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You Need To Embrace Your Brand’s Hackers

Brand hackers, most companies fear and loath these people. For a business maintaining control of your brand is extremely important. There’s a lot of time put in creating a brand, as well as resources spent managing it. As a result, it makes sense that a business wants to control it, which brings me back to my original question: what do you do when someone hacks your brand?

William Allen asks in a recent FastCompany article, “Stealing is wrong. But what about remixing a brand’s intellectual property for noncommercial use?” This is a situation that companies are facing more and more frequently today. People have always been drawn to certain brands, whether it’s for what they stand for, who works there, or their products. As a result these passionate fans of brands take it upon themselves to pay homage to their favorite companies. They create their own renditions of famous designs or remixes of popular ads. When you are in this particular situation, what do you do?

In his article, Allen points out that companies today are finding themselves in this situation fairly often. People have “such a passion for a particular company that they want to pay their respects to the best of their ability. So they create an ad or new design — for free — that riffs off the brand’s recognizable assets.” Now normally when companies see these various “brand hacks” all kind of alarms sounds and flags are raised. You see most organizations view these “hacks” negatively and end up reacting in the worst way possible – taking down or even pursuing legal action against these people. It’s like having your friends throw you an awesome surprise party for how cool and great they think you are. But, instead of joining in the fun, you call the cops.

There is an alternative, however. Instead of the traditional over protective approach, Allen suggests an interesting alternative. He believes that companies should embrace these user generated “hacks” as “gifts”. According to Allen, “The wise appreciate these gifts, encourage them, retweet them.” The term gift is a great way of explaining what these passionate fans create. Companies should celebrate these, it means they are doing something right. They are energizing individuals to go out on their own time and pay homage to them.

In turn, it’s important for businesses to recognize them, or at the minimum not pursue legal action against them. Rest assured, there is a reason why companies should recognize and embrace these brand hacks. Businesses that are more open to these gifts have a higher fans and employees engagement. Allen puts it best by saying, there are brands that people love to work for, and there are brands that people work for to pay the bills. “For the former — no surprise — they consistently produce better creative. Not because the brand itself is necessarily more interesting but because the brand respects them and their process.”

Still unsure if this approach is worth considering? Well, Allen outlines four simple truths of brand management and these fan “gifts” that companies should pay attention to:

  1. A creative tribute done out of passion, not the pursuit of profit, is a gift to you. Treat it as such.
  2. A single letter from your legal department will undo years of brand building and careful marketing.
  3. The creative community has a right to proper attribution of the work they have down. Simple allowing them to post their completed work on their portfolio endears them to you (as a customer, as a fan, as a practitioner) and establishes you as a brand that cares about creativity. You will get better work as a result.
  4. You do not control your brand but are rather a steward of it. Lead us, and we will follow. Command us, and we will resist.

Have your own experiences with brand hacks you’d like to share? I’m all ears.

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