Are Brands Headed for Obsolescence?

Of Course Not. Unless...

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The iCitizen summit wasn't a total loss for your humble correspondent (see post below). The other speakers were fabulous. One was Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail theory. His presentation was a primer on how The Long Tail is changing the economics of manufacturing and distribution, but in it Chris made a sort of throw-away observation that has earthshaking implications:

"Brands are a proxy for information."

That, of course, is true.

Brandedness, at its most basic level, tells consumers that the product or service will meet their basic expectations of quality, dependability and availability. In the absence of independent data, a brand confers on goods and services a minimum theshhold of substance.

That minimum, of course, can be enhanced with advertising and packaging that fleshes out brand benefits, brand personality and even (Nike) brand meaning, but at its essence a brand tells you the brand is good enough to be a brand. For 150 years, that's been enough.

But in the Listenomics Age, real information is available, instantly, from all manner of sources -- sources without any taint of commercial self-interest.

Soon enough, you'll be able to go into a store, scan an item with your cell phone and get real-time data about how people like you -- i.e., people you trust -- rate that item vis a vis the competition.

Combine ready access to information with a Long Tail environment that creates many more potential competitors, and the structures that have propped up brands since the Industrial Revolution begin to crumble.

Naturally, brands will still exist; you have to call your product something. And the brand culture that makes cults of trademarks shows no signs of disappearing. But what will disappear is the shorthand, the proxy, the consumer's willingness to accept a brand's very existence as ample proof of its reason to exist.

And that's going to bring a lot of houses tumbling down.
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