The Four Ages of Branding

The history of branding may not be long, but it is rich-and continues to evolve.

 

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“Branding ” began as a mark of ownership, trust, and quality, and evolved into a more sophisticated symbol of differentiation and identification in the post–World War II era. As commerce became global and markets became saturated with products and services, the need to differentiate increased, as did the need to help customers identify and choose. Companies adopted slogans and mascots, built a presence on radio and television, and, by the 1970s and ’80s, manufacturers fully recognized the way in which consumers developed relationships with their brands-and how they could infuse them with a clear proposition, values, and special qualities to broaden their appeal. In the Age of Identity, the purpose of a brand was to serve as a market positioning identifier, setting businesses and individual products apart from the crowd, both visually and verbally. These foundational characteristics of a great brand are still valid today, but the world became more demanding.

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In 1988, Interbrand undertook the first Brand Valuation, and the Age of Value was born. Companies began to view brands as valuable business assets that contribute significantly to financial performance-driving choice, securing loyalty, and affording the owner a premium. Slowly, the language of “cost” relating to marketing expenditure became the language of “investment.” Alongside this, came an increasing recognition that brands were not built simply through communications, but through a combination of business activities covering products and services, environments, culture, and communication-all of which created the total brand perception held by customers and employees alike. The growing wealth of data led to a more sophisticated approach to brand management, tied to economic value, and ultimately the creation of a growth agenda based upon a robust and strategic methodology. No longer an afterthought or a responsibility relegated to the marketing department, brand strategy became not only intertwined with business strategy-it became business strategy brought to life.

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With the recognition of brands as valuable, strategic assets, came a deeper appreciation of the role brands play in delivering satisfying and differentiated experiences to consumers. Benefitting immensely from the rise of digital and mobile technology, category-killing brands like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple have reset customer expectations and significantly raised the bar for brand experiences. Interactions are seamless, contextually relevant, and increasingly based around creating an ecosystem of integrated products, services, information, and entertainment: both physical and digital. In this information-saturated age, it’s no longer enough to have big data. These vast data sets must be mined for big insight, big empathy, big intuition, and big dialogue. The frequency of and immense opportunities for communication require higher degrees of internal clarity and commitment to the brand to ensure consistency across organizations and enable speed to market. Further, the customer-empowered by social media in the Age of Experience-now has more control than ever. In this world of two-way conversations, advocacy, influence, and engagement are the new rules for brand building.

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As digital technology continues to weave its way into every aspect of our lives, and more of who we are is captured on servers and hard drives, the Age of Experience is giving way to a new era-one of ubiquitous computing. When ecosystems are fully integrated and sensors (on our bodies, in our homes, and in our devices) can talk to each other in new ways, supply chains will reorganize around individuals and ecosystems will become Mecosystems. Connecting businesses to people-and people to each other-brands will then serve as enablers of both business and personal value creation.

From the way we manage our personal brands and share pieces of ourselves through various social media platforms to the increasingly personalized world of commerce-which uses purchase histories and location-based services to tailor products, events, services, and offers to whoever we are, wherever we are-our data selves are known, communicating, and growing every day. Brands that seek to lead in the Age of You will have to recognize the human in the data, uncover genuine insights, and create a truly personalized and curated experience-an ecosystem to satisfy the Mecosystem.

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