Who are the New Brands?

If you have read my last post about what traits brands need to have to be ready for the network economy, you may have thought: can you give me some examples? Who are those brands that are read for the future?

Here are 5 very different examples of ‘new’ brands – just my personal selection:

Google. With its leading role in search, online ads and cloud computing (the „Googleverse“), Google may well become the next big antitrust case. But mental monopolies can’t be broken by law, only by ,doing evil‘. So far, it has done enough good and right to stay the world‘s most valuable brand again this year, according toMillward-Brown‘s BrandZ analysis. The cloud is also its organizing principle, turning it into the smallest and most nimble behemoth of all times.

But Google is a centerfold brand for me in another key trait. It does have a crystal-clear point and that is: finding things. And finding what I‘m looking for makes me happy, too.

Plus: Its radical simplicity doesn‘t make it beautiful, yet beauty lies in the naiveté in which Google takes the user by the hand and guides him into new territories.

Innocent. Whether they invented the smoothie is a question for historians. But sure they invented the category, complete with whole new ways of approaching everything from packaging design to Twitter marketing. This brand is the closest to a social sculpture in my list: its beautiful design enriches our environment, as everyone can tell when spotting it on a shelf or café table; its attitude of innocence with a slight ironic twist brightens our mood; and there‘s, as yet, no double-speak, we can point at it, talk about it and commend it without losing our face or selling our soul. How refreshing!

Ritter Sport chocolate. A classic German post-war brand whose idiosyncratic, playful approach to how chocolate should be shaped has endured many a psychologist‘s over-interpretations. Luckily, the Ritter family has stuck with the obvious, always advertised quite bluntly with ,the product as hero‘, and has even started to celebrate their obsession with squares in a private museum housing a fine collection of paintings that have only one thing in common: their shape.

Ritter is also increasingly accessible online; and they respond, both in words and in their products. New or seasonal flavours, even the new ,bio‘ line of chocolates go back to customers asking for it.

Clemens en August. How open would you call a brand whose online shop is invites-only? An article in Germany‘s leading business magazine BrandEins flagged Clemens en August as due for a major change: to become a proper fashion brand. Please don‘t!

With Clemens en August, something has come to the world of commerce that only existed there as a metaphor before and that would implode as a marketing lie if delivered in any other way: Friendship. The relationship with the brand – that is only available for a few days in the year, if you happen to live in one of the few cities that are on the tour plan – begins with a magic moment when you enter the spartanic pop-up store in an abandoned old warehouse where the new clothes hang on simple iron stands. The founder, Alexander Brenninkmeijer, or his wife will welcome you and show you round the new collection. From maker to wearer. If you buy one of the straight designed and less-than-expected priced pieces, you‘re handed a card with an access code for the web shop. You‘re now a member of the circle, a friend of the family.

It is still an open question whether the system can scale to further growth. There is a natural limit to the physical presence of the founding people, so it will have to change some day soon. If only they don‘t lose the magic somewhere in the margins of a new business model.

Lego. Although David Weinberger has just blogged about how Lego is about to lose touch with its community, the rescue of Mindstorm through collaboration with their customers is still one of the initiation legends of the social web.

The original bricks are still a unique and beautiful piece of design and the happiness that comes from Legos is obviously tactile. Their recent strong reliance on borrowed license worlds like Star Wars seems to have pushed their brand management into a regression. But when I watch my kid play with the stuff, Lego‘s magnetism still comes from the pleasure of stacking one brick on the other in always new ways without tumbling down – which was the original problem solved, the innovation of Lego.

A few of the brands you may be missing, and why …

Apple. Steve Jobs may be the last CEO of his kind. And the brilliance of his products is the only excuse for his sociopathic manners. But that said, Apple is in no way exemplary of anything that will make great brands in the future – (and not just because it’s highly unlikely that your CEO measures up to HIM). The company is an opaque fortress but, for the time being, turns out divine products with a failsafe intuition what make users happy. Let’s see what the future brings.

Pampers. One of the most accessible, interactive brands from Procter & Gamble. But still, the Cincinnati FMCG giant is still too paranoid to do anything close to opening themselves to their community. Their whole strategy of hiding the company behind the brands would crumble in a paradigm of transparency, so I guess we‘ll have to wait a while until we see a real change.

Microsoft. Still proves how big a brand can grow without any customer love. But this might change pretty quickly if they get the BIG things on their roadmap right: like moving office into the cloud; building a better ,finding‘ engine with Bing, together with Yahoo; turning office into true collaboration tools; and discontinue Explorer, as an opportunity to reinvent the browser one distant day.

Coca-Cola. Its strictly centralized system of license controlled local bottlers could keep the brand from having any meaningful kind of customer interaction outside of Atlanta. But I could be wrong.


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