Social Branding: A New Paradigm for Brands in Society
by Dominic Walsh, Landor Associates
One would expect that a brand would be social by nature. If a brand exists in the mind of the consumer, then surely its modus operandi should be to develop an empathetic relationship with the people who buy it. This, however, has not always been the case. Brands used to push out their messages and consumers either accepted or rejected them; there was no back and forth, no listening, no dialogue.
Yet in recent years the way people engage with technology, society, the environment, and manufacturing has changed. Technology provides an unprecedented level of transparency that is placing power back in the hands of consumers. Companies are required to act ethically and in an environmentally responsible manner. They are also finding that to be successful they need to offer more customizable products and experiences. All of this has resulted in a shifting paradigm for brands and branding, which in turn has changed the branding industry in a number of ways.
To help explain the changes that have taken place over the years, I typically refer to three waves in history that have affected the way people relate to brands.
Evolution of branding
The first wave: Subsistence branding
The first evidence of branding dates back to the ancient Egyptians in 3000 BC. People who grew crops and raised cattle used branding as a way to identify ownership and assist with bartering. Not until the eighth century did the term brand come about— originating from the Old Norse word brandr, meaning to burn. Farmers branded cattle to show ownership of their property, and the act of branding cattle with a hot iron was an early form of branding—an early logo, so to speak.
The second wave: Industrial branding
The Industrial Revolution brought about the next significant change in 1760 AD. Manufacturers used environmental resources to mass-produce products for consumers. Brands were distributed in one direction: from manufacturer to consumer. One-way communication was also the norm: a message was developed and pushed out to a customer, creating a monologue (rather than a dialogue) with the consumer.
The third wave: Social branding
In the last few decades, technology, the Internet, and social media have radically changed the way brands communicate with consumers and—more importantly—the way that consumers interact with brands. A new transparency has shifted the balance of power between brands. Brands are finding themselves forced to listen to their customers, and public opinion has more sway than ever before over company actions. For example, a British Airways customer was dissatisfied with the way the airline was handling his father’s lost baggage. He paid to promote a tweet and within six hours had generated 25,000 impressions. The next day, British Airways was compelled to publicly apologize and locate the lost luggage. The third wave of branding is being shaped by changes in technology, manufacturing, and ethics.
To continue reading, download Social Branding: A New Paradigm for Brands in Society
, (pdf, 84 Kb)