You know your brand is in trouble when tonight’s opening skit on David Letterman features your CEO running around on stage consumed by fire.

Of course, Jeff Jarvis, the ‘blogging bullet that Dell shot itself in the foot with, can personally tell you how hot the flames of Dell hell burn.

Luckily, as Jeff observes (after a dose of Doc Searl’s ClueTrain koolaid), the power curve between consumer and producer is beginning to invert:

We are customers with our money in our fists, spending it wisely and joining together to spend it more wisely. And we are producers who can compete with the companies that thought of us as mere consumers.

So nevermind caveat emptor. This is the age of caveat venditor — let the vendor beware — and caveat creator.

Responding to a Dell PR sock puppet that criticized his criticism, Jeff fulminates thusly,

You — since you to speak for Dell — owe me a product that works. You owe me service that serves. You owe me reliability and value. You are the ones holding me hostage; you have my thousands of dollars and I have your bad products. I not only have the right but the responsibility to tell others about my experiences with Dell.

But I’ll say again that I didn’t organize that mob. The mob organized itself; I merely provided the convenient town square on which to light those torches. This is how the internet works: It brings us together and we learn from each other.

You see, in the old days, you could screw one customer with one bad product or you could insult one customer with bad service. But no more. Now, when you deal with one customer, you deal with all customers.

That, ma’am, is the real public relations. That is dealing with your public as your customers.

And that is the real branding. Your brand is your reputation, your trust, your value. You don’t own your brand; your customers do.

Elected folk of the world, substitute citizen/taxpayer for customer, Chapel Hill/Carrboro for Dell and you might get a sense where we’re going with local governance once we, the self-organizing mob, begin to meet on our new ‘net-based Town Commons.

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