[Un]Branding

The essential elements of a great brand are continually changing with evolving consumer needs. Ultimately, a brand is created by the voice of its consumers, meaning that it is defined by what the consumer thinks of it, which has led many brands to “unbrand.” Unbranding is to strip away the existing identity from a brand. One way the movement of unbranding can be approached is through a contextual and individualized experience that allows consumers the opportunity to promote, define, and redefine a brand.

Rebranding through unbranding is risky. Starbucks experimentally unbranded its stores in Seattle, WA with generic “Inspired by Starbucks” shops, furnished with a locally-inspired atmosphere and locally-made goods1. The transformation was perceived as deceptive and further fueled the consumer’s dissatisfaction for giant retailers.


Example of an "inspired by Starbucks" shop

The rise of unbranding correlates with “a larger trend — instead of taking the time and resources to beat a brand into the modern consumer’s mind, many new entrants are producing these customized and personalized — nearly unbranded — products for an ever-growing global consumer-base that is interested less in the label and brand experience, and much more in something that can be uniquely them.”2


Rebranding through unbranding is risky.

— Chau Ho

Unbranding shifts focus from brand-driven design to consumer-driven design. Through stories, storytellers, and storytelling tools, brand-defined storylines are created through video testimonials and presentations to engage consumers to share the brand story via websites, blogs, social media. Consumers become storytellers and sell the brand story through their voice with reach, influence, and credibility.

A new generation of brands are branding less, but not brand-less. Individualized experiences encourage consumers to become advocate storytellers for the brand they themselves help created.


1 The Unbranding of Starbucks. Thinkso Creative. 31 Jul 2009. Web. 27 Mar 2017. https://thinkso.com/news/the-u...

2 Joel, Mitch. “The Rise of the Unbrand.” Harvard Business School. 31 Jan 2013. Web. 27 Mar 2017. https://hbr.org/2013/01/the-ri...