The old dog has run out of new tricks: The end of brand building as we knew it

OK, this obituary is a long time coming

There are signs everywhere that everything we learnt and knew about brand building and all its allied disciplines of advertising, market research, promotions, media, sponsorships are past the sell by date. And neither are the digital era tools like branded content and social campaigns a panacea.

It probably began when the consumer had an option to skip ads

It began when we realised that brand ambassadors were just paid to appear in ads

It began when young kids with a phone could make more engaging content than formal film makers

It began when brand channels on Youtube couldn’t compete even remotely, with independent channels even after splurging millions

It began when the internet changed the rate at which we get bored

It began when Facebook stopped showing branded content on our news feeds unless the brands cough up a lot of money

It began when it was way more cooler to not buy what every one else was buying

It began when a couple of kids in a garage could beat the big blue

It began when advertising got so overtly smart that it let the motivations show through

It began when every sponsorship was up for grabs to the highest bidder

It began when fame stopped being an elusive attribute that money couldn’t buy

It began when everyone started copying everyone else in a frenzy

It began when authenticity and trust were begun to be used as a marketing message

And so on

But that’s what has led us to where we are today

The strength of connect consumers have with brands (as measured by the ease with which they could potentially switch to another competing offering) have possibly never been lower.

So what could brands do?

They could possibly take a leaf out of the only brands that seem destined to survive –  the religious, cultural and maybe a few political brands. We are talking of formal religions, preachers and cults, rock bands, authors, advocacy groups, and the like.

And what do they do?

They are fired by a missionary zeal or burn with a sense of purpose that businesses (that too corporate style businesses) have always shied away from

Businesses typically talk the language of  zeal and purpose only for shamelessly selfish goals. These days, they seem to neither motivate their employees, nor their partners – leave alone their consumers.

Religions and Cultural icons have always spoken from an intensely personal vision and their energies have always been directed at the purity of a vision, or the pursuit of a grand quest.

Every action of theirs is fired by the restless quest that is impervious to critical judgement   just because of the sincerity of purpose that backs it

Visions lead and profits follow.

If ever brands need to retain even a semblance of their stature, that’s possibly the only way to go.

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2 thoughts on “The old dog has run out of new tricks: The end of brand building as we knew it

  1. The consumer has more power to choose now. Its force-fed earlier vs grab my attention now. The religious, cultural and political brands have always had the attention of the consumer. Businesses with so-called “selfish goals” are pumping money in brand building hoping the consumer stays ignorant as always. In my opinion the focus should shift from building brand to building brand ambassadors. I would switch brands if I get a slightly cheaper/better alternative but will think twice if it indeed had a missionary zeal. My (consumer) mission to save a buck is just as strong, if not stronger, as your (producer) mission to make one.

    What makes things worse is negative publicity/campaign. As consumers get more socially/environmentally conscious, they will switch brands at the slightest of doubts. However, the brands that “seem destined to survive” will evoke an emotional response which will 1) encourage consumers to form opinion/take sides & 2) get a free ride in the internet, gain popularity. Both seem positive. To survive, brands need to locally adapt, be sensitive to culture, religion and environment and not forget that the consumer has the power to block you, especially if you have not been a good boy.

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