To anyone involved in brand-building, it’s pretty clear—if not shockingly obvious—that we’re in the midst of a tectonic shift in the nature of brands. One sign of this upheaval is that slowly but surely, the glory days of the brand icon model are drawing to a close. Everywhere you look, famed icon brands are increasingly isolated, or in danger of toppling from their pedestals. Yet, while this is certainly bad news for those brands affected, it’s by no means the end of brands, or of great brands.
Icon brands point backward, not forward
What’s evident is that the icon brand model wasn’t made for the new market landscapes now emerging. For decades, the “brand-as-icon” was the ideal, the brand raised aloft to be revered, commanding rapt attention and radiating context from atop its pedestal. In today’s flattish, interactive world, however, icon brands point backward, not forward. A brand that sets itself high above customers separates itself from customer input, energy and direction. It can easily set itself up for a fall.
Pedestals lock you in place
Note, too, that pedestals lock you in place. Thus, it’s no surprise that icon brands are now often being outpaced by customers. Customers have dozens of brand choices, and can create their own brand value via collaboration, co-creation and social networks. At the same time, once-dominant icons are being out-innovated by upstart players who thrive on customer connections. These new firms can deliver new forms of brand value in weeks, not decades.
Some icons will shatter, but most will survive
In the present seismic turmoil some notable brand icons will hit ground and shatter. But many more will realize that there’s little advantage to being perched on a pedestal in the first place. (Indeed: being on the pedestal is part of the problem.) Brands can redirect themselves in mid-air and land safely on brand platforms, a far better foundation.
From brand icon model to brand iteration model
What we’re witnessing is a monumental change in brand models and brand paradigms. Brands are migrating from the lofty icon model to a customer-grounded brand iteration model. The latter is characterized by the ability to rapidly prototype, test, and iterate new brand initiatives to deliver new forms of customer value. The brand appears as a value stream, rather than an object. Brand program iterations enable brand pacing. They also can produce multiplier effects because they’re structured as architectures of participation. They can tap into customer intelligence and energy to create new brand initiatives from below.
Brands focused on iterating customer value won’t need to preen themselves as icons. They’ll be too busy creating customers.
A dynamic platform strategy plus robust brand iteration is quite in evidence here.
More vital and less iconic
The current challenge for icon brands is to get off their pedestals and get down to business. The brand icons that manage to survive will be those that reinvent themselves to be more vital and less iconic. In fashion, Coach has shown a way forward from its iconic plain leather purses. The ultra-plaid-iconic Burberry, once hit hard by the anti-icon “chav” embarrassment, faced a more daunting task, but has transformed itself into a powerfully nimble brand, especially through social media.
From timeless icons to timely iteration
On another front, Apple exemplifies the shift from timeless icons to timely iteration. Apple is vigorously reinventing itself (and its customers) out of the traditional computer business, music business, phone business and publishing business. Ever notice how Apple seems to make things happen while its iconic competitors sit dumbly on their hands?
There’s a reason why most “icons” are symbols of the past. Maybe Apple is on to something.
Iconic brands and iconic brand experiences
Today we create brands as experiences, not as fixed objects. We don’t simply program a brand experience as “iconic” and then walk away. We monitor every aspect of it and change it often, curating it rather than sticking it on a shelf. It’s a hands-on experience from the customer side and from ours, iterative in every respect. The “iconic” brand experience is never allowed to become an icon.
Create iconic customers instead of iconic brands
As a brand builder, if you still wish to create the iconic brand (pedestal and all), be aware that iconic brand mechanisms (especially those of the top-down, command and control variety) often impede brand innovation at the customer level. The iconic approach comes with a rigid icon attitude that resists change, plus a full-body cast that minimizes customer touch.
Personally, I think we’d all be better off if we tried to create iconic customers instead of iconic brands. That approach puts brands on the right footing. We position customers to win, and win with them—pedestals be damned.
Top photo: Andreas Tille, Wikimedia Commons