In March 2015, Intouchers descended upon the SXSW Interactive Festival, an annual curation of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity. Their mission? To absorb, interact, scrutinize, analyze, discuss and debate the most important takeaways from the event … and then share those back. They left SXSW inspired by actionable, practical ideas that would make a difference in how we do our work at Intouch every day. Below is an excerpt from their experience.

Brands are our babies. We build them. We nurture them. We want to see them grow. But grow to what? How are we defining good brands these days? And how do we even define what a “brand” is?

At SXSW 2015, I heard one brand manager suggest we can throw out positioning statements altogether. These days, you need an “experience” statement. You need to build your narrative. And you need to understand how your customers will help you.

The session I attended consisted of a panel with top marketers from 7-Eleven, TD Bank and Mazda. While they represented a good variety of brands, they all shared a consistent viewpoint. They seemed very comfortable with the idea that they weren’t going to be in total control of the “brand.” They understood that, while they managed brands, they didn’t really own them.

In the pharma space, this idea might seem a bit risky. Given our regulatory environment, how can we cede the narrative to others? It might not be as hard as it might seem. In all likelihood, our customers already have an emotional connection with our brands. We are talking about our health after all. What’s more personally relevant than that?

The reality is that it’s out there already. We just need ways to gather it, harness it, and potentially use it in positive ways. But we may need to shift our thinking a bit. We need to embrace the social dialogue about our brands and join in that dialogue in a meaningful way. Yes, something’s bound to come up that will make your regulatory team squirm, but that’s all part of it.

We work in a very functional product marketing space. But once your patent expires, what are you left with? You need to have a strong brand to survive. To create that, we need to find more of the emotional connections that help to build the brand’s narrative. We need to figure out what the experience is really like and encourage our customers to share it. We may need to give up a bit of control. What I took away from this first session is that brand managers need to participate in the dialogue that helps shape the brand. It can’t be a dictatorship. It’s a partnership with the customer.