In today’s attention economy, just getting heard above the noise is half the battle. Everyone is battling to get the limited attention of potential customers online. But there’s more to building businesses and brands than attracting attention. You need frequent interactions and unique value, and you need to control information to control the story that people tell each other about your company.
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
–Jeff Bezo’s, founder of Amazon.com
How Ancient Heralds Controlled Their Leader’s Brands
During ancient and medieval history, great kings, lords, and generals relied on heralds to get the information they needed and to spread the news to the broader world. Heralds would announce events in public squares and transport documents to leaders, and they often served as de facto diplomats and negotiators.
Because they controlled the flow of information, heralds were critical and prized positions. The wrong herald in the wrong place could bring down a ruler by revealing the incorrect information about their leader’s plans. But a good herald was a valuable asset to any ruler who understood the value of controlling information.
No matter what the potential value of your brand is, it doesn’t have any value if people aren’t getting the right information about it. If you want your products to be high end, but reviews and rumors claim your brand makes shoddy products, you’re going to have a tough time. But by controlling the story people hear about your brand, you can increase your brand equity over time.
Take Control of Your Brand and Business by Controlling Information
To take charge of your narrative, you have to be able to control the information your customers receive about your company. Information about your brand comes from two places: direct interactions with your brand and second-hand information about your brand.
First, if the direct experiences of your customers don’t match what you want your brand to be, you will never be in control of information. People will hear from second-hand sources that your products and services don’t match their branding.
That goes both ways when positioning your product compared to competitors. If you try to sell a bad product at a high price people will notice. If you sell a good product at a low price people will be confused, and they might ask, “What’s the catch?”
Branding is not magic. It is tough to make a low-end product match a high price with branding alone, except perhaps in the case of celebrity endorsements. For most companies branding is a way to add value to your products and services, while creating name recognition, customer trust, and loyalty.
Beyond picking product positions and branding patterns that work together, companies also use more subtle tactics to control information. For example, business leaders sometimes spread rumors about products in development to create positive talk about the brand. And many companies give first scoops on positive news stories to select journalists and influencers to keep people talking about the brand, assuming they expect reactions to be good.
Scarcity of Information is a Powerful Tool
Selectively holding back information, and staying in control of when news comes out is essential to staying on top of how people talk about your brand. Rumors should leak out because you want them too, not because your employees are unhappy and reacting against you.
Be wary of giving the game away too early. You marketers have to get information out to people every day; volume is key in the attention economy. However, that doesn’t mean you have to give everything away for the following year in January.
The only way people know anything about your brand and products is through the information they receive through direct experiences or indirect hearsay and marketing. Stay ahead of information by keeping it covered, and then revealing it to the wider world only when you feel the time is right. With some forethought, control of information will help you solidify your brand’s story for your customers, just as ancient heralds used their knowledge to consolidate the rule of their leaders.