On Global Branding as an Old Paradigm

After a discussion about global branding, I shared the following e-mail with my conversation partners:

Lest you thought my comment about “global branding as an old paradigm” was an ill-considered rant (and it may have still been), I thought I’d share the following two articles which were distributed by the US based New Rules Project and which I Tweeted yesterday. In what I’m saying I am not necessarily mounting an anti-branding, anti-corporate or even anti-global-reach argument per se. Instead I’m expressing a worry from biological, philosophical, theological and experiential perspectives. And that worry is that when an approach or system becomes so dominant (in this case a saturation of world business by a large institutional monoculture), we begin to see life denying consequences. Equally we begin to see attempts to reverse those consequences (good and bad), which is what this branding shift is all about.

The articles relate to a thing called “stealth strategy” being adopted by some major corporates. It’s about the rollback of traditional branding practices, particularly in some of the retail stores these corporates operate. This not only means that physical branding artefacts are abandoned (no corporate naming, no corporate signage) but also in some cases that the McDonalds style “standardisation of process” is abandoned. The delivery of the same cheeseburger worldwide is not as high on the success-factor list as it was sometime back.

Here are the articles…..

In a video recording made of me a couple of years ago (towards the end of the video) I noted the coming of this change in corporate circles. As I said those words I was specifically thinking about the development of a community banking model by one Australian bank and a “local” rebranding of some branches by one of Australia’s big four banks. There are both negatives and (at their best) positives of these developments. On the positive side of the coin there is some chance for the business to be somewhat authentic and contextual to local place and for retention of resource in local places. On the negative side there can be cynical manipulation or creation of confusion about whether something is truly local, where the value is made and where it stays and who is truly involved in the business. I worry particularly about the local rebranding by the big four bank that I mentioned above. I see in it some attempt to confuse customers as to how local something really is.

Nevertheless, the point of all this is that we are at the thin edge of the wedge of this change. In a post-Occupy world the giant edifice of “global, non-relational and ultimately unknown” is cracking (I suspect not only in traditional business circles but in others, including the non-profit sector). It’s not something that will be tolerated – by an increasing number of people. When people ask whether “Occupy” achieved anything (as mechanical a question as that might be) you can point to things like this as evidence that the “local / authentic / contextual” paradigm is edging into the mainstream. Some of the results of that will be cynical and manipulative. But maybe it will get even more people asking the question “Is this authentic?” and encourage more initiatives that are truly local and contextual to claim their important place and name their difference.

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