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What business are you in – define it, or the people will

July 12, 2010

Quick, what is Starbucks to you?

When I was coming up in advertising, Starbucks was the classic product that didn’t use any advertising to launch. It spread on world-of-mouth, and not word of brand (a term I just made up to show that advertising helped tell the story).

Just as famously, Starbucks was in trouble in recent years because it wasn’t as easily able to differentiate itself from local coffee shops. Across the street from the closest Starbucks to my office is a local coffee joint that uses strange jargon to sell expensive coffee. Cafe Lattes are “on wheels”, meaning to go. People behind the counter shout to one another and there are many moving parts. Like Starbucks, it has free Wi-fi and music. And like Starbucks, it has passionate fans. Though I see the fan thing turning away from Starbucks.

To me, the Starbucks fan is an early adopter. They consider Starbucks the leader in the “good coffee” movement. At a time, Starbucks was the good coffee alternative to the bad coffee that needed a cream and two sugars to cover the taste.

Okay, to the point.

What is Social media isn’t really a new media platform. What if social media is a behavior, and not a new tool in the marketers toolbox? What if social media can define a brand while the brand isn’t looking?

Meaning, if we say X in advertising, but the people are saying Y in social media, then who will win? The people or the brand? And obviously, what brand wants to be in competition with its customer for the brand attributes?

I say all this because brands that don’t advertise run the risk of being identified in social media by the people.

What do you think?

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