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Brand History: Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

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Rosser Reeves was a pivotal figure in the advertising world whose contributions significantly shaped the mid-20th-century advertising industry and laid foundational principles that continue to influence marketing and branding today. Reeves is best known for developing the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) concept.

Reeves joined the Ted Bates & Co. advertising agency in 1940, eventually rising to vice chairman. Here, he honed and applied his theories on advertising effectiveness, leading campaigns that are remembered for their simplicity, directness, and measurable results. He also inspired much of the Don Draper character from Mad Men.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Reeves is best known for developing the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) concept. He argued that successful advertising campaigns must highlight a unique aspect of the product that makes it superior to competitors and compels consumers to choose it over others. This idea was revolutionary at the time and contrasted with the more common practice of producing ads that focused on creativity and entertainment value without a clear, unique message about the product itself.

Its foundational premise is that successful advertising campaigns must clearly articulate a unique benefit to the consumer that competitors do not offer. This singular focus on differentiating a product or service based on a distinctive attribute or benefit has profound implications for how companies approach marketing and brand positioning. Analyzing why the USP concept worked at its inception and its continued relevance today offers insights into the enduring principles of effective marketing.

Reeves believed in the power of the USP to drive consumer choice by making a clear, compelling case for the product. This is a philosophy grounded in the idea that consumers make decisions based on discernible, rational benefits. The USP, therefore, must be demonstrably true and relevant to the consumer, offering a logical reason to choose one product over another.

Contrasting with the USP, brand image is about the emotional resonance a brand has with its audience. It encompasses the feelings, attitudes, and perceptions that consumers associate with a brand, developed over time through experiences and marketing communications. Brand image is not about claims regarding specific product features but about cultivating a broader, emotional relationship with the consumer.

Reeves acknowledged that while the USP appeals to the consumer’s rational side, brand image engages their emotions, aspirations, and values. This is a more intangible approach, aiming to connect with consumers on a deeper level, beyond the mere functional benefits of a product. Brand image is about how a brand fits into the consumer’s lifestyle, self-image, and worldview.

While Reeves’ distinction between the USP and brand image might seem to suggest two separate paths, modern marketing strategies often seek to integrate these aspects. Today’s marketers understand that consumers are influenced by both rational arguments (the clear benefits highlighted by the USP) and emotional connections (the feelings and associations evoked by the brand image).

The most successful brands are those that manage to articulate a clear USP while also cultivating a strong, positive brand image. They communicate not only what their product can do uniquely well but also how it makes consumers feel, aligning with their desires, values, and aspirations. This integrated approach ensures that brands can connect with consumers on multiple levels, making both rational and emotional appeals to influence decision-making.

Reeves’ insight into the dual nature of consumer engagement — through both claim and feeling — remains a fundamental principle in advertising and marketing. It underscores the complexity of consumer behavior and the need for brands to address both the logical and emotional dimensions of consumer choice in their strategies.

Historical Context and Initial Success

When Rosser Reeves first introduced the USP concept, the advertising industry was just starting to mature, with television becoming a dominant medium alongside radio and print. During this era, the market witnessed a proliferation of products, many of which appeared similar to consumers. The USP concept emerged as a solution to this clutter, providing a clear framework for distinguishing a product from its competitors in a crowded marketplace.

Reeves’ approach was revolutionary because it shifted the focus from the product itself to the benefit it offered to the consumer. This was a departure from the prevailing practice of promoting products based on features or price alone. The USP concept emphasized the importance of a unique benefit — a compelling reason for a consumer to choose one product over another. This clarity not only helped consumers make informed decisions but also allowed companies to focus their marketing efforts on highlighting their product’s distinctive advantages.

Famous Quotes

“I know that at least half of my advertising money is being wasted.  My problem is – I do not know which half.” – Reeves

Why the USP Worked

Clarity and Simplicity: The USP provides a straightforward and memorable message that communicates the essence of what makes a product unique. This simplicity makes it easier for consumers to understand and remember the product, enhancing recall and recognition.

Differentiation: In competitive markets, differentiation is key to standing out. The USP framework forces businesses to identify and communicate what makes their offering unique, providing a clear reason for consumers to prefer their product over others.

Value Proposition: The USP goes beyond mere features to emphasize the benefit or value that the product delivers to the consumer. This focus on value resonates with consumers, driving purchase decisions.

Continued Relevance of the USP

The principles behind the USP remain as relevant today as they were in Reeves’ time, despite the profound changes in the marketing landscape. The explosion of digital media and the advent of social media have dramatically increased the number of touchpoints between brands and consumers, yet the challenge of differentiating one’s offering in a saturated market persists.

Consumer Decision-Making: Modern consumers are inundated with choices, making the clarity provided by a well-articulated USP more crucial than ever. A compelling USP can cut through the noise, guiding consumers towards a product.

Brand Identity and Consistency: The USP is integral to building a strong brand identity. It ensures consistency across various marketing channels, reinforcing the brand’s unique position in the consumer’s mind over time.

Adaptability and Innovation: Today’s fast-paced market dynamics require brands to continually innovate and adapt. The USP concept encourages brands to evolve their unique benefits in response to changing consumer needs and competitive landscapes, ensuring ongoing relevance.

Increased Focus on Consumer Benefits: Modern marketing emphasizes storytelling and consumer benefits. The USP aligns with this focus by compelling brands to articulate how their products improve consumers’ lives uniquely.

The USP concept’s enduring viability lies in its fundamental insight: that successful marketing is not just about what a product is, but what it does for the customer that no other product can. This focus on clear, compelling differentiation based on consumer benefits is timeless. As markets evolve and new channels emerge, the need to stand out based on unique value remains constant. Thus, the USP continues to be a vital tool in the marketer’s arsenal, guiding the development of marketing strategies that resonate with consumers and drive brand success.

The “Reality in Advertising” and Contributions to Marketing Theory

In 1961, Reeves published “Reality in Advertising,” where he elaborated on his advertising philosophy, including the USP, and presented case studies of successful campaigns. This book remains a seminal work in advertising literature, offering insights into Reeves’ emphasis on clarity, consistency, and the importance of a product’s unique features in advertising.

M&M’s and Colgate: Applying the USP

Reeves was instrumental in several iconic advertising campaigns that perfectly illustrated his USP concept. For instance, he created the M&M’s “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” slogan, which succinctly communicated a unique benefit of the candy. Similarly, his work for Colgate toothpaste highlighted a specific feature (cleaner breath and fewer cavities) that differentiated it from competitors, proving the effectiveness of the USP in real-world advertising.

