Blast artBrands over the past few centuries have been formed based on a number of factors. Long ago brands identified a craftsman’s work and were part of his or her name giving recognition to the person who made the product.

As the world evolved and these skilled artisans came to America, brands were developed for larger businesses that took advantage of these skills to develop products that highlighted the feature and benefits of the products produced.  These assets were leveraged to create brands that fought to differentiate themselves based on tangible assets that they could defend over long periods of time.
Once large retail was created branding took on another look, the look of what is considered a “traders” mentality.  This is where merchants traded in more commodities and while features and benefits were still important, they became more of an ingredient rather than the driving force behind products and “value“ sometimes became a larger factor in decision making.

With the launch of the internet, information regarding products that were out of the hands of the people making these items drove brands to become part of communities to plead their cases to consumers as well as making brands evolve once again.

In brand’s most recent iteration, they have created or become important to communities of influencers and their followers.  Brands that haven’t adapted to a more passive selling structure, one with a defined purpose that engages its customers, are risking being looked at as not understanding the needs and desires of these powerful groups.

Companies like BMW have moved forward with this idea to build brands that are set on a brand that delivers purpose.  There focus on having a vehicle that delivers the “ultimate driving experience” demonstrates that it as much about the excitement their vehicles provide as it is about horsepower.  Evan longtime retailers like Walmart moved from a message of “Every day low prices on the brands you trust”  to be more reflective of their core customer. Its current state of “Save Money. Live better” goes well beyond the obvious.  Being true their purpose Walmart has created a variety of programs that help their communities, customers and employees “Live Better” through social programs as well as becoming good social citizens within their communities with environmentally conscious initiatives that focus on the greater good rather than the bottom line.

Other brands such as Patagonia, have gone a step further by sponsoring and promoting programs that are a direct reflection of their core market.  They have also created a deep relationship with their customers by having a genuine understanding of not only their social commitments, they also have compassion for the challenges that face their core customer. They do everything they can to become part of the culture, not just an outsider selling products.

Going forward brands will have increasing pressure to align with the culture in which they intend to market to.  Advertising’s role will continue to decrease as channels continue to fragment.  Markets will continue to become communities where they will have the power to choose who is in or out.  In certain cases, causes will become equal if not more important than traditional features and benefits.  As these requirements become more of a necessity than an option, companies that can identify their purpose will have the upper hand in being invited into the new community-based brand platform where they will have the advantage over lagging competitors.Blast art

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Recently I‘ve had the opportunity to watch series of TedTalk videos the got me to thinking, are brand inspiring or are they inspired by others around them?  In my opinion, the answer is yes in both cases.  For every story of a brand’s commitment to the community, there are ones that are a result of solving a problem.

Take Airbnb’s founder Joe Gebbia for instance.  Because of necessity he reached out to a community he identified to discover that, “it was possible to make friends while making rent.”  His idea of a well-developed reputation system that built on trust was the founding idea behind his successful business.  In the end, Airbnb continues to answer needs that evolve as the company grows.  His belief of answering needs of communities and a sharing economy still drive the idea that “when trust works out right, it can be magical.”  This brand experience continues to answer a need as well as inspire the brand.

Another example of how a community can shape a brand is how Astro Teller spoke about how Google X celebrates failure. An idea that shapes a brand’s dreams based on the philosophy behind it.  A fail-fast mantra breeds ideas that develop “moon shots” that affect many people through radical solutions that utilize breakthroughs technology.  As Teller states “we spend most of our time breaking things, trying to prove we are wrong.  Run at all the hardest parts of the problem first. Get excited and cheer ‘hey how are we going to kill our project today?” the thought process adapted at Google X.  These beliefs continue to shape the vision of the brand and attract like thinkers to its brand message, a brand that inspires a community. 

As you can see many brands can change both a community, as well as a culture.  

2000px-Anishinabe.svgWhile branding has a history tied to Madison Avenue, I recently realized that its roots go back much further.

A short time ago I had the privilege to hear First Nation Lakota tribe member Sadie Red Wing at an AIGA event.  She talked about how American Indians face identity challenges.  The range of difficulties from the lack of uniquely identifying its 566 tribes, to the lack of an alphabet that accurately communicates the history of the indigenous people.

Today with social media, brands rely on storytelling, no different than stories that are shared from generation to generation by tribal leaders.  Other aspects that are similar are the use of icons to communicate.  The resent use of infographic’s roots can be traced to tribe iconography that dates back thousands of years through the use of pictograms found in ancient dwellings. These drawing created stories without the use of an alphabet. They generated a platform or manifesto for tribes to differentiate themselves from others as well as position them within the First Nations hierarchy, no different than brands of today defining their position within a marketplace.

American residents also had a naming structure for themselves that created their personal identity no different than how personal brands are developed today.  Like Sadie Redwing’s tribal name “Her Shawl is Yellow”, it helps to define her as a person as well her place within her tribe, much like the naming architecture developed by businesses today to define products and sub-brands within a brand structure.

As you can see the development of brands is really nothing new, we just need to look at history to understand how it can be used.

To learn more about the work Sadie is doing to help First Nation tribes define themselves as well as develop tools for indigenous tribes and foster design as a communication tool visit her website at sadieredwing.com.