my turn


Brands of A Certain Age

The dreaded mid-life crisis: the stuff of jokes and stereotypes. A numerical milestone when inevitable self-reflection takes place: What have I accomplished? Am I still relevant? No, I'm not talking 50th birthdays, but it’s an apt analogy. Rather, this is a modern tale of the lifespan of a brand, for they, too, reach a “certain age" where self-reflection and reinvention is critical for survival.

The global economy and its global consumers have all matured to where there’s a greater transparency to the game. Every consumer knows – or feels they know – the dynamics of marketing, and that is causing brands to wonder who they are. 

The reality for Brands of a Certain Age is: The people have spoken, and you don’t mean what you once did.

I say this based on a new study we did, mapping consumer sentiment to uncover the connections people felt with some of the world’s biggest brands in markets both emerging and mature. We found that people in countries with long-established consumer spending power – like Japan, the UK and the USA – feel less connected with brands than those in emerging markets.



Diving deeper, we also found that brands operating in more developed consumer economies are less likely to forge meaningful relationships with customers than those in emerging markets. In fact, half of those British, Japanese and U.S. respondents reported indifference towards some of the best-known brands in their markets.

The study characterized brands in the context of personal relationships. Our respondents paralleled their feelings towards huge brands by types of interpersonal relationship. Basically, do you they see brands as a family member, friend, acquaintance or enemy? And over half (54%) of respondents in Britain would not consider brands as any more than an acquaintance. In Japan and the United States, 55% and 45% respectively, have that emotional distance.

And 20% of U.S. respondents cite enemy or arch-rival as the most analogous to their brand relationships. Yikes.

Want sunnier news? The mature markets’ attitude is in stark contrast to emerging economies, such as Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines, where more than a third of those questioned would consider these brands as a member of their own family. In the Philippines, for example, 70% consider their relationship with brands to be friendships or stronger.

So, now the question that comes with any identity crisis: How do I move forward?

The answer does not lie in trying to reclaim your glory days. Getting a toupee is just going to remind people that you’re not who you once were. You also can’t just use a bright shiny object to define who you are. Just as owning a beautiful sports car doesn’t recreate a person, it doesn’t flatter your brand to be yelling, “MOBILE! SOCIAL! SNAPCHAT!,” just for the sake of proving you’re still with it.

Better to go the direction of people who want real change: reinvent by moving in a new direction. Be true to what you’ve always been but find new ways to expand. Like the grown adult who always loved art who decides to go back to school to finally study new techniques. Learn new insights about yourself and evolve your brand experience to surpass the value that’s expected of you. 

In this environment of distracting, trendy tactics, knowing the strategic core of your brand becomes more important than ever. More and more, that strategy – your character – will live not in what you say, but in what you do.

One more urgent finding: a clear wane in brand affection among Millennials. Globally, those who see brands as the closest to them are in the 25-31-year-old bracket; this drops a considerable five points in the 18–24 bracket. For the generation raised with an understanding of marketing, you need to provide more meaning than ever before.

The light at the end of the tunnel here is the opportunity that you can and must mean something new and different for people now, especially the next generation, to mean something to them. When you do, you will be rewarded with increased sentiment, and the qualities of personal relationships like loyalty and personal interaction. 

The key to future happiness is to craft your total brand experience across every single element of contact with people, and to ensure your brand’s real identity shines through in actions and value – and not the flash and rhetoric mature markets tire of. And all markets, mature and emerging, will be there when your crisis is over—if you play it smart.

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