Legacy and Influence

Rosser Reeves’ influence extends beyond the campaigns he created. His insistence on measurable results and advertising that prioritized clear, consumer-relevant benefits over creativity for its own sake was somewhat controversial but undeniably impactful. He is credited with paving the way for a more analytical approach to advertising that values the proposition’s distinctiveness and directness to the consumer.

His work demonstrated that successful advertising does not just happen by accident; it is the result of careful planning, understanding of consumer behavior, and the ability to distill a product’s essence into a compelling, unique selling proposition. Reeves’ legacy is not just in the campaigns he led or the profits he generated for clients but in his enduring influence on the principles of advertising and marketing strategy.

Rosser Reeves passed away on January 24, 1984, but his contributions to the field of advertising remain relevant, informing strategies and guiding the development of marketing and branding theories well into the 21st century.

Concept At A Glance:

Concept: Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Introduced by: Rosser Reeves in the 1940s.

Core Concept: The USP is a marketing concept that emphasizes the importance of a distinct and compelling reason why a product or service is superior to and different from those of the competition. It’s about identifying and communicating a feature that makes a brand or product uniquely valuable to consumers.

Reeves, an advertising executive, introduced the USP concept in the mid-20th century, and it was detailed in his book “Reality in Advertising” published in 1961. While not a “brand model” in the contemporary sense, the USP concept laid the groundwork for future brand positioning and differentiation strategies by stressing the importance of a clear, distinct message that sets a brand apart in the marketplace.

This principle has influenced numerous brand models and marketing strategies, making it a foundational element in the development of branding as a discipline. Its focus on differentiation, a core aspect of modern branding, underscores its significance and makes the USP concept a precursor to more complex brand models that followed.

Rethinking Brand Models

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We are beginning a new era in branding, and the call for a revamped framework is loud and clear. A new model centered around the customer journey, emotional connections, shared values, and adaptability is not merely a strategy but a philosophy that can drive brands to new levels of relevance and success.

By reevaluating our branding approach and adopting this holistic, journey-centric approach, we can forge deeper, more meaningful relationships with our customers, paving the way for mutual growth and success. Consumer preferences shift like sand, and markets evolve at lightning speed, so traditional branding frameworks are being challenged to show how they can work in today’s marketing world. The quintessential approach to branding, which primarily focuses on the product and company-centric metrics, is no longer sufficient. This calls for a significant change in approach—re-evaluating how we perceive and implement branding strategies. The new framework must place the customer at the heart of branding and emphasize the shared journey brands undertake with their customers.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, we will call this new model The Brand Voyager Model (BVM).

The Limitations of Traditional Branding

Over the past 50 years, thought leaders in marketing and branding have developed various brand models, each introducing unique perspectives and methodologies to brand building and management. These models have successfully guided countless companies in creating, positioning, and evolving their brands. Many of them have inspired my work over the years, as well. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these branding approaches, it is important to evolve our thinking to adapt to changing customer needs and abilities.

Traditional branding has often been about creating a strong, memorable identity and unique value proposition, coupled with consistent messaging across all platforms. While these elements remain critical, this approach can overlook the often spirited nature of customer relationships. Old models often treat a brand as a static entity rather than an evolving relationship between it and its customers. Conventional ways can fall short in today’s landscape, where customer empowerment and engagement hold unprecedented importance.

Companies often treat brand positioning as a set-it-and-forget-it element of their strategy, taking on branding exercises sporadically, perhaps during times of significant organizational change, often including high employee turnover. These infrequent refreshes—encompassing foundational workshops, strategy documents, and identity revamps—tend to fade from collective memory over time.  New team members are brought in and want to make their mark on the company. The result is that any good work previously developed is likely to be pitched in the bin.

The vital elements established during these exercises, meant to guide the brand’s voice, vision, and customer engagement strategies, often gather dust in forgotten corners of the company’s digital archives. This approach neglects the changing nature of markets, consumer preferences, and competitive landscapes, all of which can shift dramatically in short periods. Consequently, there’s a pressing need for a new model that champions the continuous evaluation and evolution of brand positioning.

Such a model would ensure that a brand remains relevant and resonant with its target audience and that every member of the organization is aligned with the brand’s core values and strategic direction. Emphasizing adaptability and engagement, this approach would keep the brand vibrant and aligned with both internal values and external market demands, ensuring long-term success and coherence in an ever-changing business environment.

Customer-Centricity as the Core of a New Framework

At the heart of a new branding framework lies customer-centricity—an ethos that places the customer’s needs, experiences, and values as the primary focus of all branding efforts. This perspective recognizes that the value of a brand is not just in its product or service but in the experience it offers and the emotional connection it fosters with its customers. A customer-centric approach demands a deep understanding of the customer’s journey, from awareness and consideration to purchase and beyond, ensuring that every touchpoint is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

Brand models often diverge in their starting points and core focuses, creating a fundamental distinction in how they approach brand strategy and development. Traditional models, including Simon Sinek’s widely acclaimed “Start With Why,” emphasize beginning with a company’s internal aspects—its purpose, values, and the “why” behind its existence. This approach centers on articulating a compelling reason that resonates internally and is projected outwardly, aiming to align the company’s core beliefs with its customers.

Contrastingly, The Brand Voyager model shifts the focus outward from the onset, starting with the customer’s values and reasons for seeking solutions. It prioritizes understanding the “Why” from the customer’s perspective—why they are searching for a solution and what emotional or practical/rational needs drive their behaviors. This customer-centric approach seeks to align the brand’s offerings and communications with the existing values and desires of the customer rather than starting with an internal manifesto of purpose and trying to find customers who align with it. This shift represents a significant evolution in branding philosophy, moving from a company-outward to a customer-inward perspective, ensuring that the brand’s strategies and narratives are deeply rooted in the real needs and aspirations of its audience.

Emphasizing the Shared Journey

The evolution of the digital landscape has blurred the lines between businesses and consumers, making interactions more frequent, personalized, and direct. This has transformed the customer journey into a more complex, non-linear path, where the traditional funnel model no longer applies. Acknowledging this complexity, the new branding framework views the customer journey not as a series of transactions but as a continuous, shared journey that evolves over time.

This journey-centric approach emphasizes the importance of listening to and learning from customers at every stage, adapting and responding to their changing needs and preferences. It’s about creating a dialogue, where feedback loops are encouraged and integral to shaping the brand and its offerings. Brands that excel in this model treat customers as passive recipients and active participants in the brand’s evolution.

