The recession drove people from branded products to cheaper store-brand options and "private-label" products. 

As we look at 2018 and beyond, will brands make a come back, or is this foreboding trend a reflection of our lack of connectivity, loyalty and affinity towards specific brands?  There is no arguing that humans feel an essential and deeply primitive need to feel connected to something, and we are living in a world where we are constantly, virtually connected but not truly connected in a deep, personal or empathic way.  Rather than identifying with brands per say will we be turning to our "Tribes" like Seth Godin, or creating movements in the style of Scott Goodson instead?  

When the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day that persistent presence can be downright overwhelming.  Since our lives are so saturated with consumer culture and commercialism is the idea of being, or feeling, brandless somewhat liberating?

In fact the start-up Brandless launched this year selling everyday items for a mere three dollars, and according to the NPD Retail Tracking Service if we look at private label brands it the activewear category, they represented about 20 percent share of the U.S. activewear market in the third quarter of 2017, making private label the largest "brand" reported. Amazon even sells an unbranded line of men's jeans and apparel. 

But does being brandless run the risk of looking and feeling generic?   Does superior quality, product innovation and impeccable design still hold value in this context?  If we look at the brand Muji, they just celebrated their 10th anniversary.  Muji's art director, Kenya Hara, recently stated, "emptiness is a creative receptacle," but how do we embrace this emptiness, giving consumers some mental space and breathing room, and still promote our brands and build our communities effectively.

Many people are less married to individual or specific brands, and more focused on brand attributes or values they cherish like organic food, a socially conscious company or a corporation with a balance of women on their board. If we turn our attention to the rapidly evolving technologies at our fingertips should we dedicate more attention and investment to building or engineering our own brand algorithms to help us overcome these challenges? Do we need more rigor and focus around data science, and the prioritization of customer segmentation, lead scoring and propensity-to-buy category for retailers?

There are already dozens of tools available in this space and you should be mindful of these innovations as you consider building, amplifying or launching your brand. There is marketing intelligence, customer identification, predictive models and even metrics driven marketing.

Branding is not what it used to be, and the binary relationship of branding vs. brandlessness does not hold up either.  As consumers we are always seeking differentiators and greater visibility into the supply chain and history or provenance of a product.  Sure, we might go brandless when it comes to purchasing paper towels, but there are certain brands out there that we trust, and we trust them because they live up to a brand promise, and that unwritten bond between the brand and the buyer will never go away.

As you consider your own brand strategy do a quick weekly benchmarking exercise across these three areas and examine how well you are:

- demonstrating your purpose

- activating your community 

- delivering customer-centered innovation

Be honest.  Get specific.  Document and schedule retrospectives to reflect on how you are doing.