I’ve been thinking a lot about media brands and whether they still matter in the new media landscape. The more I think about, the more it seems that brands are the only thing that still matters in media. What’s changed is not the importance or the role of media brands, but rather what defines a media brand and what – or who – can become a brand. Media brands are increasingly defined by communities, and now anyone – from individuals to software companies – can create a media brand.

Why does Google dominate search? Brand. Google’s original search brand is so successful that they can’t even get people to use their vertical searches, e.g. Maps, Images, Video, Books, even when those tool better serve users needs. Use of Google’s core search is no longer a function of whether Google is better (in many cases it’s not). People use Google the same way they use P&G products – out of brand loyalty and often just out of habit.

Why did YouTube beat Google Video? Brand. Notably, it’s the community that defined the YouTube brand as much as the technology. Ultimately, it was the strength of the brand — and Google Video’s inability to compete with the brand’s dominace — that drove the acquisition. What makes the top blogs so successful? Brand. Again, community is a key driver, which you can see in the active comments on successful blogs. In many cases, blog brands are built around individuals, but they are brands nonetheless.

Why were Weblogs Inc. and Gawker among the first successful blog media companies? Because they built brands. I’ve heard Jason Calacanis say the reason he didn’t aggregate existing blogs, as Federated Media is doing, is that he wanted to own the brands.

Why is Yahoo the largest portal? Brand. Why do so many people shop at Amazon despite the proliferation of online shopping alternatives? Brand. Why is Digg so popular? Brand — again, a community-defined brand, but a brand nonetheless.

Even the social networking wars are being fought over brands. Here’s Jay Stevens, vice president of sales and operations at MySpace:

“Ultimately people identify with [online] publishing the same way they do in the offline world. The newspapers we read and the television channels we view are representative of what you are about,” said Stevens. He went on to say that there is some interaction but that people use different social networks for different purposes. “Some people might be on Bebo to communicate with friends but will then go to MySpace to check out what’s new in popular culture.”

A media brand can be an individual voice, a social networking platform, or an online software application. It’s undeniable that traditional media brands no longer have a monopoly over our attention — but as Jay Stevens points out, the fundamental dynamics of media brands hasn’t changed. We self-identify through our media brand choices, which now include all of the technology brands we use. Increasing, there is no meaningful distinction between technology and media brands in the consumer space – they all compete for our attention. We are defined by the devices and applications we used as much as by the content we consumer. I’m an iPod user, Gmail user, Pandora user, Firefox user, Basecamp user, Feedburner user, Amazon shopper. I listen to the Gillmor Gang and read Rough Type (and without my head exploding). I am part of the TechMeme community.

It all comes back to brand. There may be new drivers of brand loyalty in media, and the barriers to building a brand may have fallen away. But brands still rule.

Although I am still the sole author of this blog, much of the value has accrued to the Publishing 2.0 brand, which you can see in a (now brand-defining) Google search.

Domains are brands, which is why domain investing has become so lucrative.

All of the Web 2.0 companies, with their oddball brand names, are fighting a battle for brand dominance. Are you a Del.icio.us user or a StumbleUpon user? Are you a PodShow listener or a PodTech listener? Do you use YouTube or, well, I guess that battle is over.

Despite all of the proliferation of content, media/technology is still largely a winner take all industry. Google. Yahoo. Amazon. Ebay. YouTube. MySpace. These are the dominant brands.

Media/technology companies are not only competing for our attention, they are competing for our loyalty. Consumers may be in control, but they are still creatures of habit who seek the comfort of familiar brands.

At the end of the day, brands are about trust. Which brands do you trust? Which brand has a community that you can trust, a community where you can belong?

Whether you are a blogger, a traditional media company, a new media company, or a technology company, your brand is your most valuable asset. Nuture it. Grow it. Form a vibrant community around it.

But never lose sight of your brand.