Building on Emotional Connections and Values

Another cornerstone of the new framework is the emphasis on building emotional connections and aligning with customers’ values. Customers are bombarded with choices; emotional connections can make a brand stand out. These connections are forged through shared values, authentic storytelling, and experiences that resonate on a personal level.

By aligning a brand’s values with those of its customers, companies can create a sense of community and belonging that go beyond the transactional nature of business. This alignment not only attracts customers but also turns them into loyal advocates for the brand.

While originating from different perspectives, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” and the Brand Voyager Model can be seen as complementary approaches within the broader context of strategic branding. The synergy between these models lies in their collective emphasis on understanding and articulating the core motivations driving both the company and its customers.

Here’s how Sinek’s model complements the Brand Voyager Model, creating a holistic branding strategy:

Starting with “Why” from Within

Sinek’s model urges companies to focus on their raison d’être—identifying the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires them to do what they do. This internal exploration helps companies establish a clear, compelling brand identity grounded in authentic values and beliefs. It’s about inspiring people to act because they resonate with the brand’s foundational “Why.”

Extending the “Why” to Customer Motivation

Where Sinek encourages companies to start with their internal “Why,” the Brand Voyager Model takes the next logical step by aligning this internal purpose with the external motivations of customers. It shifts the focus to understanding why prospective customers are seeking solutions in the first place—what are their needs, desires, and the values that drive their decisions? This model ensures that the brand possesses a strong internal purpose and meets the customers where they are, addressing their motivations and aspirations.

Creating a Mutual Connection

By synthesizing the insights from both models, brands can foster a powerful connection that resonates on a deeper level with their audience. Sinek’s model ensures the brand’s messaging and actions are authentic and purpose-driven, while the Brand Voyager Model guarantees these efforts are relevant and responsive to customer needs. This dual approach ensures that the brand’s core purpose aligns with the customer’s values and aspirations, creating a mutual connection that is both meaningful and impactful.

Ensuring Relevance and Resonance

Together, these models create a holistic branding strategy that ensures relevance and resonance. By starting with a strong internal “Why” and extending this purpose to meet the customer’s “Why,” brands can remain agile and responsive. This alignment not only attracts customers but also fosters loyalty, as people are more likely to stay engaged with brands that reflect their values and offer solutions that resonate with their personal motivations.

The Need for Adaptability and Innovation

Finally, the new branding framework acknowledges the need for adaptability and innovation. Brands must be agile, ready to pivot their strategies based on customer feedback and emerging trends. This agility is not just about keeping pace but about anticipating changes and being proactive in offering solutions that meet the evolving needs of customers.

By re-evaluating the way we look at branding and adopting this holistic, journey-centric approach, we can forge deeper, more meaningful relationships with our customers, paving the way for mutual growth and success in the ever-evolving marketplace.

Best Books on Branding (2024)

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Each of these books offers unique insights into the complexities of brand marketing. From understanding how to communicate effectively with your audience to leveraging the latest in digital marketing strategies, these reads cover the essential knowledge and skills needed to build and sustain powerful brands.

These titles, spanning several decades, reflect the dynamic nature of brand marketing, incorporating foundational theories, contemporary strategies, and future outlooks. They collectively offer brand marketers a well-rounded understanding of how to navigate the evolving marketplace, build meaningful connections with consumers, and achieve lasting brand success.

  1. “Building A StoryBrand” by Donald Miller: This book revolutionizes the way marketers think about brand messaging. Miller introduces the StoryBrand framework, which uses the principles of storytelling to clarify your brand’s message, ensuring it resonates with customers and compels them to action.
  2. “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout: A seminal work in marketing, this book introduces the concept of positioning — how to be seen and remembered by customers. It’s a critical read for understanding how to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
  3. “This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See” by Seth Godin: Godin challenges traditional marketing tactics and focuses on marketing that is ethical, generous, and targeted toward creating change and making connections. It’s a must-read for modern marketers who want to make an impact.
  4. “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier: This book bridges the gap between business strategy and design, arguing that brand is the way to stand out, attract customer loyalty, and create an emotional connection. Neumeier’s insights are crucial for marketers looking to understand the holistic nature of branding.
  5. “Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age” by Jonah Berger: Berger explores why certain things go viral and how marketers can craft messages, stories, and information that people will share. It’s an excellent guide for leveraging social influence and word of mouth in branding strategies.
  6. “Brand New: The Shape of Brands to Come” by Wally Olins: Olins provides a visionary outlook on the future of branding, covering how global dynamics, technology, and consumer behavior shape brand strategies. It’s a forward-thinking guide that prepares marketers for the evolving landscape of branding.
  7. “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath: This book explores the traits of ideas that stick and how to apply these principles to make your brand messages memorable. It’s invaluable for crafting compelling narratives that elevate your brand.
  8. “Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team” by Alina Wheeler: Wheeler’s book is a comprehensive guide to the entire branding process, from research and strategy to design and implementation. It’s an essential handbook for anyone involved in building or managing a brand.
  9. “Eat Your Greens: Fact-Based Thinking to Improve Your Brand’s Health” by Wiemer Snijders: A collection of essays from thought leaders in marketing and advertising, offering evidence-based insights on a wide range of topics. It’s a thought-provoking read that challenges conventional wisdom and promotes a more analytical approach to branding.
  10. “Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy” by Phil Barden: This book looks into the psychology of consumer decision-making, providing a scientific framework for understanding how and why people make purchase decisions. It’s crucial for marketers looking to align their brand strategies with consumer behaviors.


Building a Brand by Growing Smaller

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Throughout my career in advertising, I always thought my agency needed to pitch and win every client we could. When I went out on my own to start a new company, my instincts were to grow as big and fast as possible. In both cases, I was wrong. If someone had told me to stay small and grow slowly, I would have ignored them. I now realize that growing smaller is likely the right approach 99% of the time.

Today’s marketing landscape is saturated with messages screaming for attention and immediate transactions or sales, making it increasingly difficult for brands to stand out and maintain meaningful connections with their customers. Most brands focus on casting the widest net possible while appearing authentic. The underlying strategy is to grow at all costs, which seems to be the case in virtually all markets and industries, both B2B and B2C.

Customer Familiarity vs. Customer Intimacy

Data is cheap and readily available these days. What you do with your access to that data is often the more challenging task. Within minutes, anyone can easily set up a targeting media campaign hyperfocused on a select group of people who share not only demographic features but also psychographic and psychological characteristics, such as values, desires, goals, interests, and lifestyle choices.

