The data are irrefutable. The number of massive mega brands and their value (in terms of the premium consumers are willing to pay) is shrinking, and fast. You can’t get as much extra for a Sony DVD player or a Marlboro cigarette as you used to.
The number of new micro-brands is exploding. Hugh is a brand now. If we define brand as a shortcut for a set of commercial attributes, emotions, stories, whatever, then any blogger with a following has a brand.
There’s a difference between brands and branding. Brands exist whether you want them to or not. Brands aren’t going to go away any time soon. Brands are a useful shorthand for a complicated asset within an organization. Branding, on the other hand, is a thing you do. And as an activity, branding is problematic. Branding is ill-defined, usually vacuous, often expensive and totally unpredictable. I’m happy to say that you shouldn’t grow up to be someone who does branding.
Doc Searls and company would have us believe that markets are conversations. This is a great conversation-starter and a useful piece of agit-prop. But the reality is that many many brands are actually monologues, not dialogues. That doesn’t mean a conversation won’t create a better, more robust, more useful brand. But, alas, most organizations can’t handle that truth. So they do their best to do it the old way.