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De-Fictionalizing The Future of Brands

Imaginary Made Real

Rob Walker, the author and former NYT Magazine “Consumed” columnist, is one of my favorite brand thinkers. In my opinion, his various works have pushed public discourse on our relationships with brands as far as anyone currently in the industry. Significant Objects, one notable initiative, paired writers with interesting objects to create fictional stories about that object – to later be sold on Ebay. The result is a fascinating look at how the meaning we attach to objects affects their value.

Respirer, a brand of Luxury Air shown at Rob Walker’s As Real As It Gets

Most recently, Rob curated an exhibit at Tribeca’s apexart titled As Real As It Gets that collected “fictional products, imaginary brands, hypothetical advertising and speculative objects, devised by artists, designers, and companies” into a fictional souvenir shop setting. The show was designed to flip the conventional notion that all brands are essentially imagined ideas. Instead, it challenged us to think about how today, more than ever, imagined things can become very real. As part of the project, Walker also hosted a pair of MakerBot tutorials for participants to learn how to use 3D printing to create their own imaginary brands and products– one session for children ages 7-12 and the second open to all ages.

The driving thought behind As Real As it Gets – how imaginary brands and fake products can hit real emotions and get de-fictionalized into existence – is one that should inspire today’s large organizations to leverage their brands as innovation tools. In today’s age of cheap production, rapid prototyping can help to better imagine, illustrate and assess future possibilities. Just as Walker does, marketers must employ our newfound technological capabilities to rapidly de-fictionalize the future of brands. Making our conceptual ideas physical helps us to more easily understand how they will be used, digested and shared. And, in turn, it allows us to push our thinking further.

Makerbot & Maker Brands

Now we can make the Long Tail of Things—perhaps not yet with the same production quality as mass-market fare, but far better tailored for their owner (who also happens to be their maker) and wildly creative.  – Chris Anderson, Wired


Kids surround a Makerbot.
Credit: Bre Pettis

Chris Anderson recently declared that the 3D printer will democratize production the way the web did media. He sees an alternative to the existing mass-production model emerging; one that leverages existing cloud manufacturing services like Ponoko to initiate a new industrial revolution. As we work through the current business impact of Digital Natives entering adulthood, Anderson speaks about a future generation of Mechanical Natives mass producing their own imagined products on demand– citing his own kids adoption of their home Makerbot as early evidence.

Ubiquitous desktop manufacturing is obviously still a ways out, but Kickstarter is already demonstrating how a community of indie makers is emerging as a legitimate threat to incumbents across industries new and old. Big business would be smart to start taking notes, taking names (for talent purposes) and adopting the values of this group.

Big Brand Futures

In a world of endless choice, the recognizable consumer brands that Fortune 500 companies possess remain a huge asset. Just as great product ideas can inspire breakthrough brand ideas, strong brands can spark remarkable product concepts. The key to harnessing this equity is first understanding the consumer and cultural licenses these brands afford, then quickly and creatively exploring these opportunity spaces. As product and marketing innovation converge, leadership must empower multi-disciplinary teams to experiment within these brand territories with more of the indie make & bake approach.

A great product has always been the best form of marketing- and this is truer today then ever. But the most successful products go far beyond function. Winning products have stories, social cues, and larger purpose baked in. Breakthrough products champion breakthrough ideas– the sum of product and brand greater than the parts. Amidst hyper-fragmentation, clutter and commoditization, bringing product and marketing thinking together earlier in the innovation process is the foundation for success.

De-Fictionalizing Tomorrow  

Seth Godin has dubbed it the ‘end of the industrial economy’. As manufacturing goes the way of the web, tomorrow’s generation will breed armies of great product artists and entrepreneurs that make today’s cluttered consumer landscape feel like an Apple store. Like the music and publishing conglomerates before them, large producers will increasingly face competitive threats from a growing number of small parties and individuals. Big consumer goods firms must evolve or die. The indie brands, products and talent of tomorrow are starting to look a lot less imaginary.

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This entry was posted on February 13, 2013 by in His Nurture Posts and tagged , , , , , .

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