“You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop.” Today, this sentence from Tom Peters’s famous 1997 Fast Company article “The Brand Called You” may sound outdated at best, or at worst, a bit creepy.
These days, who really wants to identify with big corporate brands the way some people did in the me-decade of the 1990s? As Peters put it:
That coffee travel mug you’re carrying — ah, you’re a Starbucks woman! Your T-shirt with the distinctive Champion “C” on the sleeve, the blue jeans with the prominent Levi’s rivets, the watch with the hey-this-certifies-I-made-it icon on the face, your fountain pen with the maker’s symbol crafted into the end …You’re branded, branded, branded, branded.
Yes, logomania is sooo last decade. Sooo last century. Fortunately, today most people are not looking to define their personality by the big companies they’re buddies with. Now, many more people want to define themselves by their values. They don’t want the purchased sheen of conspicuous consumption. Instead, they want to be part of an authentic community of those who share their values.
Not Rodeo Drive but Idiocracy
And today, logos of big consumer marketers are less status symbols than symbols of stupidity. Don’t think Rodeo Drive. Think Idiocracy. That was a brilliant film directed in 2006 by Mike Judge that portrays a satiric apocalypse, where hundreds of years of mass culture and dumbing down have reduced Americans to morons who speak in skateboarder slang and worship brand names.
Peters was not trying to lead us to an idiotic dystopia, and for sure, some ideas from his article still resonate today, like the idea that today’s workers are more or less free agents who have to define themselves in the work-marketplace and constantly sell themselves to new employers, clients, or customers. That’s probably more true today than in the nineties.
But there’s a better way to look at people than as brands, especially if you are a person who wants to get other people to do things like buy your products and services.
There’s a Man Behind That Curtain
Maybe it’s time to do the opposite — make your brand about people. With social media, customers expect to be able to interact with you. And they expect to find a person on the other end of that Facebook page or Twitter feed. They don’t want to find a brand. They want a human being. Consider this, from interactive guru Mitch Joel:
One of the main reasons to get excited about Social Media is because it is driven by the consumers, what they publish, share and chat about. It’s about the minutia and details of products and what they can do (and yes, this even includes the unboxing of products). Social Media is not an advertising platform that was created by a brand or publisher (like almost every other aspect of advertising as we know it today). It’s somewhat humorous to realize that by all aspects, Social Media was forced on to brands. Brands (and we’re generalizing here) never wanted transparency. Brands never wanted consumers publishing their perspectives about them to the world. Brands wanted to control the messaging and conversation (from the top down and back up again).
If you want to succeed in marketing, then Joel says to make your marketing invisible — embed it into your customer service, your sales, and into your product itself.
And likewise, maybe it’s about creating a brand that’s so invisible that your customers think they own it and that they helped to create it. Maybe then, they’ll tell their friends. And that’s the kind of marketing that money just can’t buy.