11/27/2012 12:03 EST | Updated 01/27/2013 05:12 EST

Have We Traded Our Iconic Brands for One Hit Wonders?

In the real-time Web, the value of branding could become a game of diminishing returns.

A friend recently told me that he's nervous about Apple and their ability to deliver products that people can't get enough of. It seems like a ridiculous statement, doesn't it? Then again, one look at your investments and you may think otherwise. The speed with which our world now lives could well put an end to the world of iconic brands. Before all of this connectivity, a great brand could stand the test of time. Books like Built To Last by Jim Collins created blueprints for a company that could last forever. Investment advisors would have you invest your money in companies for the long haul. How often have you sat down with a financial planner and they spoke about investing in a company for over 20 years? It wasn't that long ago, that this type of thinking made rational and frugal sense.

It now seems like insanity.

Do you think Apple will continue to be as strong, powerful and resilient in 20 year's time? Ask the folks at RIM (BlackBerry) what that type of event horizon now feels like. Does it make any sense that Kodak implodes around the same time that Instagram is bought by Facebook for one billion dollars (give or take a buck or two)?

Do we think that Chrysler will have what it takes to be relevant in 20 years? It's easy to chalk up the brand disasters that we have see to poor management or a lack of innovation, but at a macro level it just seems like the pendulum is swinging with faster momentum. From a media perspective, we all know that what's hot today may well be cold tomorrow. From a Twitter perspective, what's hot right now may be cold before dinner.

An over-dramatization to make a point.

Sure, Apple could still be relevant in 20 years and yes, Facebook may very well be the place where we're all connected, but the ability for a brand to have a enduring legacy looks less likely as the speed with which consumer interest evolves. As media people, this is a trend that should both fascinate and terrify us. It gives room for new and interesting players (fascinating) while killing off brands we would consider iconic in short order (terrifying). So, this raises two important question:

  1. What is a brand worth?
  2. Can we value brands on a forward-looking model.

A brand has value... today.

Perhaps we have to re-imagine (to steal turn of phrase from Tom Peters) how we define value in the now economy. Perhaps we have to agree (and accept) that the brand of today may not be the brand of tomorrow and prescribing value can't be done by looking 20 years into the future, because the pace of change and disruption is increasingly happening faster and faster.

We can all admire the work that brands like Apple, Starbucks, Red Bull and more have created and continue to nurture, but perhaps these brands will disappear into our ether, having been relevant for a brief moment in history. What this could mean is that more and more brands fill these voids over less and less time. So, will memory serve or fail us in terms of brand perception?

The Beatles were iconic. Some may argue that Nirvana was iconic too. Do you believe that any of the musicians today that we admire will be able to leave this kind of legacy? As "Gangnam Style" becomes the most viewed video of all time on YouTube, do we believe that Psy becomes an iconic brand, a one hit wonder or just an indicator that the world of iconic brands may have seen their final days? Why not prescribe that same kind of thinking to business? Perhaps a great run for a company that lasts a decade or two won't qualify them for iconic status.

The end of iconic brands.

When I think about the end of iconic brands -- which I believe will become a reality -- I realize that with it, comes a natural thought that this means we cannot invest too deeply in a company's future. This, is where the true rub lies. This type of thinking (no matter how salient or foolish) spells a very scary story for the stock market. Not the stock market of today that is littered with high speed algorithms making most of the trades happen in milliseconds, but for the true stock market of tomorrow that is counting on the rise of the iconic brands for the wealth of nations.

What do you think? Will our future have iconic brands or simply a mass of companies that made good money during a short period of time?

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. HIs first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His next book, CTRL ALT DEL, will be published in Spring 2013.

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