To Brand or Not to Brand; is that even a question?

Brand_iStockScott McCall, Wal-Mart’s Senior Vice President of Toys,
made the point at the recent PlayCon Conference that brands had lost their
That it was now all about
the power of the consumer and the item. 

That comment came to mind as I read David Brooks’ great
editorial: “The Romantic Advantage.” 
Brooks was writing about why America holds such an advantage over
China.  One of the reasons he cited was
the power of American brands to not only shape commerce but culture and society
as well.

I love this quote from Brooks:

Seth Siegel, the co-founder
of Beanstalk, a brand management firm, says that branding “decommoditizes a
It coats meaning around a product. It demands a quality of
experience with the consumer that has to be reinforced at every touch
point, at the store entrance, in the rest rooms, on the shopping bags. The
process of branding itself is essentially about the expression and manipulation
of daydreams. It owes as much to romanticism as to business school.

Brooks goes on to point out that great brands are often
created by people with new and different values.  He points that: “Many of the greatest brand
makers are in semi revolt against commerce itself.”    In fact,

he goes on to say:  “The most anti-establishment renegades can be
the best anticipators of market trends.
The people who do this tend to embrace
commerce even while they have a moral problem with it.”  He points to Steve Jobs as a prime example.

I cannot tell you how many new and wanna-be toy and game
inventors have a values based agenda to go along with their desire to create
the next big thing.  As Brooks puts it
they “…sell things while imbuing them with more attractive spiritual

So, I hope Mr. McCall is wrong.  I think a world without brands would be a
world that is commoditized and therefore somewhat colorless and poorer.  Far, far poorer in both economic and
spiritual wealth.

One thought

  1. In this rare instance, I must side with the employee of the vast multinational corporation, while still, like Richard, adamantly desiring that “the brand” not continue to see diminished importance. We aren’t seeing a back-track from branded goods and services to commodities, we are seeing the transformation to an experience economy ruled by consumer desire more than manufacturer manufactured desire.
    But that doesn’t mean brands go away! Certainly many of our historic brands have lost favor, and toy manufacturers and entertainment leaders have done a poor job introducing new brands …Marvel Comics last major and memorable creation was Wolverine in the 1970s. When is the last time Hasbro successfully launched and maintained a new mega brand?
    Similarly, Zynga’s recent layoff announcement reveals a major weakness in their individual brand longevity.
    We’re perhaps a bit out of date in our thinking regarding brands. We aren’t listening to customers, or we are thinking of them merely as consumers and not potential brand creators in a DIY world. Brand is what they make it. At PlayCon, my colleague Anna van Slee casually introduced the term “friendtity” meant to imply an entity that is your friend. In an age when brands and people share communication routes, I think her idea went unfortunately unnoticed. Brands are vital, but brands don’t work the same way they used to in the experience economy.

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