Let's Empower Consumers to Be the Best Do-It-Yourselfers They Can Be

Beyond Any Buzz That Marketing Cooks Up, Customers Want to Shape Products to Their Liking

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I read a few weeks ago that rock musician Beck's next album won't be digital or vinyl, but released as sheet music, so fans will play and record their own versions and then circulate them via social media, thereby attracting others to do the same. This suggests an observation worth noting by every CMO: The future of your brand is DIY.

Do-it-yourself is a hugely popular phenomenon -- also known as the makers movement -- in which people are encouraged and empowered to build or customize pretty much every aspect of their lives. It's "real-life hacking" and there are magazines, meetings and websites committed to promoting it.

Everyone is already in on the gig, even if unwittingly so. Apple apps, device covers on Etsy and ringtones from favorite bands allow consumers to customize their smartphones so no two are the same. Putting together an outfit of clothing is uniquely individualized, as is how someone shops for groceries (mixing and cooking ingredients are pure DIY). Political beliefs are items on many personal checklists, so it's harder to fit people into official party descriptions. Technology allows us to customize what we watch, listen to, and with whom we communicate. We are all makers now.

It's a fair bet that your customers are already customizing whatever it is you sell to them, which means they're coming up with their own ways to make your stuff do things they want done in the ways they want them done. The most hardcore DIYers reprogram tech devices and build gizmos from scratch. Roomba built on this fact when it gave its hackers the schematics to its robot vacuum cleaners. If there were a warranty on your soap or paper clips, your customers have already voided it, too. Yet you're still telling them what they should do with your brand, and how they should feel about it.

DIY redefines even the most liberal policies of giving up brand ownership to your customers, since they've already bought it from you, so it's no longer yours to give. They haven't bought a story or the associated emotional values you've worked hard to attach to it; they own a thing, or use a service, and they're engaging with your brand in real life, not through all of that brand conversation you think you're propagating through your marketing. The value of the time you get them to waste with your entertaining communications is chump change compared to the riches of experience they're acquiring on their own.

The truths that matter about your brand come from that narrative your customers create, and true social value arises from sharable content about what makes those experiences better, deeper, more lasting and, best of all, worth it. Like Beck's latest release, you can give them the core tool(s), but the rest is up to them. Your brand is a DIY project that 's never complete.

Maybe it's time to stop trying to get consumers to like and share your latest brainstorm on what you think they should care about your brand, and find ways to encourage and empower them to do whatever it is they want to do with theirs.

JONATHAN SALEM BASKIN is is president of Baskin Associates, a marketing-decisions consultancy, and co-author of the recently published "Tell The Truth." You can follow him on Twitter: @jonathansalem.
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