What is a brand?
I spent the last few days at the Pivot Conference in New York. The last presenter was Douglas Rushkoff and he spoke for thirty minutes without a PowerPoint (points to him) mostly about his recent book, Programmed or be Programmed.
I received the book upon registration (admittedly, I haven’t removed the plastic wrap) and am looking forward to reading it, but until I do, I will refrain from sharing my thoughts. Doug’s talk, however, was a wonderful spirited mix of true insight about the marketing industry sprinkled with a fairly in depth historical survey.
In a poor paraphrase, since ancient times humans have interacted with each other intimately and directly. The rise of classes systems (like feudal lords) broke down these intimate relationships. Fast forward to mass industrialization: workers were taught their skill quickly and cheaply – industrialization was the loss of personalization. As time went on, competing companies needed ways to differentiated themselves. Enter brands: Brands exist merely to differentiate one product for another. After all what makes on type of oatmeal different from another? When you simplify my job (and material life) to just that, it sounds fairly inane, huh?
Doug made it even worse. He said that customers are increasingly demanding transparency from companies. Companies that are actaully doing good and interesting things can easily become transparent. It’s those that aren’t doing as much or as much good who need to distract customers with flashy branding. Yes, he said that my job and passion exists only because corporate American is inherently evil. Great.
I actually believe marketing is more complex than that. We create layered experiences for customers to engage with the brand and products. Customers (ostensibly) derive value from these experiences.
Even though Doug Rushkoff questioned my very livelihood his (over)simplification of marketing almost validates it. If every type of sock were exactly the same, sales would be derived only from the marketing. Yes, you can thank me later.