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Now granted, TED is taking a big brand risk. But brand strategy is all about taking calculated risks that may allow you to extend your brand in new and interesting ways.
I think TED did mitigate some of that risk by not allowing the community to use the main TED brand itself (which remains tightly controlled), but instead giving them their own (albeit dangerously similar) brand in TEDx.
In addition, the TEDx strategy has helped TED fix one of its main brand weaknesses—the perception that it is elitist. In one year, TED has transformed from a brand that you can "see but not touch" to a more open brand that allows anyone to participate.
It is truly amazing to see how the TED community has embraced the new approach. Just take one look at the page listing all of the upcoming TEDx events. Staggering.
The one place where I worry most for TED is in the experience of the TED brand. With 700+ events being held in one year, will everyone who runs a TEDx event do an equally good job in the caring and feeding of the brand?
My guess is, without some sort of TED or TED-community-based oversight, there will be a few bad brand experiences in that bunch. Hopefully the large quantity of good experiences will drown out the bad ones.
So to sum things up, was TEDx a brand risk in the traditional sense? Yes.
But in my view, the risk is so heavily outweighed by the community and brand-extending benefits that it was absolutely a risk worth taking.