No Filter: Instagram’s Brand Gamble

In 2016, we’ve decidedly reached the era where the disruptive startups of Silicon Valley are weaving their way, with varying degrees of chagrin, toward corporate territory. Despite this, most have been able to retain their mantle of edgy cool – a remarkable testament to the power of a carefully maintained brand.

The impact of brand equity is hard to calculate. A well-developed brand will generate customer loyalty, differentiate a business amongst competition, and can even afford a company grace in the face of dubious business maneuvers (Qwikster, anyone?). A brand image, however, is liable to tarnish if abused.

Take Instagram as an example. Last week, the social platform published a blog announcing a change to their algorithm. Instead of appearing organically, content on users’ feeds will now be curated according to “what they care about most” – or rather, what Instagram decides they care about most. As has become the norm with such announcements, the adjustment is positioned as a pro-user evolution (as opposed to a thinly-veiled push towards further monetization).

As Instagram itself admitted, users miss an estimated 70% of their feeds. Now, with that crucial 30% of visual real estate firmly under Instagram’s control, brands will need to pony up in order to be seen. It’s a move, as Steve Feiner points out in his article for TechCrunch, that likely signals the death of Instagram for brands – brands without substantial marketing budgets, that is.

Instagram has long enjoyed a hip, relaxed brand image that even survived its acquisition by Facebook in 2012, and is no doubt banking on it to blunt the capitalistic edge of this particular announcement. With our endless, theatrical news cycle and seemingly ubiquitous dependence on sharing sepia-toned brunch snaps, it’s likely that the ripples of outrage will die down quickly.

What is gone is not always forgotten, however, and each successive “development” purchased on brand credit will soon lead to a polluted name and disillusioned consumers. Brand equity is a resource that can take years to accumulate, and only moments to squander – spend it wisely.

For more thoughts on branding, marketing and design follow Erin on Twitter.

If you or your company could use help with brand strategy, contact her via email.

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