Brands: Do they matter in the 21st Century?

According to the Wall Street Journal, consumers are increasingly turning to store brands for things like groceries, toilet paper, and laundry detergent. Boomers, recently retired or hoping to do so soon, are looking for ways to save. And so are avocado toast-loving Millenials too, apparently.

Brandless: The Brand without a Brand

Hoping to take advantage of this trend, Brandless is selling products like hand soap and sea salt quinoa chips for $3 on their website. There’s no advertising. No brand. You get it.

The idea is that by cutting out unnecessary marketing costs, the company can deliver products to consumers at rock-bottom prices.

And yet, Brandless still is a brand. Your brand is something that exists whether you want it to or not. You can influence what people think about your brand or you can let them decide what the brand stands for on their own. Brandless recognizes this. Just look at their “About Us” page:

Brandless Has a Brand

Brandless has a brand. They just don’t want to admit it.

Another Brand that Claims not to Have a Brand

Brands Without Brands

Brands today are shrugging off who they are—as if that’s not important. Of course it is.

A Great Brand is a Sign of Internal Greatness

Brands are more than just great marketing—they’re a way of signaling to customers the internal culture of a company. As Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh argues, “a company’s culture and a company’s brand are just two sides of the same coin.” A brand is the external communication of an internal culture.

The term “culture” may conjure up images of Google employees riding bicycles around an idyllic Silicon Valley campus. But culture is just the way a company does what it does. It’s the combination of explicit procedures and unwritten rules for doing things.

As AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky has pointed out, cultures can be strong or weak. At a minimum, companies need to know their reason for being. What does the company do?

A Company That Knows Who They Are and What They Do

Brands in the 21st Century

Hey Look, Journalism Brands Are Leading the Way to the Future

It’s no secret that the journalism industry has been going through tough times. In fact, they’ve struggled for decades. But news outlets have found success in differentiating themselves from their competitors.’s Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein has remarked:

In fact, I thought media brands were probably becoming less important as content disaggregated and moved around socially. It turned out they were getting more important, and that along the way, we were able to define a pretty clear one.

When I log onto I know what I’m getting: left-leaning analysis, helpful explainers, and occasional wonky long-form pieces. With FiveThirtyEight, I’m getting politics and sports analysis told with quantitative rigor.

There’s room for brands in the 21st century. But only brands who truly know who they are and what they do. If they don’t have a story to tell, they should be prepared to be replaced.

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