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Brand Thoughts: Social Objects, Markers vs. Using Media to Define Ourselves

1000+ is staring at me in my Google Reader from several labels, another new year’s resolution that didn’t make it past January. I really had planned on staying on top of my feeds this year. I had marked out time on my calendar, everyday, a couple of times a day, just to stay on top of my feeds. Oh well.

So I just got into digging  Social Objects and Markers idea from Hugh MacLeod. While I’m not sure the idea is new, I like his phrasing, context and language to describe the his thoughts/idea. In his post on Social Markers he ends with -“if the product your company makes is not a Social Marker, I guess the first question would be, “Why the hell not?” Quit your job and start over.”

Living in the world of working on brand communications, my first thought was, there it is again – “product“, not brand. Consumer talk “product” and the social marker/object is the context that creates intangible brand. That context helps people define and relate themselves to one another. For some, these ideas may not be new nor revolutionary. But as I sit around people (metaphorically, relax office mates) who talk about communicating “brand” all day, it is funny how we miss that “product” is the actual social marker/discussion point, not “brand”. Something we should keep in mind when creating brand messages. This is all pretty easy to understand with a niche brand like Harley Davidson. Talking, wearing, riding anything Harley – I have an idea of who you are. I struggle with it on larger brands, more commodity brand.  Valeria Maltoni referenced Coke in the comments on my last post, I’m not sure that Coke is a strong social marker because of the universal usage of Coke. I don’t have any idea who you are because you drink Coke. Everybody drinks Coke. Now Pepsi on the other hand…

Then started to think about, I wonder if media saturation is diluting the power of brands/physical goods? I recalled Johnnie Moore’s post of Mark Ramsey interviewing Watts Wacker. The idea that we are now defining ourselves by our media consumption, not physical goods. That media content makes a stronger social marker. In my mind, it makes since. For brands it is slightly disturbing. I personally (and I know I don’t represent the majority, or even more than 1 person) don’t completely judge a person on what he/she is owning. Because I know anybody can where a Polo shirt, buy a fancy handbag on credit or love Harley Davidson motorcycles in your spare time. But the product/brand social marker context is weak for me. I know more of who you are and the context of who you are as a liberal because you admit to reading Dailykos everyday.

So how can we make “product”/physical goods (and then a brand) relevant as a social marker again? Besides a time machine back to 1982? I think Rohit’s brand personality is going to be key. With brand personality, the brand is going to need to make some media content choices as social markers (I know, I’m starting to use brand pretty loosely). The media content the brand offers becomes a social marker  for consumers of the product and as a social object (if I’m understanding social objects/markers correctly).  I can see this effecting both placement and content of a brand message.

Not to end this abruptly, but it is lunch time and might need to sort this out a bit more.  Your ideas/comments/2 cents welcome.