correct’ the recent decision. On the flip side a rogue site entitled ‘Crap Logo‘ has popped up allowing anyone to recreate their version of the new design; and these along with a Twitter account are just those efforts that are getting the highlights today (this all feels a little like the redesign of the Tropicana pack, and it isn’t the first time the group has got in trouble, see this article on an Old Navy clash with breastfeeding mothers.).
So what does all this mean? That companies aren’t in control of their own destiny anymore? That agencies and marketers don’t have control of their brand? It seems like nobody has been listening to the branding agencies for the last few years as they try to hammer home that brands belong to consumers, that they can exist only in the minds of the public – but this isn’t new, a brand has always been the sum total of its communications and what people think and say about it, it is simply that as we move into an era when the consumer controls the content, the balance of what the brand can control has suddenly dramatically flipped in the other direction. And therefore it isn’t quite by accident that research, testing and crowdsourcing are a rapidly growing market.
What is the result of all this? Are we going to see another about-turn as in the Tropicana saga, that cost them in the region of $35million. Potentially Siegel+Gale and the makers of the Crap logo site will be generating some excellent PR for their own services and potentially creating some new business leads, and Gap may well be forced to re-evaluate their work. There are two major learnings at work here:
(1) Testing isn’t just for P&G: As the risk is now to great both in terms of costs and reputation to go to market with major changes to anything that is as deeply entrenched in the consumer mentality as a brand like Gap. I remember the age old phrase that runs through ad agencies (usually driven by Art Directors) “less tests and more balls”, but you really wonder if that is because they aren’t in touch with how the market has changed either. We need now to understand what testing really means and the tools that are available to us – long gone are the days when the only option was a focus group of eight wives cutting out magazines and comparing their whiter whites, a combination of online and offline tools can now mix qualitative and quantitative results to give quick answers to simple questions; crowdsourcing and online testing have come together in tools like Loop11 and even Google analytics can give you some great insights from just a few clicks of the mouse. As agencies, we can no longer be scared to let out work see the light before it is printed, live or on-air – in fact the opposite is true, we need to share our embryonic ideas and use them as catalysts to co-create with consumers to make sure that what we are delivering is really getting through.
(2) The consumer really is in control: There is no point trying to develop ideas in a vaccuum, because not only is the consumer in control, but the consumer is everyone and everywhere. As the gap example shows, the consumer is both a branding professional at Siegel+Gale and also a developer who is not associated with The Barbarian Group – both very ‘qualified’ professionals to give their opinion; if we can hear what these two are saying, we can only imagine how many others have an opinion but maybe not the channel (or the balls) to share it.
It looks over the weekend that MySpace might also be doing something similar – but we’ll have to give it another day to see how the crowd reacts.
Finally, as a side-effect to this branding chaos, we can see people are building their own business and reputation on the back of the Gap saga, as these two organisations agree with the crowd, and so build their own credibility. Is this the future of PR, turning every crisis, not just your own, into an opportunity?