Given my recent entrepreneurial adventures, I’ve started embracing a more nuanced marketing strategy. One that emphasizes the value of staying small while concentrating on a core group of loyal customers and exercising patience in growth initiatives. This new strategy focuses on leveraging the strength of more intimate marketing relationships and the benefits of narrowly focused branding efforts to forge stronger, more personal connections with consumers.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from being in the service business (either in the agency world or a company with customers who require a lot of support) is that “not every potential customer is a right fit for a business” (Godin, 2009). It almost seems counterintuitive to advocate for strategic diminution in scale and selective consumer targeting, a concept best represented by the phrase “growing smaller and selling less.” This approach goes against traditional growth metrics, prioritizing the depth of customer engagement over breadth. Accepting this as a foundational truth, I could write a very good case study on how a company can get this wrong.

Remaining small allows brands to maintain a laser focus on their mission and core values, fostering an authentic identity that resonates deeply with a targeted audience. This approach enables businesses to adapt swiftly to market changes and customer feedback, ensuring they remain relevant and competitive. It contradicts the traditional growth trajectory of expanding customer bases and product lines in favor of deepening value and satisfaction for existing customers.

Focusing on a smaller customer base with deeper loyalty can become more profitable. Companies with deeper brand loyalties might be best served by serving their customers better. Evidence shows that a modest increase in customer retention—merely 5%—can precipitate a profit surge of at least 25%, further proving the inefficiency of broad-spectrum customer acquisition strategies (Reichheld, 1996). This insight underscores the economic rationale for a concentrated customer focus, advocating for an optimized allocation of resources toward the most lucrative segments of the consumer base.

By treating each customer individually, brands can create customized experiences that foster loyalty and advocacy. Godin advocates for the “smallest viable market” concept, emphasizing the importance of focusing on a narrow audience that shares the brand’s values. This approach ensures that growth when it happens, is sustainable and aligned with the brand’s core identity.

Economic Rationalization of Narrowed Focus

Contrary to conventional growth strategies aimed at market share expansion, the “Grow Smaller” approach champions cultivating a smaller, though profoundly loyal, customer base. Kevin Kelly (2008) highlighted this concept in his “1,000 True Fans” theory, suggesting that a compact group of dedicated customers can sustain a business. “A thousand customers is a whole lot more feasible to aim for than a million fans. Millions of paying fans is not a realistic goal to shoot for, especially when you are starting out. But a thousand fans is doable. You might even be able to remember a thousand names. If you added one new true fan per day, it’d only take a few years to gain a thousand. “(Kelly, 2008). This approach is appealing due to its potential to reduce marketing and customer acquisition expenditures while simultaneously enhancing product and service personalization, augmenting customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Patience in growth plans is important for brands that prioritize long-term success over immediate results. Strategic patience involves setting realistic goals, investing in quality over quantity, and building a solid foundation of loyal customers who are deeply aligned with the brand’s values and vision. Loyal customers will become the cornerstone of a sustainable business growth plan. They not only provide consistent revenue but also serve as brand ambassadors and sources of transparent feedback. Focusing on these loyal customers involves understanding their needs and preferences at a granular level, often facilitated by CRM systems that track customer interactions and purchasing patterns.

Strategic Implementation

Operationalizing this strategy necessitates a granular understanding of the target consumer demographic, achievable through data analytics encompassing customer preferences, behaviors, and feedback. Implementing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems is extremely important in this context, facilitating tailored marketing and product development strategies. “One to one marketing means being willing and able to change your behavior toward an individual customer based on what the customer tells you and what else you know about that customer. (Peppers & Rogers, 1997)”

Social media and community engagement initiatives have become important tools for fostering customer loyalty and advocacy, further embedding the brand within the consumer’s identity. Brian Solis, Digital Analyst and Author, states, “Social media is about sociology and psychology more than technology. It’s the CRM that the customer is in control of.” From this perspective, we focus on understanding and catering to the human element of business, recognizing that in today’s digital age, customers have more control over the relationship than ever before.

Branding and Marketing Implications

This strategic pivot towards selectivity necessitates a reevaluation of branding and marketing practices. Traditional broad-spectrum messaging gives way to nuanced, highly targeted communication strategies, enhancing brand authenticity and resonance with the target demographic. As Pulizzi (2012) contends, the efficacy of content marketing is contingent upon a focused approach, underscoring the superiority of depth over breadth in audience engagement.

This approach prioritizes customer engagement depth, advocating for a resource allocation strategy that maximizes customer lifetime value. The implications for branding and marketing are profound, necessitating a shift towards more personalized and targeted communication strategies. This approach promises enhanced economic efficiency and aligns with a sustainable and ethically responsible business ethos. As such, it presents a compelling model for future business strategies in an increasingly saturated market environment.

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Although not directly about branding, this quote by Seth Godin can be interpreted in the context of branding as the importance of creating a brand so targeted and aligned with its audience that it becomes an integral part of their lifestyle, rather than just another option in a sea of choices.

Godin, S. (2009). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Portfolio.
Kelly, K. (2008). “1,000 True Fans.” The Technium.
Peppers, D., & Rogers, M. (1997). Enterprise One to One: Tools for Competing in the Interactive Age. Currency Doubleday.
Pulizzi, J. (2012). Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses. McGraw-Hill Education.
Reichheld, F. (1996). “The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value.” Harvard Business School Press.

Historical Overview of Branding and Marketing from Ancient Markets to the Industrial Revolution

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From ancient marks of craftsmanship to the trademarks of the industrial age, branding and marketing have become central to the commerce and culture of societies worldwide. This historical evolution set the stage for the sophisticated marketing strategies of the modern era, demonstrating the enduring importance of branding in connecting producers with consumers.

The branding and marketing journey is as ancient as civilization itself, evolving from the simple marks of artisans to sophisticated strategies of the industrial age. This historical overview traces the path from the early markets of Mesopotamia to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, highlighting how branding and marketing practices have been integral to commerce and culture throughout human history.

Ancient Beginnings

Mesopotamia and the Early Trade: The earliest forms of branding can be traced back to around 3000 BCE in Mesopotamia, where producers marked their goods, such as pottery, with symbols to indicate source or quality. This was a way to signify maker’s marks or trademarks, a precursor to modern branding.

Ancient Egypt: In ancient Egypt, branding was used on goods and livestock. Brand marks indicated ownership, with hieroglyphs representing the producers. This early form of branding helped distinguish and protect property.

Roman Influence: The Romans further advanced the branding concept by stamping bricks in their vast architectural projects with the manufacturer’s mark. Like today’s labels, wine, and olive oil producers also branded their amphorae to signal quality and origin.

The Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Guilds and Craftsmanship: During the Middle Ages, the rise of guilds brought about a more structured form of branding. Guilds were associations of artisans or merchants who controlled the practice of their craft in a particular town. They imposed strict quality and branding rules, requiring marks indicating the maker and assured quality.

Hallmarks and Provenance: Silver and goldsmiths marked their pieces with hallmarks indicating the metal’s purity and the origin of the craftsmanship. This system of marking goods to indicate quality and origin laid the groundwork for modern trademarks and brand reputation.

The Age of Exploration

Global Trade Networks: The Age of Exploration expanded trade routes worldwide, introducing new goods to different markets. Branding became crucial as products from distant lands needed to be identified and valued. Spices, silk, tea, and other commodities were often branded with seals or marks to indicate their origin.

Early Advertising: The increase in goods available led to the use of signs, symbols, and eventually written advertisements to market products. Inns, taverns, and shops used signs with symbols to advertise their presence to a largely illiterate population.

The Industrial Revolution

Mass Production: The Industrial Revolution brought about mass production, dramatically changing the landscape of branding and marketing. Products were no longer made by individual craftsmen but were produced in large quantities in factories. This shift necessitated a new form of branding to distinguish products and build consumer trust.

The Rise of Trademarks: As competition increased with mass production, companies began to use trademarks to protect their brands. The first registered trademark is generally recognized as the red triangle of Bass Brewery in 1876.

Advertising Boom: The Industrial Revolution also saw the rise of modern advertising. With more products than ever before and the ability to reach a wider audience through newspapers and billboards, companies have invested in advertising to influence consumer preferences and build brand loyalty.

Department Stores and Consumer Culture: The late 19th century saw the rise of department stores, which created a new way for consumers to interact with products. These stores became temples of consumer culture, offering a wide range of branded goods under one roof and using marketing to create an enticing shopping experience.

Customer Evolution through Aspirational Identity

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In a time when consumer expectations extend beyond product functionality to encompass personal growth and identity enhancement, brands face the imperative to evolve. This is where the Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM) comes in, a conceptual framework designed to anchor brand value in the aspirational identity of the consumer. By shifting focus from the transactional to the transformational, VBVM positions brands as catalysts in the customer’s journey towards their ideal self.

The landscape of consumer-brand interaction has undergone profound changes, influenced by heightened consumer awareness and the desire for products and services that resonate with personal identity and aspirations. Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt posited, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole” (Levitt, 1960), suggesting that successful brands are those that understand and cater to the underlying needs and desires of their customers. Extending Levitt’s insight, I would argue that modern consumers seek not just solutions but transformations through their interactions with brands.

The Need for the Transformative Branding Model

Traditional branding models have predominantly focused on product features, benefits, and emotional connections. However, as consumers navigate an increasingly complex and challenging world, there is a growing demand for brands that contribute to personal development and identity actualization. Dr. Carol S. Dweck’s research on growth mindset highlights the human propensity to seek self-improvement and evolution (Dweck, 2006). The Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM) emerges as a response to this demand, offering a blueprint for brands to engage with consumers on a journey towards their aspirational selves.

Components of the Transformative Branding Model

The VBVM is built on four pillars: Customer Insight, Brand Promise, Engagement Pathway, and Aspirational Identity. Each component is designed to guide brands in creating value propositions that transcend traditional benefits, fostering a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the consumer.

  • Customer Insight: A profound understanding of the consumer’s current state, aspirations, and the challenges they face in achieving their ideal self.
  • Brand Promise: A commitment to facilitating the consumer’s transformation, articulated in a way that resonates with their aspirations.
  • Engagement Pathway: A structured interaction framework that supports the consumer’s journey from their current state to their aspirational identity, leveraging both products and brand experiences.
  • Aspirational Identity: A vivid depiction of the transformation achieved through engagement with the brand, serving as both the goal and the measure of success.

Application in Modern Branding

In applying VBVM, brands must adopt a narrative-driven approach, weaving stories that embody the transformative journey. Coca-Cola’s “Open Happiness” campaign exemplifies this, positioning the brand as a conduit to a more joyful, connected life (Kotler & Keller, 2016). Similarly, Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan inspires consumers to transcend their limits, embodying the aspirational identity of athleticism and resilience (Keller, 1993).


The VBVM addresses the modern consumer’s desire for brands that contribute to their personal and aspirational goals. By focusing on the evolution of the consumer’s identity, VBVM facilitates a deeper, more engaged relationship between brands and their audience. As Dr. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore assert in “The Experience Economy,” consumers value experiences that support their personal growth and transformation (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). VBVM operationalizes this insight, providing a strategic framework for developing branding initiatives that resonate with the contemporary consumer’s quest for meaning and identity.

The VBVM represents a paradigm shift in how brands interact with consumers. It recognizes the consumer’s journey towards their aspirational identity as a critical component of brand engagement. In the current market environment, characterized by a quest for authenticity, personal growth, and self-actualization, VBVM offers a roadmap for brands to create value that transcends traditional product benefits, fostering loyalty and deepening consumer relationships. As the marketplace continues to evolve, the brands that succeed will be those that align with and support the consumer’s journey towards their ideal self.


Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House.

Keller, K. L. (1993). Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Managing Customer-Based Brand Equity. Journal of Marketing, 57(1), 1-22.

Kotler, P., & Keller, K. L. (2016). Marketing Management (15th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

Levitt, T. (1960). Marketing Myopia. Harvard Business Review, 38(4), 45-56.

Pine, B. J., & Gilmore, J. H. (1999). The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. Harvard Business School Press.

Voyager Brand Value Model Exploration

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It’s time for us to move beyond the purpose-driven “why” framework and other brand models that focus exclusively on the customer in a static state. A new approach, focusing on “who” the customer becomes through engaging with the brand, emphasizing their aspirational identity and transformational journey, should be explored. This model shifts the focus from what the brand sells to the value it adds to the customer’s life, underlining how a brand contributes to the customer’s personal growth, identity, and aspirations.

The current generation of customers, shaped by digital innovation and a world of endless choices, demands more than just transactional relationships with their favorite brands. They seek meaningful connections and personalized experiences, with brands contributing to their personal growth and identity. This shift in customer demands highlights the importance of developing a new brand model—one inspired by proven past systems yet agile enough to recognize and adapt to change.

