5+1 Traits of the New Brands

A bright new day is dawning on brands. They will be even more valuable in the future. Brands will be the centers of gravity in our fragmented social landscapes. Monadic individuals will gather around brands in their pursuit of happiness. Customers and employees, stakeholders and shareholders will have one thing in common: enthusiasm for an idea that their brand stands for.

But brands will have to adapt to catch that wave. Different traits are asked for. Today‘s bluechip labels can‘t take their fame for granted and there are lots of opportunities for new stars to rise. Here‘s my list of the top 5 demands on tomorrow‘s top brands.

Update:I have a Prezi presentation here which gives a quick first overview of the 5+1 traits. Quite a nice intro to this post.


Your brand probably has a positioning statement, values, a mission – but does it have a point? Too many brand strategies are paper tigers, results of semantic flipchart games and boardroom wordsmithing. They answer a lot of questions that customers never care to ask but rarely have a straight and simple reply to the one question: “What’s the point?”.

It takes courage and humble realism to cut down from the many ‘strengths’ and ‘competitive advantages’ highlighted in your McBoston&Co analysis, to what really sets you apart and keeps the customer’s coins rolling towards you. But it ‘pays’!


The same force that made the American colonies quit from the British Kingdom in 1776 divides brands from plain stuff today: the pursuit of Happiness.

Brands dispense happiness in manifold and often unexpected ways. Your drink has proven refreshing in tests  – but the peak of happiness for your fans might actually be the sound of its popping cap.

The happiness we get from a brand is always concrete, a fleeting moment of intensity.


“Gooorgeous” is probably the most valuable consumer response you can get. It comes straight from the heart, flies under the radar of the rational censor, and drives desire rather than just consideration. Aesthetics is the opposite of anaesthesis. It overcomes people’s fatigue with the overload of offerings and messages. Beauty is much more than just design. It is the universal language of the soul. Learn to speak it and you’ll always find love.


Central control is an illusion of people who work in headquarters. Brands cannot be managed top-down. They only have a life in front of the customer.

Control is inefficient. If you want your people to bring all they have to the workplace, if you want to benefit from self-amplifying effects in your network of stakeholders, if you want to become part of your customer’s life, you have to let go of control. Control is the attempt to hold big organizations together in the absence of a unifying idea. The Cloud, on the other hand, is what you see when the swarm of people gathering around an idea they love becomes dense enough.


Companies are like fortresses. But slowly the walls are coming down, brick by brick. At first, the border between inside and outside gets puctuated. All kinds of gates, tunnels and bridges are installed for outsourcing, market research, customer relationship management. But once you start realizing that the good things you miss by locking yourself in is much more valuable than the bad things you keep out are hazardous – you finally have the heart to bring down the walls entirely. What becomes visible is either a beautiful city that never should have been hidden behind walls – or a gloomy place that wasn’t worth all the bricks and sweat in the first place.Transparency, says a wise man of the web, is our new trigger of trust, no longer objectivity. If that is true, opacity is our new fraud. A brand that keeps important parts of its reality concealed behind closed doors can never be a strong brand. Brands only have a life as social animals.


The problem with advertising is that it is turning silver bullets where it should be crafting social sculptures.

Silver Bullets. People are getting particularly annoyed about advertising that says ,I understand you‘. There’s a big dishonesty about this school of advertising. Not the embroidery of the product, or “expedient exaggeration” in the words of the Madison Avenue exec personified by Cary Grant in Hitchcock‘s North by Northwest. The dishonesty is that these ads don‘t even talk to me. They target a hidden homunculus inside me which is supposed to be really in charge of my steps and will make me open the gates of Troy for the clever greeks even against my conscious will. Neuroscience has only recently given this little devil another infusion of lifeblood. The idea with this kind of advertising is that you just needed lots of ammo of the right caliber (=message), while mass media were putting near-infinite amounts of homunculi in a convenient shooting range for you. For this ,psychological school‘ of advertising, time is running short.

Social Sculpting. When mass media aren’t really ,mass‘ anymore, the purpose of an ad is no longer to be digested by the little man inside me but to be forwarded, shared and talked about with others (including enough freedom for everyone to add his personal ,embroidery‘). With the new fabric of social networking provided by the internet, ads have to be designed to relate to; and to be related. They must be landmarks to point at (= link to) in the social space, just like architecture in the physical space.

Sculpting for shared public spaces is a fundamentally different art from turning bullets. It is expressly ,un-psychological‘. It doesn‘t have to be relevant and differentiating so much – the old ,Musts‘ of brand communication – as it is personal. It has an opinion it puts up for everyone to comment, rate, or flame, celebrating a culture of open debate, not of hidden persuasion. And it listens and responds.

Update: Read on with “Who are the new brands?”


  1. Pingback: Who are the New Brands? « LOKOMOTIVE BREATH

  2. Pingback: I Love the New Deutsche Telekom Ad « Lokomotive Breath

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: