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August 03, 2008

Brand contractions

Brands are energetic entities, at their most essential level, they’re pulses of attraction.

Peristalsis is ‘the rhythmic contraction of smooth muscles to propel contents through the digestive tract. The word is derived from New Latin and comes from the Greek peristaltikos, peristaltic, from peristellein, "to wrap around," and stellein, "to place’, according to Wikipedia.

The rhythmic contractions of brands are a big part of the way brands stay relevant. Brands are quite naturally a response, like peristalsis, to the elements in place in any given society; they wrap around raw ingredients to form entities that can create a following.

What’s happened to this flexing and adapting over time is very interesting, and it will become even more interesting in the near future.

The whole idea of branding was at the very beginning to create ownership, but as this recent study
confirms, we’re moving closer to collective ownership being the driver of wealth then ever before. Forget communism, hello tribe.

A brand was initially a wrapper of raw ingredients, a container of tangible assets, that promoted itself through the creation of a badge of quality. Through the use of these simple signifiers - logos - brands were able to communicate at speed, harnessing mass-market channels of communication to reach huge audiences.

Then brand segmentation kicked in, and it became possible to replicate the brand model, to create a multiplicity of products and services. Competition came into it.

Next step was the fragmentation of communication channels, and the targeting of audience-specific needs and wants. We got brands by the bucketload.

Now, no-one really feels the need quite as much to define themselves by their tangible consumption and we’ve learnt not to believe the hype. We’re living in the age of the intelligence economy, we’re co-creating in fluid groups.

So any self-respecting brand consultant has to ask themselves this: ‘Does the brand have a place today? Does it work as a label of assigned ownership and a ticket of entry to value in such a context? What’s the role for ownership in a fluid society, where we are all, at any time, part of one thing or another depending on what focuses our attention?

The emerging phenomenon of folkonomies, of the new world tribes, that many are seeing and participating in as creators of value, mean it’s time for a brand contraction. We still need definitions, yes, but what’s needed is definition based on a singular awareness of what each individual can provide within the tribe.
Then we need to understand that how the tribe that controls itself realises its worth and generates value.

We will always need definitions because we need ease of access. Branding enables that essential distillation to continue as societies become more complex but everyone finds their place and they way they can contribute to it. Branding allows us to value the individual elements fully too, as part of the connectedness that is now beginning to power society, well as the shape of the whole.


This is the difference between the community of old and the new world tribe, the tribe generates defined value, as much as shares it.


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