Monday, May 11, 2009

Talking to Michael Cayley

Since publishing my ChangeThis manifesto, I've had the chance to speak to some great folks - including a call and follow up repartee with Toronto thought leader ( Social Value Capital Add and memetic brand) Michael Cayley.

Michael has characterized the new mediascape as IAM – "Individual as Medium", where shared perception is shifting from channel-based to social-network-infrastructure-based.

Today, messaging that tries to sublimate the target with the might of the message and its image quickly becomes obnoxious to us. Branding of this type, which I will call conventional branding, runs counter to the new sense of freedom that user controlled media delivers on. In short, this won't work. The power of the symbolic brand must make room for the power of the brand's actual social capital.

The symbolic brand will stay on as an important signifier on the supermarket aisle: we’ll continue to reach for reliable brands on the market shelf, and reject ones that we think deliver less value.

The message that lies as the heart of my paper, 'Built to Fade' is this: possibly the most egregious application of conventional branding is on supposedly “green” products. If green has to do with attention to the environment, the displacement of actual engagement with the spin of the me-brand embrace is a major disjoin; the resulting sanctimoniousness that comes with being a green “buyer” is a disjoin too. When conventional symbolic branding is applied to green products the result in the market is cynicism, and a tarnished brand. Green companies are better off exploring a different tack; those that manage the transition in messaging will blaze a successful trail.

It's natural to reach for all kinds of sedatives to sublimate our unease. Distributed networks can be this drug, as much as television, with their own promise of pseudo belonging. Companies that capitalize on our wish to live unexamined lives will do so, but this capitalization is not the same as the earned, long term trust that reliable brands will earn.

Michael notes in SCVA, that “Human capital is the primary source of competitive intangible earnings for today’s corporations.” It could be said that Social Capital Value Add has to do with the accumulation of social merit.

The brands that we reach for or are willing to pay more now have to be authentically aligned with social values, as opposed to arbitrary values dreamed up by some marketer. In the context of the environmental crisis that we face, "zero is the new black" will have, in the words of Michael Cayley, incredible memetic qualities. Looking for comapanies to explore this new aesthetic with. Michael is too.

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