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Piers Fawkes, PSFK
Piers Fawkes, PSFK on November 5, 2004. @piers_fawkes

Take a look at American Apparel. Look at their growing success, look at their product lines, look at their staffing policies, look at their stance on suppliers. They are a living breathing modern brand led by Dov Charney.

Brands are not declining; they’re just churning over like they always did. We spend too much time watching the brands we know. The ones who offer a valuable experience remain relevant to consumers; the vast majority fail to constantly offer such an experience and are soon forgotten. Ever laughed at the copy on an ad for an old cigarette brand? Is the fact that we don’t smoke that brand of cigarettes a sign that brands are declining or a sign that cigarettes are no longer relevant today?

We all remain loyal to brands and we always will. It becomes personal – why don’t I care about Tivo but I love brands like Typepad, Kid Robot and Gawker? Customers aren’t becoming fickle at all – we’re just having relationships with the brand experiences that are relevant to us on a personal level. Zara may be an amazing business case-study but the store is still pretty homogenous as it sits side by side with the other retailers on New York’s Broadway in SoHo. Before Zara we had Top Shop and before Top Shop there was Chelsea Girl.

I agree, Brands cannot go on trying to fool people. We at PSFK have always argued that brands must become valuable and valid experiences for consumers. The reason why we get these Google-researched sound-bite articles from Surowiecki is that brands have failed to live up to their promise; they have failed to provide the experience. Why have Mary J Blige with Madonna on an ad for the GAP when the experience of entering a GAP store is a million miles from dancing with the stars at London’s Met Bar.

Sure it may appear to “Prada can still command a heft price premium” but Surowiecki fails to learn from the intricacies of the brand’s relationship with customers. Sure they have some nice ads and some shows but I argue that Prada’s relationship is primarily built with its target market (and note, when I say target market that’s not me or you) through their stores’ Account Managers. These guys create an intimate relationship between the customer and the brand. They spend $30,000 on the latest range for a client without her knowing because the Account Managers know their needs. What a brand experience!

Visibility through “the crush of magazines, Web sites, message boards” is not a challenge to brands – it’s an amazing opportunity to connect for brands to connect to their customers. Digital is one of the most exciting mediums to enhance the brand experience. Prada doesn’t have a website. Never did. But Prada creates valuable experiences with their activities with their Americas Cup work on the web.

And the web helps deliver another aspect of the relationship and experience. Prada has always relied on the power of networks. I would argue that Prada doesn’t give ‘a monkeys’ for mere, mere mortals like you and me. They have no website to let us gawp at the price of their clothes. Why do we all worship at the temple of Louis Vitton and Prada then? Because of influencers, because of WOM, because people in the know rave about them – and the web suddenly multiplies this effect. How can brands be in decline when many of us have crave the brands that net-gurus like Josh Rubin recommended? Josh exemplifies one of the key opportunities the digital age offers brands.

Surowiecki arguments don’t all hold up either. He combats Krispy Kreme with Atkins. Atkins? Atkins was a fad, a faux brand. It’s a logo on a box, on a book. Brands like Atkins made Surowiecki wrote his article, made Naomi Klein write her book. We’re not in the middle of a health boom, we’re in the middle of an indulgence boom! Ask Starbucks with their Chantico, ask Pizza Hut with their extra large family pizzas. Been to the ‘burbs lately, Surowiecki? People love the brands that know them and offer them the experience they want.

And as for calling Coke a ‘perennial’? Coke is the classic example where the brand has lost touch with its market. Coke is an old geezer. The kid’s don’t like Coke like we did. In fact, everyone who loves Coke will be six feet under within 20 years. They’ll be putting Coke ads in museums beside those cigarette ads before we know it.

Sure, Surowiecki cites better products helped Nike, Gillette and Disney’s success. It wasn’t the better products – it was because the company lived and breathed their brand values and therefore created better products.. Nike was and is about perseverance and today everything American Apparel does is about liberty.

Let us kill all this misunderstanding about branding: Long live living and breathing the brand!

Wired Article

Seth Godin Comment

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