A few weeks ago, Marc Fitten, editor of the Chattahoochee Review, wrote an op-ed called "Our Cars, Ourselves" in The New York Times that said this: "GM left its Atlanta plant to rot. So I left my GM loyalty behind." GM is an example of how branding is changing in this post-economic era. The field of brand strategy needs to change as much as the derivative business because the market is changing, the climate is changing, technology is changing, and the customer is changing.
Branding is a great framework for corporations. Branding finds the soul of a company and applies it. The brand mission aligns all facets of a company creating a coherent presentation to consumers—strong brands use all their packaging, products, advertising, services, and expectations to build a brand experience that lots of people want. For the last few decades, the branding mantra was to build internal teamwork so that everyone in a company was rowing in the same direction.
Today, brands have to let the customers row too! Brands have to share. But brands mean something different for the company than they do from the customers' point of view. They wear Nike shoes as a sign to their friends, not to sell shoes. A person's car, bank, baseball team, perfume, and choice of movie paint a picture of his or her personal character to the world. And now as corporations fumble the ball, consumers are acting like the owners, like skateboarders co-opting logos—customizing national brands to mean what they want, not what the marketing department thinks.
It used to be that good brands went out and listened to the customers and then marketed back what they said they wanted. It used to be that brands got their strength internally by being smart, fast, and attentive—a top-down system of feeding the grassroots.
But branding has changed this year—successful brands have turned 180 degrees. Now the best brands maintain a dialogue with customers—a real experience. There's not much that's tangible and nothing is static. It's a conversation of pop-ups, pre fabs, and a lot of DIY.
NikeID tried to involve the consumer in their system by letting kids decorate their shoes, but it's Nike+ that found the real future—the "Human Race" where thousands of people run with each other—virtually and in a series of events. Nike is facilitating communities and allowing them to run where they want.
Branding is no longer about internal focus for consistent product broadcasting—now brands are a team effort. Future brands will be more like "cloud computing," like the shared pools of computers that can rapidly work out problems with minimal management effort. Or "open source," using a concurrent input of different agendas, approaches, and priorities—with little centralized decision-making. Brands of the future will be both more personalized and more communal. New brands will be virtual clouds of symbols, products, and places, with customers using digital technology to build open source experiences.
Tucker Viemeister leads the Lab at Rockwell Group, an interactive technology design group combining digital interaction design, modeling, and prototyping for hotels and restaurants, casinos, packaging, and products. The LAB seeks to blur the line between the physical and virtual, exploring and experimenting with interactive digital technology in objects, environments, and stories. Tucker also co-founded the collaborative Studio Red with David Rockwell that was dedicated to innovation for Coca-Cola. Since joining Rockwell Group in 2004, Tucker has been instrumental in the design and development of JetBlue's Marketplace at the JFK International Airport, "Hall of Fragments," an installation that opened the Corderie dell'Arsenale at the 2008 Venice Biennale, a "living wall" for the lobby of the Sheraton Toronto, the traveling Red Lounge for Coca-Cola, and MGM City Centre in Las Vegas.