Focusing on the customer’s aspirational identity, this new model positions the brand as a partner in the customer’s journey of self-improvement and actualization. It emphasizes the emotional and psychological benefits of engaging with the brand, creating a deeper, more meaningful connection between the brand and the customer audience. This article introduces the Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM), a conceptual framework designed to anchor brand value in the aspirational identity of the consumer. By shifting focus from the transactional to the transformational, VBVM positions brands as catalysts in the customer’s journey towards their ideal self.

Recognizing the limitations of traditional, static models, the VBVM redefines brand-customer interaction by focusing on who the customer becomes—their aspirational identity and growth journey. This model goes beyond mere transactions, driving brands to cultivate deeper, more personal relationships with consumers. It challenges brands to see themselves as partners in their customers’ narratives of self-improvement, acting as catalysts for personal growth, identity development, and the realization of aspirations. With its foundation in both historical brand strategies and contemporary adaptability, the VBVM presents a roadmap for brands to forge meaningful connections, ensuring relevance and resonance in a chaotic consumer environment.


The Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM)

The Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM) represents an evolution in brand management and customer engagement. It emphasizes not what the brand sells but rather who the customer becomes through their interaction with the brand. This new approach is a model for brands striving to foster deeper connections with their audiences, moving beyond transactional relationships to cultivate a journey of personal growth, identity, and aspiration.

At its heart, the VBVM is built on the principle that successful brands sell better versions of their customers. This principle pivots the brand’s focus towards the customer’s journey, catalyzed by the brand’s interaction. It’s a model that recognizes the evolving nature of consumer desires, emphasizing the necessity for brands to be architects of change in their customers’ lives.  This model also recognizes that brands have an obligation to be a part of their customer’s journey – from the early stages of learning to advocacy and beyond. Download PDF.


Measuring Transformation

Understanding a brand’s impact on its customers is central to this concept. The VBVM introduces metrics to measure perceived identity changes, including self-reported measures of confidence and satisfaction. This quantifiable approach to gauging emotional and psychological shifts provides invaluable insights into the efficacy of brand strategies and their resonance with the target audience.

Insight, Promise, and Engagement

The model is structured around pivotal elements that guide the brand’s narrative and engagement strategies:

  1. Customer Insight: Understanding customers’ current desires, challenges, and identities lays the groundwork for positioning a brand as a catalyst for change.
  2. Brand Promise: At this stage, a brand articulates a clear, compelling promise of transformation, committing to aiding the customer in achieving their aspirational identity.
  3. Engagement Pathway: This outlines the journey of engagement, encompassing not just the purchase but the entire spectrum of experiences with the brand.
  4. Aspirational Identity: A vivid depiction of who the customer becomes due to their journey with the brand. This should reflect both the tangible and intangible benefits of the transformation.

Aspirational Identity: Who the Customer Becomes

Perhaps the most important aspect of the VBVM is its focus on the customer’s aspirational identity. It vividly depicts who the customer becomes as a result of their journey with the brand, reflecting both tangible and intangible benefits of the transformation. This section challenges brands to answer pivotal “Who” questions, compelling them to consider the deeper impact of their offerings on the customer’s evolution.

Implementing the Model

The VBVM offers a blueprint for bringing the brand transformation framework to life through narrative development, visual symbols, community building, and product/service alignment. It encourages brands to create stories that resonate, develop visuals that represent the transformational journey, foster communities of brand advocates, and ensure that offerings contribute directly to the promised transformation.

Transformative Engagement in Practice

This new brand model calls for brands to redefine engagement in a profoundly personal and aspirationally driven manner. It champions a holistic approach, viewing customers not as mere consumers but as individuals on a journey of self-discovery and growth. By aligning brand offerings with customers’ aspirational identities, brands can unlock levels of loyalty, advocacy, and emotional connection.

The Voyager Brand Value Model offers brands a roadmap to engage with customers. It showcases a future where brands and customers go on a journey together, creating narratives of growth, identity, and aspiration that resonate deeply and enduringly.

Brand Transformation Framework

Core Principle: Focus on the customer’s transformative journey, driven by the brand’s interaction. This principle is rooted in the belief that successful brands don’t just sell products or services; they sell better versions of their customers.

Visualization: Picture a metamorphosis cycle, starting with the customer’s current state, moving through the interaction with the brand, and culminating in the aspirational state or identity the customer achieves.

Key Components of the Model

Customer Insight: Deep understanding of the customer’s current desires, challenges, and identity. This insight lays the groundwork for how the brand can position itself as a catalyst for change.

Brand Promise: A clear, compelling promise of transformation. This is the brand’s commitment to helping the customer achieve their aspirational identity.

Engagement Pathway: The steps or interactions through which the brand facilitates the customer’s transformation. This includes not just the purchase but the entire experience of engaging with the brand.

Aspirational Identity: A vivid depiction of who the customer becomes as a result of their journey with the brand. This should reflect both the tangible and intangible benefits of the transformation.

Implementing the Model

Narrative Development: Create stories that illustrate the transformation customers undergo. Use real-life testimonials, hypothetical scenarios, or narratives that resonate with the target audience.

Visual Symbols: Develop symbols, icons, or visual motifs that represent the journey of transformation. These can be used across marketing materials to reinforce the brand’s role in facilitating customer growth.

Community Building: Foster a community of brand advocates who embody the aspirational identity. Encourage them to share their stories and experiences, creating a collective narrative around the brand’s metamorphic impact.

Product/Service Alignment: Ensure that every product or service offered by the brand directly contributes to the promised transformation. This alignment reinforces the brand’s commitment to its customers’ growth.

Evaluation and Evolution

Customer Feedback Loop: Regularly gather feedback to understand how well the brand is delivering on its promise of transformation. Use this feedback to refine and evolve the brand’s approach.

Identity Metrics: Develop metrics to measure the impact of the brand on customers’ perceived identity changes. This could include self-reported measures of confidence, satisfaction, or other relevant indicators of transformation.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How does VBVM differ from traditional brand models?

Answer: Traditional brand models often emphasize the “why” behind a brand—the purpose or the reason it exists. They focus on what the brand sells or the static state of the customer. VBVM shifts this perspective to concentrate on “who” the customer becomes through their interaction with the brand, spotlighting the aspirational identity and transformational journey of the customer. It’s a new, forward-looking approach that values brand engagement’s emotional and psychological benefits, aiming to create deeper, more meaningful connections with customers.

What makes the ‘Aspirational Identity’ aspect of VBVM unique?

Answer: The ‘Aspirational Identity’ aspect is revolutionary because it directly addresses the evolution the customer experiences as a result of their journey with the brand. Unlike models that focus solely on meeting immediate needs or desires, VBVM emphasizes the long-term impact on customers’ personal growth, identity, and aspirations. It encourages brands to contemplate and contribute to the customer’s future self, making the brand an integral part of their journey.

