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You’re already familiar with brands, whether you know it or not. As a denizen of the Information Age, you’re bombarded by them every day, and there’s little chance of avoiding them. (Even if you’re hiding in a shack in the mountains, you’re still on the internet, so you’re not exempt!) We are exposed to thousands of advertisements daily.

A brand is a combination of names, terms, symbols, and design aspects that are used to identify a company, product, or service. The term brand identity is very apt, as a company’s brand is like their face, handshake, and bio all rolled into a singular set of images and text. And the purpose of brand fits right into that metaphor; a company uses branding to become the consumer’s “friend.” The business or product’s goal is to be easily recognized, understood, and related to by their target market.

This is why branding is far more complex than just business cards and letterheads. Brands are a way for something “lifeless” like an organization or product to take on a personality. Brands have values and ideals, likes and dislikes. Those qualities are generally what the public identify with brand – and that association can be very rewarding for the company that pulls it off. Just look at what Steve Jobs did for Apple by rebranding their image (hint: he pulled them off the brink of going belly-up) and you’ll see the limitless power of brand identity.

Along with Apple, companies like Amazon.com and Coca-Cola boast immediate brand recognition. Companies such as these have spent millions of dollars creating and developing their brand identities, and their immense success shows the fruits of that labor. Brands help a company to stand out for their unique qualities, and this gives them an advantage.

Even individuals have begun to see the benefits of branding. In many industries, simple resumes have given way to branded websites with value statements and character. Talented people are marketing themselves as a brand, not just a person, and they’re leveraging it to great advantage. Brands have followings – often very loyal followings – and they generally make their thoughts and beliefs fairly public. There are even paid gurus that will help people build their personal brand in hopes of standing out from the crowd and securing more fans or a better job.

And what about individuals who aren’t out to sell themselves? By and large, the average consumer is every bit as involved in the branding revolution. People have a tendency to affiliate themselves with groups, organizations, clubs or other entities that share similar beliefs or values with their own. People join communities centered around a beloved product, a favorite hobby or a charity that they support – and in doing so, they become part of branded communities.

Let’s consider hockey fans as an example. The hockey community is strong, and many of the players, fans, and supporters will be involved for life. But where do such people communicate and share their love of the sport when they’re not at the rink? You’d likely find them congregating on popular social media networks like Facebook, but that’s probably going to change.

You see, social media networks are pretty unorganized. They’re built as one-size-fits-all communities that serve as many people as possible. In other words, networks like Facebook are about quantity, not quality, of social interactions and user experiences.

What happens next will be more organized, more specific, and more fulfilling for the user. We’re on the verge of a branded community movement, and it will change much of how people interact both online and in the outside world. This isn’t just speculation; branded communities which cater to a specific type of user are already on the rise.

These online branded communities can generally be found on retailer websites (think Harley Davidson) or sports franchise websites (look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ new RED Women’s Movement page) and bring together users with common interests and values. The result is a community that has more cohesion, more purpose, and greater loyalty than any Facebook group can boast.

What branded communities would you like to see and would you be more engaged in a community with shared interests?

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