Brands are Dead. Long live Brands.
We live in the golden age of choice. Amazon’s 319 million square feet of warehouse space in the US ensures that no matter the category, no matter the product, there are literally 1000s of options to choose from. For many, this abundance of choice signifies the end of brand’s importance. The argument goes that with more options than ever before, people have no reason to be loyal to brands. This assertion is often supported by the statistic that “most people wouldn’t care if 75% of brands disappeared tomorrow.” Case closed, right?
The reality is people are likely indifferent to much closer to 99% of brands in the world. To marketers everywhere this may seem alarming, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Think about your own life – there are probably only a handful of brands that hold any real meaning, the rest are just background noise. When we shop online, and most particularly at Amazon, the volume of that background noise gets turned up to 11. Almost 20 years ago in his book “The Paradox of Choice,” Barry Schwartz put a very fine point on the problem – having choice is a good thing, but too much choice is decidedly not.
The solution to abundance-induced paralysis and indifference is not to abandon brand and branding. Brand is the most valuable tool for customers to simplify their choices and cut through the clutter. The decision to abandon brand, to become more generic, and to recede even further into the crowd is the surest way to kill your business. As marketers the job is to build fame and visibility that connects your product or service to people’s needs.
So, how do you set about building a brand that connects to what people want? Should you be talking social purpose or functional benefits, cracking jokes, or be earnest and serious?
The answer is yes, but…
Any of the above can work, but only if they come from a place of truth. Social Purpose is powerful, but only for those brands that have it in their bones… I’m looking at you, Patagonia! It’s all too easy to get distracted by all the comms noise, the TikTok campaigns, staying on top of the latest social trends, and the pressure to constantly produce more content. But if you don’t know who you are, if you haven’t identified your true brand position, you will always be chasing someone else’s strategy – feeling lost and swept away in the marketing currents.
The answer is to find your brand’s truth, and use it to drive clarity of action, and distinctiveness.
As choice grows unabated, delivering better products, staying true to who you are, having a distinct POV, curating for your consumer, and having distinctive branding has become more important than ever. Brand is what cuts through the tyranny of choice – it’s used in the face of overwhelming options, to simplify decisions. Brands are a shorthand, delivering confidence and trust in a world of generics and knockoffs.
If you like, or agree with this article and want to discuss further, feel free to reach out. Similarly, if you think I’m dead wrong, and want to give me a piece of your mind, feel free to reach out.
-Zeb Barrett, VP Strategy, Pigeon
 Schwartz, Barry. 2016. The Paradox of Choice. New York, NY: ECCO Press.