There was a time when markets were wonderful places – cauldrons of haggling and laughter, where butchers, bakers, cooks and tailors plied their trades side by side. They were places teeming with life, tangible and real. Souks, bazaars and old market halls are now fixtures in all good city break itineraries, sandwiched between visits to archaeological excavations and museums. Berlin, Paris and Barcelona are doing everything in their power to preserve them as tourist attractions. Relics of a time when the market was still a market.
Despite being proudly adorned with the prefix “super”, even the supermarket around the corner is no longer a market in the real sense of the word. Discussions about the Mortadella or the ripeness of an avocado are in short supply, not to mention the passion and feelings otherwise attached to the experience. Online marketplaces take it one step further. And the financial markets, equipped with the power to make such a lasting impact on our lives, are anonymous places, virtual and remote. They work away without us, the exchange of money and goods – the essence of what makes a market – now placed in the “invisible hands” of algorithms.
We have become mere observers, spellbound by graphs plotting the development of stock prices or the value of a derivative. We withdraw our cash at ATMs and pay for goods with online banking. And as we do so, the sense of unease grows. We crave the real, the authentic and the trustworthy – and the rarer this becomes, the more we desire it.
The conversations that once took place between buyers and sellers have long since taken on different forms, moving elsewhere in the process. Discussions now take place between the buyers themselves, debating purchasing experiences online and offline, soaking in information and messages, commenting and sharing. Buyers have emancipated themselves and created their own system. The warm greeting and firm handshake, the enthusiasm and loyalty, the desire and trust – everything that plays a role in purchases has taken on a life of its own. It circulates, abstract from any discussion with a seller who we no longer see, created and turned over in our minds and bellies, ensuring that, despite everything, we always think we know what we want and why we want it.
This is the world of the brand.
A world constructed within the minds of the buyers.
Nowadays we don’t just opt for a product, we opt for a meta-product – something that is more important than the car, the smartphone or even the box of pasta. The loss of authenticity has created a double, and this double is increasingly filling the gap left behind by the disappearance of the market as it once was. It offers us orientation, trust, feelings and a sense of belonging – and it does so using every trick in the book. A brand gives us back the feeling of authenticity, that sense that got lost somewhere along the way. To coin a well-known German advertising slogan – brands have never been as valuable as they are today.
Brands are communication. They live and breathe from the fact that they essentially work in the same way as the baker in the market hall – we keep on coming back because we know we’ll always get the same consistently good quality. We trust the baker and look forward to being able to buy a loaf of his wonderful bread again soon. Brands are no different. They ensure that they stand out from the competition in customers’ minds. And this sense of differentiation rubs off on us, making us feel special. We’re grateful for this, and are even prepared to pay more for it. This trust can’t be shaken, otherwise we would turn our backs on a brand. That’s why the core focus of every brand is staying true to itself. That doesn’t mean that brands can’t change, quite the opposite, but they always have to remain recognisable as themselves in everything they do.
The fact that tactile advertising is experiencing a boom has to do with the fact that is an island of authenticity in a vast virtual ocean. When reality becomes a scarce commodity, we delight in everything we can experience and touch. That’s why tactile elements are growing increasingly important in communications. They allow us to use our senses to examine whether a brand is keeping the promises it makes. Brands need a reality we can experience, confirming our trust that it is uncompromising, going “the whole hog” in its efforts to ensure reliability and quality, and therefore providing credible orientation.
That’s what brands are about – they create trust and therefore simplify our decision-making during the buying process. The same goes for my baker. He can count on me because I know exactly what I’m getting from him.
Photo: “La Boqueria” market in Barcelona – iStock