Your Brand Is NOT A Community

This post, by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, originally appeared on his loudpoet blog on 9/7/2010.

Back in January, Shiv Singh gave a great keynote presentation, Engaging Readers in the Digital Age, at the inaugural Digital Book World Conference that, in retrospect, set the tone for what was to come in 2010.

“Build consumer brands,” Singh exhorted, “because your current value chain is breaking.”

Since then, we’ve seen the introduction of the iPad, the Agency Model, and ugly public standoffs between Amazon and several publishers over ebook pricing; notable authors like J.A. Konrath and Seth Godin have made a fuss about eschewing “traditional” publishing channels; and uber-agent Andrew Wylie challenged Random House to a stare-down over ebook royalties, launching his own ill-fated ebook imprint, Odyssey Editions.

Underscoring all of these dust-ups is one recurring theme: publishers’ lack of a direct relationship with readers leaves them vulnerable to disruption and disintermediation.

While Singh and others, myself included, have noted the need for publishers to move from a business-to-business model to a business-to-consumer model, some arguments have mistaken “brand” for “community”, using them interchangeably.

Geoff Livingston, author of Now Is Gone – A Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs, illuminated the difference by contrasting two well-known consumer brands: Madonna and Lady Gaga.

Madonna is an unmatched branding genius. She is able to transform and reinvent herself decade after decade and stay relevant. Her 2008 album Hard Candy was a #1 bestseller, the seventh of her 27 year career.

Yet Madonna is not a huge social media success. The branding doesn’t translate. Why? I think you need go no further than her community page, which reads: “Please note that posting Madonna unreleased material (including photos, audio and video) to your profile is not allowed. Doing so could result in the immediate termination of your membership with Icon.”

Madonna is in control, Madonna is messaging at you. And her image is complete, her content quality secure. And no one really wants to talk about her in conversational media forms, and given how she has controlled her community, is it any wonder?

“From Branded Content Publishing to Networks (Madonna vs. Lady Gaga)”

Livingston contrasts Madonna’s approach to community vs. the artist most often compared to her, Lady Gaga, noting the latter “has transcended 20th century marketing to become the ultimate brand of the 21st century.” Her 15.3 million digital download sales in 2009 made her the best-selling artist, even beating Michael Jackson, whose death led to backlist sales skyrocketing.

“Gaga is dedicated to her fans,” notes Jackie Huba, co-author of Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message, “and clearly knows the elements of cultivating a community of evangelistic fans.”

Read the rest of the post on loudpoet.