Identities exist on three levels: potentially, virtually or actually.
At this stage we’re not talking about brand identities. Just identities.
On the level of potentialities these identities are pure concepts and they are independent of any particular individual.
As they emerge from potentiality to virtuality, which means they are still not “real” in the sense of actuality, a particular organization already begins on the level of actualities: among people. They start organizing according to the concept, based on their functions and roles, gradually lifting the concept to actuality.
More often than not the concept doesn’t emerge linearly. Sometimes the product/design aspect seems to be appearing first, sometimes the organization aspect, sometimes the communications aspect, the “cause” aspect, very often these appear simultaneously but without the participants being aware of it; organization may accelerate as people become aware of the already manifest aspects of the concept, which in a way draws them more consciously together…but almost nobody is aware of the concept itself. Since the focus is mostly on particular aspects of the concept, the concept seems to be emerging by itself.
Steve Jobs gave a good example of this, as he was explaining how he was interested in designing fonts way before the idea for personal computers entered his mind, without having any idea at the time what it’ll be good for; only years later did it become evident how the dots connected. The “mac community” already existed back then, it was just on the level of virtuality, nobody was able to connect the dots yet, not having the awareness of the concept that the then unnamed “tribe” was gravitating towards.
Back to the participants. If we simplify the roles and we speak only about users and creators, the more successfully the creators approach a particular aspect of the concept (design, product, communications, organization), which is practically a platform that synthetically integrates the users and the creators, the more successful and powerful the emergence of other aspects of the concept will be.
From this point of view the question of who makes a brand successful, the users or the companies (organizations) behind it, is senseless. Both types of actors operate on the same platform: the particular “tribe” of users know what’s right, but their role is not to create; together with the creators, the users form an equal part of the concept. Neither of them owns the concept; both of them are just involved in bringing it to actuality.
Quick note: from this perspective the point is not to see what the users want, but what the concept demands. In lack of abilities or capacity to understand/perceive the concept, users who are more aware will be helpful, of course.
The concept is never fully actual/real, since awareness is never perfect. Once there are conscious efforts for the “development” (I’d say unfolding) of particular aspects of the concept (at this point the terminology is company, brand, r&d, business development, etc.), the life cycle of the so called brand begins. Awareness of course is fragmented, and management is mostly clueless about what integrates finance, hr, marketing/branding, communication, technology, customers, competitors, partners, etc. Tons of alignment initiatives are under way, but at this point the actors are so unaware, so mechanical, so blind that they no longer have any awareness of any valuable aspect of the concept. Awareness is atomized and all initiatives are doomed to fail; success is achieved only, when the objective was short sighted from the start. Customers move on to some other “brand” that maybe closer to the original concept that brought them together in the first place…mostly unsuccessfully of course. This is how the decline begins.
The only remedy to stop the process of involution is the ritual. If we apply it to the brand, the ritual is the celebration of the original state of the brand as close to its birth, as awareness allows it. The role of leadership is to ensure that awareness goes back all the way: to the concept in the state of potentiality.
This is important because re-birth is only possible in this earliest stage. The more often the ritual/return is performed, the more alive, powerful, fresh, young the brand remains.
Today there are more artificial than organic identities. The awareness of the system rarely goes beyond pricing, positioning, competitors, etc. The attention is focused on the outside, and the organization acts like a robot without any sign of internal life. Although the reason behind this is clear, awareness is shrinking in proportion to the growth of the already vast literature on proposed solutions.