How do you brand collaboration?

I’m familiar with Salesforce thanks to clients like Biersma Creative and EDL Consulting,  and the advent of Salesforce Chatter — now in beta testing — brings up interesting questions about the intersection of brand design, social media and digital collaboration in the B2B space.

First of all, will tools like Chatter affect the traditional separation between vendor/agency and client?  A case could be made that the intimate, consistent collaboration fostered by platforms like this should be extended across the traditional divide between the servicer and the served, because it may* result in closer relationships and better work.

I’ll (*)caveat that because the separation is, in the minds of many agencies, an important part of their ability to objectively develop breakthrough ideas and creative, because there’s such a thing as being too enmeshed in a client’s culture and day-to-day concerns.  They’re paying their agencies — whether they realize it themselves or not — for an (informed) outsider’s POV, extra spice for the synthesis that generates great marketing.

Putting the agency + client equation aside, however…what do collaboration tools like this mean for the future of branding? Brands articulate the home truth or character of what you’re selling, but they also sometimes depend on that distance between marketer and user.  Brands serve as shorthand, placeholders — or in some cases, facades — for an organization and its offerings.

Salesforce Chatter isn’t explicitly intended to bridge the distance between B2B marketer and customer, but there’s every chance that it, or tools like it, will drive collaborations in ways that blur the line between both parties.  Some businesses — consulting, certainly — are already there, because it’s baked into the very nature of their business.

Will branding and brand design matter if you’re working so closely with your customer?  That probably depends on what you consider ‘branding’ — if it’s a false front, you’re liable to be compromised by letting anyone peek behind the curtain.  If, however, your branding is an authentic extension of your true culture and deliverables, tools like Chatter will only serve to enrich your customers’ experience of what makes you valuable to them.  Branding will still have potency…if your branding boils down to how you walk the talk.

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