system two

system two
start-up thinking in the enterprise

Monday, 14 July 2008

Religion, Darwin and the speed of change for brands online



The cynic in me is hearing the words but barely able to believe it. Bush has to NATIONALIZE a financial institution - WTF???

The US state. The home of the "free" market whose central tenant is the belief the market can solve all ills has to nationalize a bank.

Tee, hee....

Anyway, we digress.

Driving away from one of the most bone crushingly awful christenings I've yet to have the displeasure of attending. Complete with music on CD introduction and a call to renounce the devil (for thoughts on organised religion Richard Dawkins pretty much covers it here.) a random and wandering thought struck me.

Does the relative speed at which the religion "brand" blew up, have any implications for the online world today?

Premise 1: Organized religion is a brand. Not a new idea, but one that bears repeating. In a nutshell - a lot of people spent a lot of money (and time, nearly 2000 years) associating the image of a cross with meaning to convince people to swap their hard earned cash for forgiveness.

Premise 2: Religion brand was chugging along very nicely for most of its 2000 year period, "saving" souls and generally doing (cough) good works - and making a tidy pile of $$ by the by, when a young, biologist called Darwin (or rather Spencer - lets not go there) pulls the pieces of a very ancient jigsaw puzzle together and points out (in the absence on Mendelian genetics - which in itself is extraordinary) that it looks very much like a gradual evolution of species might have occurred, and this could possibly have taken place without "you know who" - with the beard - upstairs.

Premise 3: Religion brand, within the space of 200 years (10% of its overall lifetime) collapses. Almost overnight organized god bothering goes into terminal decline and is reduced to absurd, toe curlingly embarrassing rituals like the one I just attended.

The relative speed with which the wheels came off the religious brand cart is in itself surprising.

Even more interesting. As the wheels flew off, the disintegration process seems to have accelerated. Can we learn anything from this?

For as long as modern brands have been around we (brand) tell you (the consumer) what messages and concepts to associate with our name.

But now, and only just very recently, that concept has been turned on its head. Now we (consumers) are telling you (brand) what messages and concepts we'll associate with your brand. We’ll let you participate in the conversation, you can direct and suggest, but ultimately we're going to make the decision.

My sense is that we're reaching a tipping point. A point where ideas of community, free thinking and participation that were bubbling in the online world for 15 years, start to coalesce and take shape.

The birth of the Internet was the Darwin moment for brands where overnight, the status quo blew up. In relative terms then brands might need to change very fast, very soon.

Of course large, abrupt change isn't always welcome. If we draw on another 18th century political theorists Edmund Burke would be worried. He was all about gradual change. Darwin could be seen to harness some of his thoughts in his own theory. For Burke only gradual, non cataclysmic, calm, measured change would do.

Are more turbulent times around the corner for brands?

Feels like it and I guess at heart I'm with Edmund, that's probably why I am so fascinated by what is happening with them online and why I probably shouldn't be laughing as Bush Nationalizes banks.....

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