John Hagel responded thoughtfully and at length to the brand post below. So if you're into the subject of the future of brands I suggest you go read it.
If you're still here, however, I'll add just two comments. First, my point
about brands becoming people rather than products or companies is
specific to long tail markets. In short tail markets, such as
traditional retail, I imagine that the usual brands will continue to
dominate for a good long time.
Second, here's a little more detail on the role of people as "branded
filters" in the long tail: There are, as it happens, three main
long tail businesses: filters, aggregators and producers.
Each of those will have its own sort of brands, but those brands are all
related in that they're increasingly about real people, rather than
abstract advertising messages, invented characters or slogans. To whit:
--Filters: Here, as I wrote in the preceding post, I think filters are the key to a working long tail market and that people make the best filters, giving such trusted tastemakers the effective power of a brand. John disagrees:
"Expert friends don't scale well. Even the most gregarious friends have a circle of a few thousand friends and, at this point, their knowledge of the needs of each friend is probably pretty superficial. And celebrities come from a different end of the spectrum. They don’t have a clue who I am as an individual customer.
I addressed the friends part in a earlier post ("Why social software makes for poor recommendations."). In short, I agree that actual friends are unlikely to be the best experts on whatever it is you're looking for. But individuals you may not know personally but nevertheless trust (because of their track record, say) often do have the best advice. And these days there's hardly a niche so narrow you can't find one or two of those with a little searching, from blogs to customer reviews. As for celebrities, it doesn't matter that they don't know you; you pick them to emulate because they represent values you admire.
--Aggregators: The best of these, such as Amazon and Google, have built their brands on the power of their filters. Yet these filters--from Google's search algorithms to Amazon's recommendations--are nothing more than the wisdom of the crowds, the statistically measured opinions of millions of, yes, people. That's why we trust them.
--Producers: Not much change here. As much as the TV networks,
music labels and movies studios have tried to build their own brands,
it's always been mostly about the individuals stars, shows and talents. Now,
in an emerging era of infinite channels where talent can find an
audiences regardless of how it's distributed, this will be even more