What is a brand? I think the answer to that simple question has changed in complex ways over the past decade. I think a brand is a proxy for a collection of attributes of their products and services. These attributes include quality, competitiveness, uniqueness, and any other property of the product that can be experienced or communicated to potential and current customers. In its simplest form, advertising is communications from the producer of products to potential and current consumers of that products as well as anyone else who may influence that purchase decision.
The nature and flow of such communications used to be largely asymmetric (brand to customer) and non real-time (days/weeks in print media). As forms of media change in a fundamental way and becomes not only symmetric (Twitter) and real-time (push), but also pervasive/cheaper; the power of brands to hold its customers captive also undergoes a fundamental change. Artisans and guilds producing goods or providing services now have the ability to communicate attributes of their products as effectively as traditional brands. For the set of customers seeking information about attributes of potential products in order to make purchase decisions, communications from established brands will be on par with artisans and guilds.
In this context, two lessons emerge:
1. Online brands with a focus on leveling the information playing field will compete on product attributes… and win where deserving, and
2. The nature of communications becoming symmetric will bring profound change on advertising form and means of delivery.
Online-only brands not only seek to address the inefficiencies in the various manufacturing, logistics, fulfillment, and inventory practices, they also leverage new communication media to level the playing field versus their traditional competition.
Another observation is that screens we use to communicate (smartphones, tablets, connected consumer widgets) will drive advertising to change its form. Mobile advertising in particular needs to evolve beyond the traditional draw-attention (disruptive?) formats of banner ads and interstitial videos towards a straight up communications when/where the consumer wants information. As a trivial example, I may be much more likely to read and perhaps respond to a direct @reply from a relevant producer or a rich, contextual push on a smartphone vs. a banner ad sliding in on the screen.
Determining ‘relevance’ is the key to making such communication be effective and invited and not disruptive. This is where Prismatic and newer startups like Relcy can play a crucial role. They are not merely delivering news and information ‘relevant’ to me, they will one day be the pathways connecting new online brands to me and communicating to me what I don’t want to see as “ads”.