Consumers don’t own brands. Companies do

' “You
don’t own your brand, the consumer does!” Is it just me, or is there
anybody else out there who has seen, read or heard that recently and
who then thinks bollocks?' wrote Andew Harrison, an old P&G colleague of mine. And no Andrew, you're not alone. I think the whole notion of consumers owning brands is a load of old tosh as well.

As Andrew rightly points out 'It’s nonsense because it’s not true. Brand owners and shareholders own
brands. Consumers consume. Marketing folk
are confusing what the brand stands for (the message) and how it
communicates in the modern media landscape (the medium).' In other words, just because consumers are more able to comment on, and yes influence, brands in todays web-enabled world doesn't mean they own them.

There are several dangers with the consumer-ownership view of the world. 

First, there is the problem of marketers getting carried away with consumer creativity. I recently posted on the example of Oxo's painfully bad consumer-created adverts. This sort of thing works well when it fits the brand, such as innocent kids doing a colouring competition to design a new pack. But it should be used sparingly.

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Second, the risk is over-relying on what consumers say to guide your strategy. Consumer feedback of any sort if only ever a rear-view mirror of the world, and can only get you so far. As Andrew says 'Businesses need evangelists for its brands, advocating on behalf
of the consumer but not giving up responsibility for the brand and
handing it over to the consumer.'

Third, many brands get carried away with the idea of 'having a conversation' with their consumers, rushing to create Facebook pages and invite comments. This works well with a brand like Jordans Cereals, which has a real story behind it that people want to engage with. But in many cases consumers have no such desire, and so the comments section of the website will stay empty, and the YouTube viral video will have an embarassingly low number of views.

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In conclusion, Andrew sums up well by saying 'Brand management means managing not abdicating.' Here, here.