"These Boots Were Made For..." by Charles Rodstrom, CC BY 4.0.

“These Boots Were Made For…” by Charles Rodstrom, CC BY 4.0.

You will expend vast amounts of time and energy positioning your brand. You will utilize research and customer focus groups and Big Data and maybe even a crystal ball. You’ll feel confident you have branded your product or service appropriately for the customers you wish to acquire.

Then something unexpected will happen.

Because they own it and they’re inserting it into their worldview, it’s entirely possible that they will have a different idea about how they wish to use it – and even how they wish to view it as a brand.

You do not own your brand. The customer does. Your brand exists only in one place: your customers’ minds.

Amazing examples of this very real occurrence can be found in a book titled “Brand Hijack” by Alex Wipperfurth. Decide your brand identity, but defend it at your own risk, the book explains. One example is that of Mattell, which sued Barbie collectors who costumed the dolls in ways disapproved by the toymaker. They didn’t understand who owns the Barbie brand. Instead of generating fan loyalty, Mattell chose to preserve its own vision of the brand, and the company unleashed a customer backlash that crippled revenue at the time of the lawsuits – and from which the 70-year-old plastic icon seems unable to recover.

There’s also Wipperfurth’s story of the case of Dr. Martens shoes. First introduced in Germany during the mid 1940s, the comfortable soles were a big hit with housewives, with 80% of sales in the first decade going to women over the age of 40. Dr. Martens shoes, however, went on to usher in powerful political statements claimed by both the punk culture and gay men.

At Changelane we didn’t experience a brand hijack as drastic as Dr. Martens, but we did quickly discover that our customers wanted to consume our service in a way that was quite different than our original intent.

Good thing we asked them.

Still, even now, are we certain that as time progresses we will see Changelane swim along the the branding current we’ve envisioned?

That’s up to our customers, the true owners of the Changelane brand.

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