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5 Trends Driving Branding In The Age of Post-Capitalism (a.k.a. "Why It's Time to Take the Marketing Out of Branding")

Human beings have always relied on symbols to distinguish things (and people) from one another. Yet we are entering an age when branding is going to transcend its traditional, 20th-century identification with traditional "mass marketing."

Branding in the past was a business strategy that enabled companies to sell products at a fictitious markup - the brand being the imaginary factor that enabled this premium to be charged successfully.

In the future, branding will not be useful in this way, at least partly because of the following factors:

1. Transparency

People are now able, thanks in large part to the Internet, to find out the truth behind the brands, in three important ways:

  • They know where to get similar products cheaper.
  • They know what ingredients are going into the brand - good and bad.
  • They know about unethical labor practices.
Eventually there will be a Wikileaks-type site just for products.

2. Technology

Mass production techniques are getting better and better all the time.

Today, everybody can partake in brands because technology enables branded-looking products to be created quickly, cheaply, and in high volume.

Not only that, but cheaper imitation brands spring up so quickly that even a functional brand advantage is quickly gone.

Consider for example the "Skechers Shape-Up" sneaker (see below), which retailed for more than $100 when it first appeared on the market.

Now Payless (the Wal-Mart of shoe store chains) is selling the Champion "Pace Fitness Athletic" (see below), which looks very close to the original Skechers version, for less than half that price - about $40.

3. Spirituality

Consumers today vote with their pocketbooks, and we continue to evolve toward a greater sense of spirituality, and connectedness with an underlying life force that powers all things. Both religious devotees and the spiritually inclined are included this category.
  • The book Faith-Based Marketing estimates that "America's 140 million weekly church-goers spend $5.1 trillion annually and support the businesses that understand and respect them with near-religious devotion."
  • Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) is a demographic segment "focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice." One site quotes in estimating the potential U.S. market for spiritual products & services is $10.63 billion.
Whether or not you believe in G-d, the more people incline toward the transcendent realm, the less they are engaged in material pursuits and attachments such as brands in the traditional ways - there is less focus on material symbols.

4. "Status Inflation"
When everyone has access to a version of a premium brand, the meaning of the premium brand is cheapened. There are three reasons why this inflation is happening:

  • Imitation brands (as mentioned above)
  • Secondhand sales, online and off
  • Outright counterfeiting - obviously a crime, but also rampant and often conducted right out in the open (see New York Mayor Bloomberg holding a "closed" sign in a store full of counterfeit bags).

5. Disillusionment

To put it simply, people are not fooled by marketing anymore. Not only do they see through the illusion, they are angry at such phenomena as photoshopped models and the distorted messages they send.

A good example was the scandal over the Ralph Lauren model fired for being too fat, who then appeared in a photo retouched to make her look abnormally skinny.

All of this does not mean that branding is "dead."

Branding remains an incredibly powerful tool, in at least 5 ways, despite the above trends:
  1. Businesses can use it to engage employees with the organization so that they are more productive
  2. Governments can use it to help citizens find the information they are looking for and help them ensure that the information they are getting is trustworthy
  3. Businesses as well as nonprofits, charities, and other socially responsible organizations can use it to promote ethical behavior and engagement with good causes
  4. Individuals can use their consciousness of it to help them avoid potentially damaging behavior (your actions create a lasting brand)
  5. Individuals can also use it more broadly to clarify their goals in life so that they do not waste time and energy on irrelevant, unhelpful, unprofitable, pursuits.

The key thing to remember is that in the past, branding was about creating fictitious value. Although your product may actually have a functional advantage over your competitor's, the underlying strategy was to take every possible advantage - both real and the kind you could psychologically manufacture - and pump that up.

So in the past, success meant making the product look as attractive as possible to one's audience group and then convincing them to purchase only your product, paying dearly for it.

No wonder so many people hate marketers.

Branding, though, is still alive and well. This is because people have learned (or should be learning) that the right way to use branding is to focus your personal or organizational skills to create actual value for the customer.

Nothing in life is inherently good or bad, and branding is no different. The utility of branding and its purposes can change. But the fundamental skills associated with it remain constant and are incredibly valuable to those who understand them.

Kelly Cutrone on The Dr. Phil show: A Brand Is Born

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Kelly Cutrone's book, "If You Have to Cry, Go Outside (And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You)" and was pleased to see that she appeared on the Dr. Phil show on Veteran's Day, when I had an opportunity to watch.

The episode was about "spoiled and entitled" young women who can't seem to grow up and take responsibility for their lives.

Cutrone, who owns the fashion PR firm The People's Revolution, took one of the guests for a trial run at her company and was shocked to learn that she could not even do the simplest self-sufficient thing possible: folding clothes.

What makes her a great brand for today is the following:
  • A unique and relevant positioning - a Generation X "mama bear" for Generation Y
  • An aura of authenticity that can't be faked
  • A truly unique, daring, and compelling look - long black hair with no makeup

  • Credibility - she's been there and done that

  • Something of value to contribute - it's not just a show

  • Honest and direct, yet caring as well - not hurtful

She's already had a TV show (on Bravo), and I have a feeling that was just the beginning.

