The use of multiple connection points with consumers, and an understanding that consumers are now more savvy than ever and are much more active and discerning participants in the brand building relationship. A few examples have come to mind that will help us to think about the changing nature of the branding relationship in a connection economy.

The first example is actually quite a simple one and it has to do with school uniforms. does quite a lot of work in schools and one of the arguments that we have with them is about the school uniforms. Certainly most schools in South Africa that have a traditional uniform have a uniform designed for the European climate. I myself went to an all boys school in Johannesburg, which had long grey flannels, long sleeve shirt and tie and a dark thick black blazer as its uniform. While this was possibly useful during some of the coldest days that Johannesburg had to offer, throughout most of the year it was a cause of heatstroke and real discomfort within the school environment. The fact that we were forced to wear it between classes and at breaks did not help. We, of course, also had to make sure that our top shirt button was done up, our ties wonderfully straight and our jackets on permanently whenever we were commuting from home to school, outside of the school environment.

This is pretty much true of most traditional schools these days although some of the more modern school have moved away from this formal uniform approach. When quizzed on this, the headmasters and headmistresses of these schools indicate that they cannot get rid of the school uniform, as it is a form of branding for the school. Now this may not be exactly the words that these principals use, but the concept is nonetheless an issue of branding. For most of them it is about making sure that the image of the school in public, as their students walk through the streets of the cities, and are seen to be well dressed and well behaved. The idea is that prospective parents who are deciding which school to send their young children to, will have a look at how the students appear in public and especially how they appear so neat and tidy and respectable and would make a decision to therefore send their children to that particular school. The argument goes, ‘if we allowed the children to wear whatever hairstyle and hairdo they wanted to or if we allowed them to just wear whatever clothes they wanted to or to in some way change the appearance of their school uniform, that the good reputation and good image and branding of the school would somehow be sullied.’

All of that may be true (although I am not entirely convinced that a new generation of parents is worried about this). But, even so, the question is simply this: ‚why is the school not paying their students to carry around a permanent advert for that school?‛ In an era where branding is so important, consumers now know that they can earn money by developing and being involved in enhancing a particular brand. And anything that enhances a brand should be paid for and not be obtained for free. That is the new contract between consumers and a brand, where the consumer realises the power that they, as an individual consumer has to enhance or in someway be destructive towards a brand.

So schools should be thinking about rewarding students who enhance the brand rather than simply doing what they do today which is to punish students who in some way are detrimental to the brand.

If school uniforms are a channel (medium) for brand building, then the second example pushes this boundary even further. Creative marketing agency, Cunning (, is offering students at British universities a fee of �88 pounds a week to use their foreheads as advertising space. They get a set of temporary tattoos and are required to wear one of these tattoos every day they go out in public. The tattoo is boldly emblazoned right on their forehead and as they walk around the university campus they become a moving, human billboard. While this may seem totally ridiculous and look the same, it is nevertheless a concept that is taking off with a few thousand university students signing up for the project and earning some much needed spending money, or for use in paying off their huge student loans. Again, this demonstrates an understanding that traditional channels for advertising and brand awareness have changed and the consumer now has much more power and influence and ability to enhance or destroy a brand very quickly. And anybody who is willing to enhance a brand should be financially rewarded for doing so.

Another example is the various forms and surveys that people are requested to fill in and return. These forms and surveys range from so-called warranty cards that ‚need‛ to be filled out and returned when you buy a new product (even though your warranty is perfectly valid without doing this) to competitions that require you to fill in masses of personal information. The same is true of any customer information forms sent to you by companies with whom you have existing accounts. All of this information is extremely valuable, especially information concerning your income and lifestyle choices, and contact details, particularly cell phone numbers and email addresses (for SMS, text and email spam mail). People are way to quick to fill out these forms and provide this valuable information completely free of charge with no reward been given in return for such valuable information. At very least your name should be entered into a pool of people out of which regular winners are selected to be given prizes. We are too quick to give away information that marketers find extremely valuable and should be paying for.

The relationship between customers and companies, between consumers and brands, has forever changed with the emergence of the connection economy. Consumers have never had more power than they do today and companies need to understand this and respect this if they are going to make a good impression on consumers and potential consumers of their products and services. No more can we expect a freebie from our customers. We need to treat them with the respect that they deserve and reward them for the input that they give to our companies and our processes. We refer to this as ‚belonging‛, ensuring that your company is more like a community, more of an organism than a machine. That it involves all of its role players; from its own staff through to its customers and even its competitors. It requires radically new thinking about brand building, channels and media of communication, and relationships between switched on consumers and your brand. This is the only way forward for companies of the future.

TomorrowToday Global