A decade and a half into the 21st century, it’s useful to pause and reflect on just how fundamentally digital technology has transformed the way we conduct business and live our lives. These last 20 or so years will be remembered for the way they transformed the world into a form that has come to be described as “virtual.” The first half of the Internet’s initial two decades witnessed a focus on the technology itself. By contrast, the second half has been characterized by a sharpening of that focus toward technology’s true power: the ability to maximize and support relationships and build communities. Hard to believe it was only at the outset of the Internet’s second decade that revolutionary social media platforms along with the mobile technologies of smart phones and tablets upon which they rely, began to emerge. Today those tools have become so globally embedded and deeply acculturated, it seems they’ve been around forever.
The application developers were the ultimate beneficiaries of digital technology’s second wave. eBay, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora and the countless thousands of other real-time commerce and entertainment engines transformed pretty much every aspect of human life in a time span less than half a cicada cycle. Facebook, the poster child of social media, has become an Internet within an Internet, creating and growing communities of interest at the speed of light. And there’s Google. Think of a time, if you can, in the history of mankind’s endeavors, when a single entity could own the ability to exert such astonishing influence over access to global knowledge, commerce, artistic, moral and political discourse. All of which brings us to the matter of BRANDS and their relevance in the digital age. If a couple of keystrokes will connect a searcher to everything the Internet has to offer in a matter of a few seconds, what makes a brand or a brand name any more than a commodity?