Products were once contained by physical ownership and access
To experience a product, you had to buy it or try it. Brands extended beyond the idea of physical products into other types of consumer exposure to companies. Non-customers have always had access to brands outside of the ownership capacity, through advertising, word of mouth, and any other manifestation of a company that didn’t require ownership of their product. But this brand experience lacked depth—you may have seen an ad for something, but without having consumed it as a product, it would be hard to argue that you really experienced it in any meaningful way.
The web and social punched a million holes through this idea. Experience has streamed through these holes and spilled out beyond physical ownership and captive audiences. People want to experience products and brands on their terms, in new ways, and meaningful experiences aren’t reliant anymore on that historically necessary condition: product ownership. Relationships between people and brands have gone from binary and transactional to complex, with a kind of depth once reserved for human relationships. Exhibit A of this shift is the Millennial generation, for which brand preference is the top online personal identifier—more important, in this respect, than religion and ethnicity.