How can a brand measure the transformation it promises in VBVM?

Answer: VBVM introduces specific metrics to assess the brand’s impact on customers, focusing on perceived identity changes. This includes self-reported measures of confidence and satisfaction, among other relevant transformation indicators. By quantifying emotional and psychological shifts, brands can gain invaluable insights into the effectiveness of their strategies and how well they resonate with their target audience, enabling continuous refinement and evolution of their approach.

Can VBVM be applied across different industries and markets?

Answer: Yes, VBVM is designed to be versatile and adaptable across various industries and markets. Its core principles and focus on the customer’s aspirational identity make it relevant to any brand looking to foster deeper connections and support their customers’ journey of self-improvement. Whether it’s consumer goods, services, or digital platforms, VBVM can guide brands in creating value that goes beyond traditional transactional relationships, cultivating loyalty and emotional engagement.

What role does technology play in implementing VBVM?

Answer: Technology is pivotal in implementing VBVM, especially in gathering and analyzing customer feedback, measuring transformation, and facilitating engagement. Digital platforms, social media, and data analytics tools can provide brands with real-time insights into customer behavior and preferences, enabling personalized and predictive marketing strategies. Technology also supports the creation of engaging narratives, the development of visual symbols, and the fostering of online communities, all of which are crucial for bringing the brand transformation framework to life in the digital age.

The Adaptive Brand Ecosystem Model

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Adopting and developing a brand model provides structure and direction to branding activities. It ensures strategic focus, guides investment in high-impact initiatives, fosters innovation, guarantees consistency across touchpoints, enables effective measurement and evaluation, and aligns internal stakeholders. Most of all, it serves as a blueprint for your marketing and brand campaigns. However, not all models are created equal.

The complexity of today’s marketing and branding ecosystem requires a model that encapsulates the traditional branding elements, such as identity, value proposition, and consumer engagement and integrates the interconnected nature of digital channels, consumer co-creation, and global market trends. While successful in their right, the existing models often fall short of capturing this holistic view, leaving companies with a fragmented understanding of their brand’s role in a larger ecosystem.

The Limitations of Old Models for Branding

I’ve spent most of my career looking for ways to simplify the development of creative, marketing, and branding efforts. In studying the various brand models created over the past century, I’ve come to understood their strengths and limitations. These models have provided general frameworks that guide brands in creating, managing, and evaluating their identity and positioning in the marketplace. They offer structured pathways for understanding brand essence, consumer perception, and the strategic execution of marketing efforts. However, despite their contributions to the field of marketing and branding, I’ve observed a significant gap: none of these models offer a comprehensive view of the entire marketing and branding ecosystem.

Furthermore, I’ve seen widespread misunderstandings about these models among non-marketers. These individuals often find the concepts abstract and removed from the practical realities of running a business. This disconnect stems not from a lack of interest or relevance but from the models’ inability to translate complex marketing theories into actionable insights that resonate across different functions of a business. As a result, there’s a critical gap in knowledge and application of these frameworks among those who could benefit from them the most.

Compounding this issue, many companies, perhaps overwhelmed by these models’ perceived complexity or theoretical nature, tend to ignore structured approaches altogether. Instead, they focus on discrete tasks and activities, mistaking motion for progress. While productive in the short term, this task-oriented mindset lacks the strategic cohesion and direction that a well-structured brand model can provide. Without this strategic foundation, efforts become disjointed, opportunities for synergy are missed, and the brand’s potential impact is diluted.

A New Model for Branding

I am a strong advocate for developing and adopting a more integrated brand model that reflects the multifaceted reality of modern marketing and branding. Such a model would serve as a navigational tool for marketers and demystify the branding process for non-marketers, fostering a deeper, organization-wide understanding of the brand’s strategic role. Moreover, by encouraging a structured approach to branding efforts, companies can move beyond the limitations of task-oriented thinking to achieve coherent, strategic, and impactful brand engagement across all touchpoints of the marketing and branding ecosystem.

Recognizing the limitations of existing brand models and the need for a more holistic approach that resonates across all organizational levels, an Adaptive Brand Ecosystem is beneficial and essential for modern businesses. Here are key reasons why developing a new brand model is crucial:

Dynamic Interactions: Unlike traditional linear models of brand-consumer interactions, an Adaptive Brand Ecosystem emphasizes the multidirectional exchanges between a brand, its consumers, competitors, and the wider cultural and economic contexts. These interactions are continuously evolving, influenced by and influencing the ecosystem at large.

Evolutionary Adaptation: Brands within this ecosystem must adapt to survive and thrive in response to changing external pressures, such as shifts in consumer behavior, technological advancements, and competitive movements. This adaptation is reactive, responding to immediate changes and anticipatively preparing for future shifts.

Integrated Touchpoints: Communication and engagement with consumers are seamlessly integrated across multiple platforms and touchpoints, ensuring consistent and coherent brand experiences. This integration is vital for building and maintaining trust and loyalty within the ecosystem.

Customer-Centricity: At the heart of the Adaptive Brand Ecosystem is a deep focus on understanding and meeting consumers’ evolving needs and desires. Brands that succeed in this ecosystem are genuinely committed to delivering value and relevance to their consumers.

Sustainability and Ethical Responsibility: Recognizing the interconnectedness of all ecosystem components, successful adaptive brands prioritize sustainability and ethical considerations in their operations, product development, and marketing strategies. This not only addresses consumer demand for responsible brands but also ensures the long-term viability of the ecosystem itself.

Implications for Brand Strategy:

Agility and Flexibility: Brands must cultivate organizational agility to respond to ecosystem changes quickly. This includes flexible business models, adaptive marketing strategies, and an openness to innovation.

Continuous Learning and Innovation: Ongoing research and engagement with consumers, competitors, and technological trends are crucial for anticipating and initiating change within the ecosystem.

Collaborative Networks: Building and maintaining collaborative networks with other entities within the ecosystem can enhance innovation, extend brand reach, and foster resilience.

Authentic Engagement: Authenticity in brand messaging, values, and actions is key to building trust and loyalty within the ecosystem. Brands must ensure their actions align with their stated values and promises to consumers.

The Evolution of Brand Marketing Models

The proposed Adaptive Brand Ecosystem model represents a significant leap forward in our understanding of branding in the 21st century. It recognizes that brand success is no longer dictated by linear processes but by the ability to adapt and thrive within a constantly evolving environment. This new model underscores the importance of agility, continuous learning, collaborative networks, and authenticity in crafting brand strategies that resonate with contemporary consumers. By adopting such an approach, companies can ensure that their branding efforts are coherent and strategic and deeply attuned to the fluid nature of consumer preferences and market dynamics.

