From cities to brands, two key ingredients need to be built into the architecture from the get-go: discourse and intercourse.
Cities designed for intercourse and discourse are our natural habitats.
That gem came from David Bramwell’s talk at TedxBrighton. And it’s true: while we once schelped out of the ocean to scramble up trees, we’re now social animals who, by a legacy of industrial necessity (for the most part), tend to inhabit the city.
But the city needs to accommodate us – and our needs – before we genuinely feel at home there – the urban architecture has to contain spaces to move through easily, as well as spaces to stop awhile (can you imagine a city with no meeting places, no open air plazas and piazzas, no coffee shops or bars to watch the world go by from?) so that we can chew the fat with fellow city dwellers and reaffirm our human connection. These meeting spaces are the modern equivalent of picking fleas off each other and, in this ideal urban plan, we feel at home – it is our natural habitat.
Thinking about that statement, it soon became obvious to me that it’s as applicable for brand architecture as it is for city planning, with an appropriate tweak:
Brands built for discourse and intercourse are our natural experience partners.
When you think about it, as a species we love to talk, to share and to connect. And we’ve now got more tools than ever before to allow us to carry out these functions on an unprecedented scale.
So if a brand has discourse built into its very fibres, if it’s got the virtual ‘meeting spaces’ and topics of conversation hard-wired into its DNA, then we (as a species) are more likely to want to talk about it – and, importantly, to it.
But it’s got to be hard-wired.
There’s simply no point trying to bolt on discourse to the brand personality – it’ll just turn out like the Billy No-Mates at the annual Christmas cocktail party who tries to engage others on the subject of the canapés but fails, dismally, each time (because no-one really cares about the canapés – they care about the cocktails).
The brand has to be hard-wired to speak as well. It’s all very well providing the space and opportunity for others to speak about it, but the brand needs its own voice and channels to use – there will be times when it needs to jump start the conversation, and the ‘Build it and they shall come’ mentality doesn’t cut it – there are simply too many other calls on the consumer’s limited attention.
Moving to the second half of the statement, the brand needs intercourse in its architecture (in this sense, intercourse being the movement of things and concepts around a community, not just the talking about them; it’s a definite back-and-forth process that allows the goods or concepts to grow and improve). The brand needs to incorporate the modern physical equivalent of flea-picking – the cultural meme – and provide the opportunity for the community to share it on.
And the brand has to be brave.
The brand’s got its voice and builds its discourse, but it needs to be able to trust its community by giving some of itself away in each interaction and act of intercourse.
It must be prepared (through resilient brand architecture) to share both of itself and of its time.
Because if it isn’t prepared to do those things, its community won’t be interested in it – they’ll move on to another brand space that they can interact with, and where their interaction is rewarded with attention and intercourse.
‘Experience Partner’ should be the new goal.
The brand hard-wired for discourse and intercourse is therefore in a position to become a chosen experience partner. By this, I mean that we (the consumer) choose to talk about the brand, to buy into the brand, to share the brand and to use the brand to create facets of our own existence and experience.
Think of certain health food brands. They use as many channels as they can get their hands on to enter discourse with their communities. They exchange ideas, memes, helpful tips for a healthier future in acts of spontaneous intercourse.
And their communities reward them for this by taking the decision to include that brand in their daily experience. In fact, they might modify their daily experience to the point where they become brand evangelists, not just consumers.
This should be the goal for the growth-focussed brand. Don’t just look to volume sales in parity (or even non-parity) sectors: look to create shared experience through a genuine partnership between brand and consumer.
I believe that we (as the consumer) are naturally drawn to experience partners.
Look at how we choose our friends, our lovers, our places of work and even the newspapers we read. We look for that which will enhance our experience, something we can share and talk about, and someone to share and talk about it with.
And if the brand can be both the shared and the sharer, if it can provide items of discourse and intercourse from a genuine place within its brand DNA, then the consumer will react to that, and reward the brand with something of themselves in return.
Finally, brands are like cities.
A great city is somewhere that’s well planned out, easy to get around, rewarding to live in and provides space for us to live our lives; alone when we need to, in the company of others when we want to.
A great brand provides the same touchpoints, the same rewards and combination of individual and community experience.
And the similarity? It’s in the architecture of discourse and intercourse…
So how would you go about ensuring that your brand has discourse and intercourse hard-wired into its very DNA? Do you believe that it’s something that can only be achieved by a rebrand (or a refresh) or can it be incrementally included through slow, steady, action and reaction in the social spaces?