One of the most interesting things about doing business today is that increasingly, marketing and branding has become a two-way street. It’s a huge adjustment. In the old days, you put out an ad, the consumer saw it, and that was that. It either worked or it didn’t. You controlled all of your content, and your customers could only receive it.
Not only did the internet almost instantly give people around the world a platform to publish their own content and voice their own opinions, it meant your brand and your content and your image was no longer simply yours to control by maintaining a strict one-way conversation. Consumers realized this very quickly, and large corporations were slower to catch on. And when they did, a lot of them either tried to ignore it, or responded with anxiety or aggression.
To be fair, losing any amount of control over your brand identity was never part of the deal, and it preyed upon a primal fear that we haven’t seen triggered for quite some time. Privately I’ve even wondered if this new threat of quickly losing identity and control was the catalyst behind the resurgence of so many zombie films in the late ’90s and 2000s.
The companies who successfully navigated this change in the dynamics between the consumer and their brand have surrendered total control, and have embraced what their consumers were telling them about their brand. Done well, letting the consumers be part of the conversation can be a tremendous asset.
In the real estate sphere, an industry infamous for harboring control issues, one of the most successful independent brokerages in the US, Kris Lindahl Real Estate, has dominated its market by allowing itself to be the butt of the joke.
CEO Kris Lindahl recalls that his name recognition really took off not after his first billboard, but after he added a few more, and Twin Cities residents began making fun of his pose (both arms stretched wide, as if anticipating a hug). Lindahl responded by creating a Kris Lindahl Meme Contest, and awarding cash prizes. Later, when people started dressing up like him on Halloween, an annual Halloween contest was born.
He does know that in many cases, it’s a backhanded compliment. But instead of responding defensively, Lindahl got in on the joke, and it’s paid off. In just two years, Kris Lindahl Real Estate has surpassed over $1 billion in sales, and expanded beyond its Minnesotan roots into Wisconsin and Colorado.
And while he’s an aggressive marketer, as his numerous billboards around the Twin Cities will attest, within a few hours of the Mars Rover landing on February 18th, Midwesterners were already getting creative with those first shots of Mars, and peppering them ironically with Kris Lindahl billboards. The first few memes quickly got thousands of shares and then went viral. Lindahl followed up that very night with another social media contest to celebrate their work.
Ultimately, the more Lindahl has allowed consumers to influence and embrace his image, the less work he has to do to keep his brand front and center. But it’s definitely a strategy that requires some courage, and a willingness to be led. Lindahl explains, “I think the key is having that vision where you’re constantly looking for consumer behavior. What do they like? What don’t they like? Then, when certain things happen, you have to act right away, and piggyback off of what everyone was seeing and liking…and then also having that humility that, hey, you’re going put this out there, but not everyone’s going to love it.”
One of NASA’s upcoming missions is sending an unmanned scout to map an asteroid. I predict that if you have a few people from Minnesota, Wisconsin or Colorado in your social media feed, you’ll see a few Kris Lindahl billboards making a cameo on those images as well. And while there’s still an element of bite in some of the humor directed his way, at the end of the day, Kris Lindahl has no doubt gotten the last laugh.