More than a Promise: Brands Are Platforms


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David Ogilvy defined a brand as “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” This mantra has driven brand building for decades. It’s also incomplete.

Because of the relatively limited number of inputs on the intangible outcome, the craft of brand building was once seen as an exercise in control. Obsessive attention was paid to every detail of how the brand is represented in the customer’s experience of the product or service. Consistency was the mantra, so that the promised expectation aligned with the experience itself.

Then the world went digital. The world’s information is now available in the air around us. A representation of any product or service can be conjured on your phone. Consumers expect to access a brand on demand. There’s an ever expanding way that brands can be accessed — via web, app, voice command, chatbot, augmented reality, connected devices, IoT and more. In his recent piece, “This Company Might Make Apple and Google Irrelevant,” my colleague John Battelle profiled Viv, the startup from the makers of Siri that provides a computational “smart assistant” that sits on top of apps and web services. Imagine accessing a brand via the Scarlett Johansson character in Her!

Image by Flickr user m01229

A brand is no longer simply a thing that sits in its hermetically sealed bubble on a “shelf” that gets described in various types of tightly controlled media. Today, a brand is a thing to be experienced. And that experience differs depending on how it’s delivered: as a mobile app, through a connected device, conversationally via a chatbot, inside a smart car, or a myriad of other ways.

With such variability, what is the obsessive compulsive, control freak brand builder to do? Sit idly by and decide not to engage the customer on their preferred field of play? Obviously not. But resources are finite. Brand builders must find creative ways to scale brand experiences across all the new manners of consumer engagement. You can’t do it alone. The answer is to treat your brand as a platform.

A platform is something that can be built upon. Thinking of a Brand as a platform requires thinking as much about what that Brand offers to partners as it gets back in return. What is your secret sauce? What makes you unique? A clear understanding of a Brand’s purpose makes helps third parties understand what core value their users will get from the relationship.


Enabling third parties to incorporate a brand experience into their own is easier said than done. It requires new features like APIs, new contractual terms, data sharing rights, creative vision and hardest of all, the ceding of control. “Growth Hacking” is a label increasingly applied to innovative marketing tactics that grow sales through digital integrations such as:

NewCos are adept at Growth Hacking. They are comfortable partnering in creative ways. They run their day to day operations on a web of cloud services. They have platform-based business models. They are willing to take risks to find faster growth. Most importantly, NewCos are mission driven. As Simon Sinek famously pointed out in his TED talk, they understand why they exist.

The old guard of Brand Builders needs to learn from NewCos. Open up. Let third parties shape your Brand Experience. Learn to partner. Develop a constellation of always-on ways that consumers can experience your Brand. And grow!

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