Grown-ups tend to sort things first by product class and then by brand. In other words, when we need new sneakers, we look for cross-trainers first, then we look at brands and offerings within that category. By contrast, kids today seem to sort these choices by brand first, and then product. So they'll choose the Adidas brand first, then look for the type of product they need.
I first noticed this profound shift while I was doing focus groups for a confection company. First I interviewed grownups, and then I interviewed teenagers. I asked both groups to draw how they imagined two worlds; the first was the world of sugar candy, and the second was the world of chocolate candy. The grown-ups drew worlds with recognizable candy shapes- licorice twists for the supports for a swing set, lollipops for trees. The teenagers drew brands-Twizzlers for the swing-set supports, Twix for the couch, Rollos for the tree trunks, and Fruit by the Foot for the tree leaves. Each group had a different orientation.
We are moving toward a population of consumers who process the world primarily in terms of a brand's voice, personality, and world. Rational, tangible product attributes are still important, but less as a way of distinguishing one brand from another; instead, they are important in terms of how they bring a brand's world to life.
Marketers whose products succeed create innovative brand worlds first, then deliver those innovative brand worlds with new, tangible product attributes that pay off the brand imagery. Those tangible attributes might be packaging, fragrance, or distribution-not the traditional kind of innovation that's initially dreamed up by R&D during the product's formulation.