The Future of Branding in a Transformative Economy

Future of Branding keynote presentationOne of my favorite presentations to give is about the future of branding, originally developed as a custom presentation for the Conference Board, a group of high-level business executives.

They posed the following question to me as the basis for a custom presentation for their branding council:

It seems like branding and advertising is in a permanent shift into something new. 

  • What is going on?
  • Is branding changing for good?
  • Why don’t old techniques work like they used to?

My answer: Yes, branding is entering a new phase – and to understand why, you need to look at Doritos, Joe Isuzu, World War Two, youth unemployment, the wimpification of men, the Mac Versus PC Guys, Sigmund Freud, the housing bubble, sexbots from Armani Exchange, suburbs, peak oil, and the Federal Reserve.

Interested in how these fit together?

The future of branding: how the consumer narrative is entering its third wave

All brands connect with customers through myth and image. If you want your brand to connect with tomorrow’s customers, it needs to use tomorrow’s, not yesterday’s myths.

Brands are rarely about the product they currently help sell. They are about the people who might buy a product or service and how they feel about their identity. As the world careens into an unprecedented economic transition, the narrative that helps connect customers to brands is breaking down. To catch the next wave of branding, your organization needs to understand why the story has changed – and where it’s going.

The following is a basic outline of my presentation. If you would like more detail – or information on how to bring this program to your next event, contact me.

Branding in an age of economic transformation

The story in brief…

  • Branding is derived from meaning
  • We’re in transformation, not recession
  • In a time of transformation, old meaning no longer carries a message to the customer
  • The future of your brand will be in linking to a new narrative in a changing social and economic order
  • It will not be one size fits all – so get thinking

What comes after the current age of nihilism?

doritos-bagYou may be noticing an unprecedented trend in advertising – the ads actually seem to make fun of the customer. Men are almost always the target. Instead of shows the product as a way to enhance the customer’s identity, it shows the product as an inconsequential choice for a person who has no power or agency in their own life. Men are desperate for cheesy poofs, beer, cars, televisions, whatever it takes to fill an otherwise vacuous life.

Why on Earth would any brand insult their potential customers? Because all brands connect with a larger narrative, and the current industrial narrative is at a moment of doldrums, a lull just prior to an unprecedented shift away from growth and to something else. None of know what that something else is – and that’s the great adventure in the future of branding.

How did we get to this point?

There were two major phase of industrial development that preceded where we are going.

The first phase was the era before modern branding, prior to 1900. Many goods were made locally by artisans who had deep ties to their community, if not their region. One might become famous for excellent workmanship in furniture, tailored clothing or horseshoes, but sales were driven largely by relationships. There were some exceptions, a few manufacturers whose brand became synonymous with excellence – the French trunk-maker Louis Vuitton comes to mind – but these were by far the exception and not the rule.

The modern era of branding began in earnest as the nation was connected by rail and steam-powered transportation and communication was made global by telegraph, radio and telephone. Goods of all sorts began to be sold far from their place of manufacture, and brands were necessary to help distinguish the relative quality of products.

Advertising and public relations was pioneered by Edward Bernays (a fascinating and controversial figure) as a way to encourage otherwise frugal people to buy products out of a desire to enhance one’s self, as opposed to meeting real tangible needs. As such, we see a turning point in advertising after the 1930s and 40s, from describing products, to describing people.

Product branding followed a pattern of helping customers, particularly Americans,  attached their ego development to the national character at large – especially around urbanization, modernization and expansion.

What is causing the disruption?

visionThe techniques of modern branding are actually breaking down in the face of economic patterns that have never been seen at such a global scale. Because of several macroeconomic factors, the era of growth is coming to and end and a new era is beginning. The question remains – how can branding keep up with these changes, and what is just over the horizon?

Want to know more? It’s a cool story.The rest of my Prezi is below if you are still curious.


If you would like a copy of my slides or would like to discuss how to incorporate this program in your next event – contact me directly.