Millennials Stick It to Commodity Technology As They Struggle to Shift Ahead - Even Apple!

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<p>Apple computers once badge brands are being covered in stickers</p>

Apple computers once badge brands are being covered in stickers

Allen Adamson

At some point or another, we’ve all used brands to define ourselves. Maybe it’s been a car, a pair of shoes or jeans, a watch, a baby stroller, an iced cold beer, or a cool glass of wine. It’s not what you eat, per se, but what you’re seen eating. In any event as long as there have been brands, there have been badge brands – specific products bought to telegraph to the world who you are and what you stand for. Badge brands send a clear message about the person using them and enhance the user’s self-image.

There are few companies that wouldn’t revel in the status of badge brand. This status is not only hard to come by, it’s hard to maintain. To come by it, you have to create a product that is distinctively different, and that creates a distinct intent to purchase for the purpose of making a statement. Then, you’ve got to remain alert to the competition and to consumer needs and shift ahead of both to ensure your product remains distinctively different. Commodity is not an option.

Which brings me to my point. Lecturing at NYU the other day, a few weeks post the launch of Apple’s newest iPhone models, I was struck by the number of students who were using the backs of their laptops ( regardless of brand and even on Apple computer.) as billboards for personal expression – carefully curated, collaged sticker and decal creations. This is not something new, this wallpapering of laptops with layers of stickers to identify political, cultural, social, and sport-related leanings.

But it was new to me and, as brand professional, it occurred to me that technology brands, be it smartphones or tablets, televisions or laptops, are becoming faster commoditized than even I realized. All technology is starting to look more and more alike and function more and more alike( Apple and Samsung phones). Unless you’re an engineer and understand the nuances of the fine tuning, we’re reaching an era in which there is not enough visual or functional distinctiveness to make for the level of brand status once enjoyed by one manufacturer over another.

All these sleek and aesthetically appealing technological devices have now become blank slates, the tabula rasa platform for millennials who are looking for new and innovative ways to express their identity. No longer able to do it with the technology, itself, they have shifted ahead of the product developers and are using literal badges to identify who they are, what they believe in, and why they are different. My advice to technology gurus, in your quest to become – or stay – a badge brand; if what you’re offering doesn’t stand out in either performance or design, if it doesn’t help define its users, they will eventually stick it to you, not with you.

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