Who owns your brand?

More than half of Apple’s book value is attributable to the brand. Not the fixed assets, not the tangibles you can count, not the numbers that fill the annual report and get ticked off by the auditors.

More than half the value is in the intangibles, in what people feel the company is worth. Same goes for any corporation, political party, line extension. The value contained in the brand is the biggest contributor to its inherent wealth.

But who owns that wealth, that value? Corporations automatically presume it belongs to them. But actually it has nothing to do with them. The value is created by the perceptions of the consumers. It’s the consumers who create the market, generate the value.

Errgh, consumers. What an ugly word. Its modern usage can be put down to American government economists who first started tracking the Consumer Price Index in 1919. In the economic sense it means one who uses up goods or articles. Just sitting there, sucking ‘em up. It’s not a very honorable word. It actually comes for the 15th Century to describe someone who squanders or wastes.

Customers is not much better. How about people? Let’s stop looking at them as morose consumers and demographics. Let’s start referring to them as people. It’s a good first step in treating them right.

Because they now have the power. They make the brand. They make the value.

They’re your true stakeholders. So why doesn’t the value and benefits of your brand accrue to them? Accrue to society at large? Accrue to future generations?

Why does a corporation retain all the value generated by the market? Why doesn’t it flow back to the market? After all, it belongs there. It belongs to the people.

Your brand is not what you say it is. Sorry to pop your bubble. Your brand is what they say it is.

Your brand is our brand. (Alex Bogusky, Rob Schuham and John Bielenberg are doing some interesting work in this space with Common. They’re pushing for a collaborative community brand that can house any category, product or service that solves social problems. One brand to serve them all. With justice and equality.)

This is not left-wing talk, or some sort of new-age socialism. This is the natural evolution of capitalism.

Marshall McLuhan reminds us that technologies are not simply inventions which people employ but are the means by which people are reinvented.

The industrial age is giving way to the connected age. We are reinventing ourselves. We are no longer widgets on a production line. We make media, we make connections, we make meaning and we make value.

We are moving away from consuming to creating.

And we want a slice of what we’re making.

It’s only fair.

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