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Postmodern Branding

cademics trace the emergence of modern branding to the late 19th century. This means that marketers have had over 100 years to develop and refine the value of the brand concept.  More recently, though, it seems to me, brand value-decay has set in. Early history should be a cautionary tale but history may be repeating itself. Marketers are now in branding’s postmodern era.

Since the mid-1990's  the art and science of branding has evolved into a wildly complex and elite process. Today, branding is a very big business, crowded with vendors selling ultra-sophisticated techniques, processes deep enough to exhaust Microsoft Project ,and never ending implementation.

I am not anti-brand. More than ever 21st century market competition demands marketplace differentiation and value promotion. Very good, well-branded products fail all the time. Consumers are more and more discerning and ready to challenge a brand’s claims before they drop a dime. This keeps the pressure on marketers to compete smarter.

In Mad Men days the ad campaign carried the responsibility of defining and positioning the brand. But as new media, sophisticated technologies and highly segmented audiences shuffled the deck violently, brands needed to work as a broader statement of the product or service. And the brand became the operating reference for behavior inside the company, as well. In short, the concept of “brand” became everything a company or product aspires to be. The notion of branding was raised to a higher art and science – big business.

Forward to 2008: the advent of the worst global recession since the great depression. As legitimate marketers worked harder to craft and steward their brands, shysters and opportunists crawled from the woodwork, trading on the same claims but considerably less – or no – value. This is not new a new phenomenon; it’s has just became more pervasive – closer to the norm. All brands are losing credibility in the postmodern era. Perceived value becomes consumer skepticism. And it is value that makes a brand shine, build equity, acquire customers and make believers.

I haven’t seen it plotted but I suspect that in economic downturns the perceived value of brands suffers. It doesn’t take long for consumers to smell a rat. Consumers are rebelling and legit brands are suffering the consequences. This could be a case of history repeating itself.

Case in point: In London in the late 1800’s, there was lots of competition in the wine and spirits business. The 1870’s experienced a sharp recession. Up to then appreciative consumers were rewarding quality brands. As times got tough, though, the industry was flooded with knock-off brands will little or no value. Even the quality brands were being compromised. The result was the same then as it is today. Consumers lost confidence in all wine and spirit brands And while honest merchants worked hard to do right by the consumer, the damage was done: brands had lost credibility and for a good chunk of the next century corporate stewards worked diligently to restore the integrity of the brand concept.

Is history repeating itself? Will the postmodern era last for a century? Will it take that long for the market to restore its credibility and for brands to once again be the consumers’ assurance of value?

If your brand is getting tired and needs revitalization and more effective marketing communications, Casey Communications has the experience and track record that can help you increase value from current customers, win new customers and be a market leader.

Contact Jim Casey

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