Power is the most fundamental part of human relationships. Platonic, romantic, sexual, political, cultural, economic, social and familial (did I miss any?) relationships are based in a simple exchange of power. One side has some, the other has less. This isn’t necessarily a recognized or intentional exchange, though it certainly can be. Nevertheless, it governs the relationship and gives it structure.
Naturally, I’m not talking about physical power here. Instead, think more of social power, of influence. The physical form has something to do with social power…but this influential, social power is a construct of things both real and imagined. For example, America has power both because of its military/economic strength and because of the imagined (but based in reality) consciousness of Americans. Internationally, we’re seen as overbearing, loud jerks. There is something real about that idea, but it’s not entirely accurate. However, it affords a certain measure of power to America and the American identity.
Power is not so much invasive as it is pervasive. It’s everywhere, everything is affected by it, and it’s not going away. I had discussed with Russell Davies (and others) in comments following this post the importance of brands. Are brands important, just by their very being? No, certainly not. Most brands do not hold much cultural capital, do not have a spot in the minds, let alone the identities, of the public. Why? Because they fail to develop knowledge of their audience. Power comes from knowledge; Foucault would say they’re inextricably linked. The power of a charismatic person comes from their innate knowledge of how to manipulate people, how to look them in the eyes, how to empathize, how to really understand.
Some brands have power. Brands as a whole (all the branded products/services in the world, taken collectively) have huge influence over people. Why else would we “trade up”? Why else would people aspire to buy better, nicer-looking things? Because they have power, there is power in association, there is power in social acceptance and power in cultural norms.
We strive every day to create power in brands. More recently, we’ve been trying to develop better knowledge of how brands interact with people, how people can influence brands and be influenced by them. It’s the right track. But we need more. We need more discourse, more back-and-forth & give-and-take. See the example of the “American” brand above. Certainly it has power, perhaps more than any brand in the world. But there’s tragedy in it as well, mostly due to a lack of understanding on the other side. It’s a bit big as an example, but it proves in some measure that two-way brand dialogue is a very real, very essential thing.