The end of brands, the birth of reputation(part 1)

A big part of rich western world(let’s remember we are a small part of the total world) is now getting connected through internet. Social networks and blogs are the perfect examples. Next to that we are connected we are getting empowered. Brands start to listen to “us”: cocreation and corporate blogs are the first signs. What I am wondering is, how does this development influence the selecting and buying process of products? This is the first post in a row. It will focus on the shifting of product values.

So here are my thoughts on that. Well more than thoughts. These are my beliefs.

The last decades we were isolated. We were passive. We listened. Brands addressed our fears and personal value. A complete divide and conquer market from the producers side. We were consumption machines. This isolation (or individualism, how it is sold to us) created an excellent platform for brands to address each indivual on their individual needs. Many companies still think that this is what people want. But this is incorrect. We want to be connected again. Just like thousands of years ago.

So what happens when we are connected again…

For one thing your individual needs will change and the needs of the community will start to influence you aswell. The last decade many of the individual needs were based on a certain level of aspiration. Products provided in aspired identities. For example they made you fashionable, luxurious, beautful, hip, new(technology), but also classic. The complete car, fashion and FMCG industry are based on this model. The million dollar question is why to we aspire these identities? My belief is because we don’t feel connected. It is the isolation that makes us incomplete. It is the isolation that makes us want to communicate about ourselves through products. How relevant is this mechanism if you are not isolated but part of a global family(your home)? Compare it for example with the clothing you wear when visiting your closest family compared to visiting absolute strangers. In this connected world you will be searching for true value not symbolised value(through marketing). Real value like: design, product quality, creativity, emotionally triggering products, environmental friendly production, good working conditions and healthy products. Next to these product attributes also the whole existence of the company needs to be contributing to a better planet. These are all intrinsic values compared to symbolic(aspirational) values. So basically the created image(brand) through aspirational messages is not valued. Also it is very hard to create a sustainable deep fanbase for your product when it is hold together through aspiration fulfillment. Instead it is the REAL behaviour and reputation of a company which determines the value. This is a core I repeat a core difference… In this “post marketing era” where we understand the real motivation of every marketing campaign we need to change the way of working and the way of communicating. Companies need to redefine the value of the product/company. They need to find ways to contribute to intrinsic values.

Little side step:

Have a look at Nokia’s segmentation found on Ringnokia


On the right side you see the aspirational lifestyles. Nokia’s fashion, music, techy, active phone are positioned there. This is exactly where Nokia(Connecting people!!) in Western Developed countries have difficulties to create a good marketshare. . In these categories Nokia wants to sell aspirational products. Well is that a match? connecting people <–> be who you want to be. This is dangerous road.. The products which do fly(8800, 7370, 6111) just have great design and/or good materials. So the aspirational values are not not the reason to buy it but the intrinsic values are. This is something which I consider to be a flaw in Nokia’s approach to the segments.

These are my maybe still unstructured thoughts on the changing way consumers will value products. Maybe it is wishful thinking..
Remember this only applies to the developed western world. Feedback on this subject is very welcome as the thoughts evolve every day.

Here a slide of the change:


Now that customers are getting out of isolation so do companies. In Part Two I will talk about the effect it has on companies not being isolated( from customers, suppliers, competition) anymore.

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2 Responses to The end of brands, the birth of reputation(part 1)

  1. Raimo, thank you so much for your email about aspirational brands. This post of yours is completely on the mark as far as I am concerned and perhaps more consistent with my post on being aspirational than you might imagine.

    First, a point of clarification: my work applies mostly to corporate brands, B2B and relationship brands as in financial services, industrials, telcos, professional services, not-for-profits or health care. My advice to go ahead and overpromise is more about telling customers that you plan to stretch the boundaries of what you can deliver to them. I am not referring so much to the creation of aspirational brands, for example in luxury categories where people buy Moet or Hermes or read Wallpaper to fulfill aspirational needs.

    Overpromising about a product brand is clearly a bad idea as you have one chance to make a successful transaction. In corporate or relationship brands, there are many dimensions in which to establish the brand values, and my point is that customers (especially your best ones) will be open to creating those values with you. I have seen this work, and I think it is part of the same phenomenon you describe in your post about consumers wanting a deeper level of involvement in their choices. The same is true for a CEO choosing the lawyer that will help her manage a huge merger, or a leading surgeon deciding which hospital to practice at.

    I also agree strongly with your point about the difference between symbolized value as packaged by marketers and meaningful value as experienced by communitites. My work on corporate branding is moving away from marketing and into the core meaning of the enterprise; to customers, employees, suppliers, regulators, whomever. This new focus on meaning is shifting the brand conversation away from “what” we do to “why” we do it. This is much richer territory for everyone concerned, including marketers who now have something much more powerful to work with. This focus on meaning has always been part of the internal dialogue for organizations traditionally thought of as socially aware: say in the environment, education, aid or culture. Now, the notion of meaning can inform brands in strict commercial contexts and can even create win-win tranformational ideas: What is your telephony service enabling communities to achieve? How is workplace health effecting family life and personal well-being? How can your banking services make people feel better off and more content? How can your hospital help to break the compromise between compassionate care and pioneering science? How can your purpose as an enterprise connect with a higher-order need that redefines your relationships, and creates a winning position in your sector?

    This is where I ask my clients to be boldly aspirational, and to get everyone around them excited about the possibility of what they might mean to the world, not just how they transact with the world.

    Thanks for your great thoughts on this stuff. It’s so important to have this kind of conversation with others who care about brand “literacy” if I may call it that.


  2. thinkmobile says:

    Hi MJ,

    Thanks for your great comment. It gives me confidence to pursue the path that I took on. 😉


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