Where does a brand stop and a company start? Or vice versa? This is one of the tricky questions we have to ask when positioning a brand that is
the company - or a company that is the brand. Take Google, for instance. Do most people out there think of it as a company or a brand?
The truth is that people simply don't think in a convenient boxes type of way. It used to be easy to think of the commercial side of a brand and set down a "desired consumer response" - and then to switch over to the corporate side and envision what we'd like "the opinion leader audience" to think. Just as brands play many roles these days, so do people in relation to a brand. Those opinion leader people may be leading opinions here there and everywhere during the day, but when they go home in the evening, they could be using your product, or helping their daughter with a work experience application to a local branch of your company.
And conversely, on the other side of the street, that once docile "consumer" could be ranting off with his own opinions of the poor service he got via the internet.
You don't have to be a consumer, or even a customer. There are plenty of brands and companies whose products may not be relevant to me, but that doesn't stop me expressing my opinion if I admire or loathe them or what they are doing.
The context in which we think about a brand or company is important. Is it personal or collective? Me, us or the world? Me - my own personal experience, specific and most likely product- or service-related. Us - my family and friends, my neighbourhood, bricks and mortar, or on social media. And The World - the broader implications of how the company is acting.
Rather than recruiting different types of "stakeholders" from consumers to opinion leaders, perhaps it would make more sense for market research studies to look at the context of people's thoughts about a brand or company - me, us or the world?
The world's a big place, but it's getting increasingly impossible for brands to be discreet.