Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Point: Counterpoint


The monolithic notion of a 'brand' - an infinitely dependable symbol of prosperity, happiness, comfort, and security - is over. For nearly a century, brands acted as the definitive medium through which we experienced capitalism. A brand's strength came from its ability to transmit a consistently identical static message. Brands gave our reality a strong foundation: symbols doffing our mental and physical landscapes that we could use to navigate our way through life. But then brands began to show their age. They started to rust, chip, degrade, fall apart. All of a sudden brands cease to be the impenetrable fortresses of consumer relations we thought they were, and anyone could start a brand and do whatever he wanted with it. Gen X created flexible brands that catered to subterranean audiences, prompting Gen Y to embrace the idea of the "personal brand" - individuality expressed through a marketable system of identifiable signifiers. And so these slick little icons - towering planets that represented entire universes of product experience - were slowly deconstructed to a point of irrelevance. Our daily lives are now inundated by a torrent of dead images and meaningless symbols from a bygone era, leaving us with one very important question to answer: 'What's next?'

Douglas Haddow, AdBusters #82


Icons and symbols are only one facet of contemporary brands, today more of a collection of affiliated consumer experiences than a collection of advertising impressions. Brands are consumed as experiences with greater frequency and intensity than ever before. The perceived diminished role of brands in the lives of consumers obviates the strength with which consumers now engage with brands for a relatively short period of time. Gen Y's comfort with customization has meant that any brand that makes a concerted effort to allow consumers to participate in its creation will have a sustained advantage against those that do not. It's misleading to suggest that brands today have any less relevance to young consumers than they did for previous generations. Perhaps the entropic decay of laggard brands unable to relate to a modern audience obscures the collaborative role which flexible brands have adopted for a new age. Today, a brand's strength comes not from its ability to project a singular, flawless identity to the world, but for the identity to be multifaceted and encourage engagement - rather than purchase - from consumers. Furthermore, when the images and symbols that represent brands are created by us, will they really be that irrelevant?

1 comment:

Nicholas Fodor said...

The days of the quintessential brand is long dead. Being the biggest is no longer a sustainable market strategy. Brands are now finding an inherent need to connect to consumers to start to build an emotional relationship to not only their attitudes, but their pocketbooks. Otherwise big players in the who's got the biggest schlong game are now trying to build this brand base; an advantage for start-ups to take advantage of.

However, consumers are likely to wise up and refuse to keep paying for the right to consume brands (or else they should). Companies can no longer fluff their offerings with flashy and innovative touch-point advertising in order to wow consumers. While it has never been easier and simpler for SME (small and medium sized enterprises) to penetrate into otherwise crowded out marketplaces, never before has integrated marketing played such a an important role in guaranteeing your slice of pie. The big players are tired of having their pie continually being cut out from under them. Slow economic times force these companies to evaluate how to best maximize a turn in consumer spending and attitude once the recession is busted. The new marketplace starting in the next decade will be a tidal-wave of companies foaming at the mouth to get your engaged before the next guy.

It's about time that the consumers have the upper hand when it comes to the marketplace. We've always had the power, but the mentality was that times were great and that we could be indulgent to our wildest desires. Gluttony is now biting us in our ass, but we get a lucky break now so that markets have been segmented so much that there's no shortage of people willing to take our hard-earned dollar. Having the tables turned will be advantageous so that we can now not only indulge on a material level, but an emotional level too.

Can't wait.