Photo by ChernobylBob via flickr

This is my fifth decade in the marketing communications business and I can say without any hesitation that right now is the absolute best time to be a consumer marketer and brand builder.

My optimism and enthusiasm are fueled by three powerful environmental factors that are taking hold in business today. First, the consumer is in control. Second, brands live in glass houses: They are on display all the time. Third, the people behind the brand matter and have a voice.

As someone who began his career right smack in the middle of the Mad Men era I can see how this positive assessment of the environment might seem counterintuitive. Viewed through the lens of traditional marketing these factors could be seen as constraining, intimidating and threatening to a brand.

But, viewed through the lens of social marketing they can be seen as liberating, supportive and opportune assets upon which to build powerful, purposeful and profitable brands.

For some inspiration on how best to make the most of today’s environment, look to an innovative management concept that resonates with many businesses today, Open-Book Management (OBM). Open-Book Management is a management style and technique where employees are educated about all aspects of a company’s business. They’re given all relevant financial information such as revenue, cost of goods, profit and expenses, so they can make better decisions.

It is a broad and powerful approach to running a business that requires truth, transparency and trust. Here are some thoughts on how to apply the OBM philosophy to the branding world.

Have an open mindset

Be ready, willing and eager to share every decision, action and reaction that is taken to build your brand. Be simultaneously open with your employees, business partners and consumers.

Internally, that can include opening up the books to everyone who touches the brand, sharing business plans with outside partners and stakeholders or proactively providing consumers with information that empowers them to make better, more informed decisions.

Resist the urge to be selective and in total control. Share whatever you can, whenever you can without disclosing information that would help a competitor.

Be open for inspection 24/7

Have the welcome mat out for your customers. Encourage them to drop in and check out any aspect of your brand at any time. Communicate news and updates about your brand and the people behind it as often as you can. Have conversations about programs and promotions before they are launched.

A simple rule of thumb: If there is something happening that can affect the brand experience, positively or negatively, get it to your consumers openly and honestly before someone else does.

This is the first time that I can remember that how a brand reacts to and handles a problem is more important than the problem itself… for better or worse.

The Motrin Moms Baby Wearing video controversy and Target’s refusal to engage a blogger by declaring that its customers don’t blog are examples of defensive reactions that didn’t work.

On the positive side, Domino’s Pizza avoided a lingering PR disaster when it responded swiftly after a few workers posted videos of themselves abusing customer orders. Domino’s immediately created its very own Twitter account to promote positive coverage and address customers’ concerns.

A YouTube video apology, featuring the company’s CEO, was also posted to help repair the damage. Domino’s consumers ultimately brushed the incident aside and the brand is moving ahead stronger than ever with a renewed emphasis on product quality.

Transparency can be a differentiating competitive advantage when managed smartly and swiftly.

Open inside, then out

People love stories, and the people behind a successful brand are often the most interesting parts of the brand’s story. Informed, committed and empowered employees can be a brand’s best marketing resource and most efficient media. Social media have opened the door to wonderful possibilities in this area.

Just like any media plan, opening up on the inside requires carefully planned, resourced and monitored implementation. Companies like Zappos and Best Buy can serve as great models of how to make this work. If you are held back by fear of your employees interacting with consumers in real time then perhaps you might not be hiring the right people.

Open up

An open mindset expands a brand’s horizons and builds its community. Liz Strauss captures this beautifully with this thought: “Build an irresistible community that includes all of the people who help your brand thrive. Build something you can’t build alone.”

A brand’s life should be an open book. And remember, an open book has nothing to hide.

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