Can you imagine a world without brands? Does social media (social networking, social content, social shopping, social this and that…) threaten the very idea of a brand (as it does, for some, the very idea of authority in media)? We’re divided, as usual, on this matter. Some – the euphorics (the geek ‘ultras’) reckon that big, slow moving industrial era entities like brands can’t possibly survive. They’ll be swept aside by ‘bottom-up value creation’. Networks – for the ultras – are what come after brands. Others – me included – think that brands will survive because they’re useful and because they embody an economy’s deepest needs and because – sometimes – we fall in love with them.
The thing about brands is that they’re not superficial expressions of a company’s or an economy’s needs. They may look fluffy or insubstantial (they were probably designed to do so) but they are, in almost every case, a company’s primary device for concentrating resources to produce a return on investment. A brand is a storehouse for talent, ideas, competence and, above all, capital: an entity with known inputs and measurable outputs. A brand is a bloody big, complicated economic institution – like a university or a small town or a professional football team: a machine for the production of social, cultural and economic value.
There is (go on, tell me I’m wrong) no realistic candidate for a replacement for the brand as the number one vehicle for value creation in a business. Nothing else can (or will, for the time being) marshal resources, talent, creativity and capital to produce the return that investors need. Visit any supermarket and you’ll meet ten thousand or more brands, every one of which has a measurable value, makes a known contribution to the bottom line of its owner, carries the hopes and dreams of the people who make it. The big brands are our cathedrals: elaborate, slowly built over tens (or hundreds) of years, eccentric, contingent and expensive to maintain. Like those cathedrals, important brands are anchor institutions for economy and community. They will persist.