Unlabel Yourself and Let Your Unbrand Rise

Back in 1962, big box brands like Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and Kmart all opened their doors that same year because the middle class was exploding, it was a largely homogeneous consumer segment, and there was plenty of cheap suburban real estate. Being a big box brand was a sure thing- you simply couldn’t lose.

Fifty+ years later, the world is a very different place. The middle-class is no longer a catalyst for astronomical growth. The once easily targeted white, married couple with children are now the minority of U.S and have been replaced by a variety of family compositions, lifestyles and ethnicities; all making consumer marketing highly fragmented at best. And conventional media, who once could lure customers with big promises and the ability to push them through a funnel to lead them to purchase in their large brick and mortar shopping environments, is increasingly unproductive.

Today, the concept of “destination” in retail has shifted to the internet as consumers become accustomed to getting anything they want, wherever they want it and at the best price available. It no longer matters if your Walmart or an individual retailer selling online. What matters is the consumer experience and how well it is customized to fit an individuals interest and needs online. With the rise of the maker movement, growing unemployment worldwide and increased awareness that DIY- (do it yourself)- IS or soon will become our only choice for future employment, consumers are increasingly gravitating towards one of a kind items and individualized buying experiences. The rise of customized and personalized shopping experiences is part of a larger growing consumer trend towards individualism and self identity.

And its showing up in the rise of online marketplaces like Etsy, Artfire, Big Cartel, Bonanza, Cargo, Dawanda and the list goes on. These online merchants are growing hand over fist and are, for the most part, selling unbranded works by artists and creatives. In 2012, Etsy, which will turn eight this year, had merchandise sales of $895 million– a 70% spike over 2011. Etsy also nearly doubled its community of sellers, adding 10 million members last year for a total of 22 million in more than 200 countries. We are experiencing the rise of the unbrand. Consumers, no longer as interested in aligning with their ‘social class’, are seeking to chisel their individual identity through their purchase dollars and turning away from labels and brands to ‘become more of who they really are’– which means unbranding a brand is the trend.

This movement has deep roots. In Naomi Klein‘s controversial 1999 book, No Logo, the author looked at various anti-corporate movements that sprung up during the 1990s, from the publication Adbusters to sweatshop labor protests. Ultimately, it generated activism, culture jamming and public discourse that has become a more broad-based movement. Today, some major mainstream brands are even removing their logos voluntarily. Take Selfridges & Co. The UK-based company was voted Best Department Store in the World at the Global Department Store Summit in 2012. With stores in London, Birmingham and the Manchester region, they are experimenting (and succeeding) with a very counter-intuitive brand strategy of creating silence. As part of their “No Noise” initiative, they’ve launched something called The Quiet Shop, a store-within-a-store for which some of the world’s most respected brands have actually removed their logos. These “de-branded products” includes the very-well-known brands Levi’s, Creme de la Mer and Beats by Dre — just without their signature logos. ~Mitch Joel, Twist Image.

And as this movement continues to unfold, we will increasingly see products and services and platforms designed to serve the needs of the unbrand. Ironically, this is, and will, create a greater focus on the individual as a ‘brand’ themselves. In October a new book by fashion billionaire Marc Ecko will be released titled Unlabel.  Marc’s message is one we at ETA often say: ‘Embrace pain, take risks, and at all costs, be yourself. You are a brand—it’s down to you to create something compelling, authentic and lasting.’ Check out his trailer for his new book and Unlabel yourself as you become a new kind of brand: the unbrand.



About Lisa Canning

“Vowels are to words what creativity is to the world~ basic and necessary.”

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Lisa Canning is the founder of Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, IAEOU, the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship (IAE) and Entrepreneur the Arts.


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