Andy Warhol laid claim to the democratization of fame. Now that social networks like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and MySpace have given everyone their “15 minutes” and more, it’s become a new game: managing your role as media moguls. As everyone with a Web site and blog becomes their own media outlet, there’s now a gazillion markets of one.
Branding evolved as a way to capitalize on the power of the mass market. Because so few had access to the masses, it was realistic to create mega brands through advertising on a few media channels. Large companies could actually convince us how great they and their products were. Now, everyone’s in the media business and familiar with the Immutable Laws of Marketing and influencing consumers has moved quickly from direct to influencer-based.
Critics have always filled an important role in popular culture, helping consumers navigate the miasma of options of just about every product there is. Rating systems like Zagat’s Guide, Wine Advocate and Consumer Reports helped institutionalize the role of ‘experts.’ Now, every consumer is a critic, able to get their opinion distributed, and able to have an effect.
Blogs are now the center of a new form of evaluation of everything from sites to journalism itself, helping recreate a tribal society where we interact in real time with members of affinity groups. Traditional brands have become less effective as a new genre of “Blink” consumers decide what products and services to buy, not because they love the brand but because they heard about it from their social network or were trained to use it by the provider. As markets splinter into subgroups, affinity groups, niches and market segments, branding has become a custom business, dependent on managing perceptions through networks.
The implication for branding is clear. Brands need to be geared more toward helping people make choices, not about making claims. Differentiation has become a job of education and training. Apple stores aren’t staffed by sales people. They’re consultants, helping consumers navigate and use their products better. It’s become instruction-based sales, so that each customer is now ‘trained’ to use a particular platform. Getting thumbs up from blogmiesters also requires more attention to these ‘influencers.’ Bloggers are the new press. These armchair media moguls need to be treated like they matter. Because they do.