Is our fragmented culture eroding brand strength?

by Nigel Hollis | February 27, 2017

I recently read an article in Market Leader by Judie Lannon titled, ‘Lost in translation: is the digital age weakening brand meanings?’ I think her proposition that cultural fragmentation has eroded brand strength is valid, but in part it has to do with how marketers are using digital media. 

In her article Lannon proposes that brands used to be grounded in a homogeneous culture where gender roles, daily routines, aspirations and status markers were widely recognized across class and region. This commonality allowed brands to build layers of recognizable and shared meaning. Today, she argues society is more heterogeneous, daily life is hectic, aspirations and status markers differ by cohort and segment. There are fewer shared cultural norms and events on which brands can build.

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This may be true but is this fragmentation all the fault of digital? Fragmented media and social channels do make it far easier for people to live in a bubble of like minds, deepening divisions, but to some degree digital is simply enabling behaviors and attitudes that already exist. To my mind Lannon’s suggestion that digital is simply a more precise way to target people and activate sales speaks to the real problem of digital. Marketers are not using digital as effectively as they could.

Lannon concludes her article as follows,

“Brands must have meanings that are shared or they are no more than bald products, destined to fall prey to the value extraction of price competition. And the challenge is not only to identify these meanings but to find ways of embedding them so they become public and widely recognised.”

In the past I would have agreed wholeheartedly that a brand’s shared meaning is important but recent work by Claudio Alvarez has shown that brands have less shared meaning than they have idiosyncratic or personalized meaning. I suspect that this is because personal experience of the brand has more influence on attitudes and behavior than community or cultural meaning, however, that does not negate the additional influence that shared meaning can have for brands.

Do you think that our fragmented culture is undermining the power of brands? If so, what can marketers do about it? Please share your thoughts.

2 comments

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  1. Faris, March 06, 2017
    Hello Nigel! I write about your last point in my book, re socially constructed brands, the mean is at the intersection of my meaning AND the cultural meaning. There must be both - a personal brand is logically inconsistent, to my mind, like a personal language. 
  2. Balkar, February 28, 2017
    Yes, there're niche segments deep within fragmented media, which have negative perception for brands like Apple - far from positive influence, people define things in a negative manner. We may choose to call them "Trolls" but they're real in terms of perception. No product fits every segment, and Apple doesn't needs to be everywhere as well - however, it could be speed of making the positive nodes, earlier than the negative trolls kick in. Curious to know how could one predict it however.

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