Digital media make visible the network of ties that connect us to things and to each other. So now, instead of brands as a mediating mechanism between consumers and products, we have a series of discreet, local, and situated interactions that mediate this relationship.
Because marketing professionals could not see these interactions in the past, they invented brand stories and representations in order to assert a certain cultural and economic relationship between people and things.
Since today consumers have information on all those previously hidden, distributed, and unexpected connections that critically shape their preferences and product choices, they do not have to rely on brand stories to help them decide among products and make their decisions less risky. But this information abundance in itself is not the factor that challenges brand stories. In fact, it is because digital media are a complex decision-making resource that allows us to make product choices without these stories.
In the context of this complexity, brands should be defined as media of behavior. Only by becoming visible + seamless parts of the network of interactions between people and things, can brands today claim to mediate their relationship.
p.s. I have revived my long-forgotten DailyMile account today. Now that my dissertation is done, I want to do more things that I am passionate about. A biking adventure to Montauk is one of them. Anyway: soon after I signed in on DailyMile, 7 people commented on my morning run - with advice which running watch I should get. This is great; I know nothing about running watches and the advice was very welcome. That's is the visibility that I am talking about above. It would be cool if a brand inserted itself into my workout routine - I am sure that I will need all sorts of running and biking advice/information/utility/entertainment as I go along. But there's also something else here: the network that formed between me, other runners, running products, running advice, and all other possible stuff mediates my activity of running: these are all the local, distributed, and situated interactions between people and things that I mentioned.
The same thing goes for all other activities. Our behaviors are networks. Brands can be media of that behavior; but they can't remain outside of it (and all traditional advertising, flash micro-sites, elaborate online campaigns, etc. belong to this category).