My prediction: We'll be seeing a lot more of Kelly Cutrone.

Don’t Be Boring – Madonna and the #1 Rule of Personal Branding

You may think that you have to look like a U.S. president or the First
Spouse to get the job of CEO, but as we move forward into the 21st
century that will not be the case at all. Instead, people who look
like everybody else are going to be viewed as lacking in creativity.
Those who are speckled, feathered, covered in pink polka dots and
otherwise strange-looking are going to be the stars. And those who
change their speckles, feathers and dots on a regular basis to evolve
with the times are going to be the superstars.

Way before Tom Peters' landmark article in Fast Company, "The Brand
Called You," Madonna served as the "spokesperson" and absolute pioneer
of the be-yourself and even constantly-reinvent-yourself approach to
personal branding. See the 100th anniversary celebration magazine for
Women's Wear Daily (WWD) – suffer through it, if you aren't into
clothes. It's important because the growth of the fashion industry
over the past century is integrally related to the explosion in
branding and the "massification" of this formerly esoteric marketing

In other words, not only do we have a million brands nowadays, but
people understand very well that they are brands too.

I have had a "love-hate" relationship with Madonna, I must say, as I
have observed her through the years. When she first appeared on the
scene in the early 80s, I thought she was totally cool. The bracelets,
the hair, the songs – they are still amazing to me. The songs "Get
Into The Groove," "Borderline," and "Material Girl" are still like

Today, whenever I see anything in the news about Madonna I absolutely
must read it. I actually have read all the stuff about Lourdes growing
up, being a fashion plate, Madonna's "bizarre" mothering rules for all
her kids, etc. When Lourdes launched Material Girl clothes at Macy's I
was reading, listening, analyzing.

Yet I've hated a lot of Madonna's incarnations too. Basically
everything after the first album right up until the Kabbalah stuff,
actually. I like her new idea for a fitness center brand. Whatever, I
don't listen to her music anymore, but I think she's cool.

The reason I say she's the gold standard is that Madonna understands
that fundamental thing about branding that most people don't. The
popular conception is that a brand must stay the same all the time,
that it must be consistent, that it must never let go of that familiar
image that people recognize. That if you change, it's very slowly and
incrementally and that you shouldn't scare people. The recent
rebranding of Gap, and the quick retraction of the new logo when
people complained, is an excellent example of what NOT to do to

Madonna understands that it's just the opposite. In the first place,
you have to get out there and be yourself. Be totally yourself. No
matter how weird, wacky, odd, or strange you seem to others, if it's
authentic to you, then be that. Kelly Cutrone (read her book, she has
the company The People's Revolution and she had a great Bravo show
about her event/PR firm for fashion shows) completely understands
that. And then, once you have fully and completely explored the
identity you've built—trash it. Go completely beyond. Try something
different. Play. And don't be afraid to emerge with a totally
different persona.

What Madonna understands is that it's not one persona in particular
that defines who you are as a brand. It is the amalgamation of those
personas, and the fact that you're willing to play with them and
explore different aspects of yourself as you evolve, that defines your
brand. And if you are completely and totally authentic as a human
being, your brand will be successful and your audience will find you.

Copyright 2010 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
All opinions my own. Originally posted to my blog at Permission granted to repost with

Self-branding around the world: Facehunter

Interesting photo book showing how today's global citizens construct their own identities - they take what's out there as only a starting point.

This supports Alex Wipperfurth's thesis in Brand Hijack.

Fun to flip through - I saw a copy at Urban Outfitters.

10 Reasons Why Branding Unites Americans More Than Anything

Branding brings Americans together like no religion, political party,
or social movement can.

Think about it – as a rule:

1.     Brands are a necessity of life – we need to know what products
are best for us, and which are trustworthy

2.     Brands are available to everyone – no matter how rich or poor
you are, and no matter what your cultural background

3.     Brands provide a marker of achievement as you move up the
socio-economic ladder

4.     Brands are simple and therefore satisfying to talk about, while
issues are complicated

5.     Brands provide a common reference point in a global, diverse world

6.     Brands enable you to construct your own identity rather than
accept tradition

7.     Brands help you understand the identity of others

8.     Brands offer a way to transcend traditional affiliations and
talk a common language

9.     Brands are always changing and evolving, so they offer
something interesting and non-controversial to talk about

10.  Brands fulfills people's spiritual needs, as they purposely
consume products from ethical companies and even form communities with
others who consume the same products

In short, brands fulfill our material need for survival; our social
need for connection and status; and even our need for spirituality.

So shopping is more than just a trivial exercise – it's one of the
most important things that we do in contemporary society. The way we
shop, the why of shopping, and the social interactions around it are
worthy of being taken seriously by anyone who wants to understand more
than just how marketing works.