Hero Brands, Part I - The rise of brands as respected leaders

October 14, 2009

Having had one of the big “oh” birthdays this year, I’ve reached an age at which I find myself reflecting on how the world has changed since I was a kid. One thing that has struck a chord with me is how much we follow and look to big companies for new ideas. Brands have become our heroes.

google einstein
Photo by dannysullivan / CC 2.0

When I was growing up, important individuals were celebrated. In grade school we learned about Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein… the list goes on. We viewed these people as the true source of invention and world-changing innovation. As often as not, big companies were objects of derision and satire. Lilly Tomlin, as Ernestine the telephone operator on TV’s _Laugh-In_, summed it up nicely: “We’re the phone company. We don’t care. We don’t have to.” But today, we’ve come to accept that the next great invention in consumer electronics will probably come from Apple. We look to Google to redefine how we use and gain value from the Internet. We’re not only comfortable with mega-brands like these being the source of ideas that will change our lives, we’ve actually come to expect it. The devotion of the followers and the intensity of interest is almost frightening… every Apple event has live, moment-by-moment reporting from the audience, complete with photos. Certain brands that have established themselves as true innovators – those that actually do deliver genuinely new ideas, as opposed to the overused “innovator” label that is rarely more than a buzzword – have to a great extent taken over the mantle of respected leadership in our consciousness. We no longer look to brilliant individuals to lead us and drive progress as much as we once did. Instead, we look to corporations. Think about it… everybody knows who invented the telephone, the light bulb and the airplane. Do you know who invented the mp3 player? (No, it wasn’t Steve Jobs!) The search engine? Yet we can all readily name the brands that are most closely associated with those inventions: Apple and Google. While it’s tempting to wax nostalgic and wish for the good old days when iconoclastic visionaries were seen as the source of great change, I don’t necessarily think the shift in our perceptions is a bad thing. It’s a different world, but it’s still full of exciting new ideas. What do you think? Do you perceive certain brands in this way? And if so, do you think that represents an opportunity? In my next entry I’ll take a closer look at a couple of brands – a “hero” and a “zero” and discuss what’s behind their perceptions.

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