One of the big catch phases of the day has got to be branding. From major brands, to small businesses and even individuals – everyone must have a brand to succeed, or at least it seams. Brands used to be a static message that the corporation delivered to the masses. While people have always held opinions, and probably aren’t more vocal today than they used to be, the methods of sharing those opinions have vastly changed, mostly due to the internet. There is a plethora of websites that you can voice your opinion on without creating a community. Plus there is another vast amount of places where you can voice your opinions within a community (or multiple communities) that interest you. For something theatre related, for example, I could express an opinion not only on my blog, but also on my facebook theatre groups, appropriate myspace pages, LinkedIn groups, and on the stagecraft mailing list. Additionally I could be asked about a product through all of those methods as well. Thus any individual’s distribution ability is much wider than it may have been previously, and longer lasting – blogs don’t expire, mailing lists can be searched. An off hand comment today may influence a future purchase 3 years down the road.
This availability has though, I think, increased the desire of the consumer to communicate their experience of a product or event. This is a result of the desire to want to have the experience in the first place. There have always been brand identification, and peer pressure with regard to brands, but there seems to be more of a trend towards identifying with the brand. Its almost like a brand needs to create an experience that makes mini ambassadors for the product. The catch to the company is that they are not able to streamline their image the exact way they want to, but the experience is much more authentic.
These ideas have been spurred on by the article “O.P.E.N. for Business: The Future of Branding in a Web-Made World”, published in the April 2008 issue of Event Marketer.
Theatrically speaking, I think these thoughts can go into 2 different directions. The first is to confirm, create, or develop the product (the show) into something where your audience has a meaningful experience. This is inherent in every show, yet something we don’t play up – while the movie theatre industry makes much more of this situation. Secondly, I think we need to help our patrons to form and/or participate in communities that support their experiences and let them talk, discuss, play, create, and in general be active in regards to their participation with our event. While I think it is important to note that much of this may always be independent – I think there is a lot of room for the theatre community to facilitate as well. And, happily, I thin this is starting to happen – for instance it isn’t uncommon for a theatre to have a blog (even if it isn’t updated much), or to have a facebook group. The issue that I see with what they are doing is that it isn’t kept up to date enough, and it isn’t done with the full authority behind it so it looks limited. But at least it is something – and I will continue to anticipate future developments.