Brands that embrace this holistic, adaptive approach will be better positioned to forge deeper connections with their audience, innovate successfully, and achieve sustainable growth in the years to come.

Questions About the Adaptive Brand Ecosystem Model

How does the Adaptive Brand Ecosystem model differ from traditional branding models?

The Adaptive Brand Ecosystem model focuses on the dynamic, interactive relationships between a brand, its consumers, and the market environment, emphasizing adaptability and integrated communication across various platforms. In contrast, traditional models often follow a more linear approach, concentrating on product-centric or one-way communication strategies.

Why is agility important in the Adaptive Brand Ecosystem model, and how can brands achieve it?

Agility allows brands to quickly respond to market changes, consumer trends, and competitive pressures, ensuring they remain relevant and competitive. Brands can achieve agility by fostering a culture of innovation, streamlining decision-making processes, and staying closely connected to consumer needs and feedback.

How can brands effectively engage in authentic communication within the Adaptive Brand Ecosystem?

Authentic communication involves being transparent about the brand’s values, maintaining consistency across all touchpoints, and ensuring brand actions align with promotional messages. This approach builds trust and strengthens relationships with consumers.

What role does consumer feedback play in the Adaptive Brand Ecosystem model, and how should brands respond to it?

Consumer feedback is crucial for understanding consumer needs, preferences, and perceptions. Brands should actively seek out, listen to, and analyze feedback to inform product development, marketing strategies, and overall brand direction, adapting their approaches based on this valuable input.

How can collaborative networks enhance a brand’s position within the Adaptive Brand Ecosystem?

Collaborative networks can provide brands access to new ideas, technologies, and markets, enabling innovation and growth. By working with partners, brands can extend their reach, share resources, and enhance their resilience against market challenges.

Beyond Purpose-Driven Brand Marketing

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Throughout history, brand marketing has continually adapted to new technologies and shifts in consumer preferences. From simple marks of craftsmanship to complex digital campaigns, brand marketing has become a fundamental aspect of business strategy, aiming to build brand equity, loyalty, and a strong emotional connection with consumers. As consumer preferences change, so must our methods of building relationships with them.

Over the past few years, I’ve been exploring different models for brand marketing, looking for unique and memorable ways to stand out in a marketplace where nearly every organization is looking to build customer relationships.  Brand marketing, in various forms, has been around for centuries, evolving significantly over time to adapt to changes in consumer behavior, technology, and market conditions. Branding dates back to ancient times when artisans would mark their goods to signify their origin and quality. However, the more modern concept of brand marketing, focused on creating a distinct brand identity and building relationships with consumers, is more of a product of the modern industrial society.

Brand Marketing Models

To help create a new model for brand marketing, I think it’s important to understand the models and methods of those brand thought leaders have given us over the years.  Many of us already use these methods and approaches but probably don’t know where they originated. While not a complete list of all the leaders in the field, these authors represent the most influential approaches to marketing this century – including a short summary of their contributions.

Marketing Myopia (Theodore Levitt, 1960)

Theodore Levitt revolutionized the marketing field with his concept of Marketing Myopia. He challenged businesses to broaden their vision of their industries to avoid a narrow focus on selling products. Levitt argued that companies should concentrate on customer needs and adapt to changing markets rather than being product-centric. This perspective encourages organizations to redefine their missions, focus on sustainable growth, and innovate continuously to meet the evolving demands of consumers.

Marketing Management (Philip Kotler, 1967)

Kotler’s work laid out foundational marketing concepts such as the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place, Promotion), which became crucial tools for marketers in planning and implementing effective marketing strategies. He also stressed the importance of market research, data analysis, and the continuous evaluation of marketing efforts to ensure alignment with changing consumer preferences and market conditions. Kotler as been a prolific author over the years, publishing several books on marketing, which discuss the topics of Holistic Marketing, Social Marketing, Concept of Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning (STP), Marketing Management, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), and the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Ethical Marketing.

Brand Equity (Kevin Lane Keller, 1993)

Keller’s brand equity model focuses on the importance of consumer knowledge about a brand. He proposed that brand equity is built through brand awareness, brand associations, perceived quality, and brand loyalty. This framework highlights how consumers’ thoughts and feelings about a brand influence its success. Keller’s Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model is a framework that outlines how to build a strong brand. It suggests that brand strength is based on four levels of brand development: brand identity (who are you?), brand meaning (what are you?), brand responses (what about you?), and brand relationships (what about you and me?). This model emphasizes developing a deep, meaningful relationship with consumers. Keller also introduced the Brand Resonance Model, which provides a detailed approach to achieving brand resonance, where consumers have a deep, psychological bond with the brand. It outlines a series of steps that brands should aim for, starting from ensuring brand identity to creating intense, active loyalty.

Brand Asset Valuator (Young & Rubicam, 1993)

The Brand Asset Valuator (BAV) model assesses a brand’s strength in the market based on four key dimensions: differentiation (the brand’s distinctiveness), relevance (the brand’s importance to consumers), esteem (how well the brand is regarded), and knowledge (how familiar and intimate consumers are with the brand). It’s a tool to measure a brand’s current and future value. The Brand Asset Valuator model asserts that these dimensions interact to build brand equity. A strong brand starts by being differentiated, which makes it relevant. As the brand proves itself over time, it gains esteem. With sustained esteem and relevance, consumers become more knowledgeable about the brand. This model guides strategic marketing decisions, tracks brand health over time, and compares a brand’s strength against competitors.

Brand Identity System (David Aaker, 1996)

Aaker introduced the Brand Identity System, emphasizing the importance of a brand’s identity in its marketing efforts. He outlined that brand identity consists of a core identity and an extended identity, which includes brand essence, brand values, and personality traits. His framework provides a structured approach to defining and managing a brand’s identity across four dimensions. The first dimension, Brand as Product, focuses on the tangible aspects of the product, including its attributes, quality, and users. The second, Brand as Organization, emphasizes the organization’s culture, values, and operational strategy. The third, Brand as Person, assigns human personality traits to the brand, influencing its communication and consumer engagement. Finally, the Brand as Symbol dimension encompasses the brand’s visual elements, such as logos and visual identity, which enhance recognition and foster emotional connections.

Marketing Holism (Philip Kotler, 2000)

Philip Kotler introduced the concept of Marketing Holism, underscoring the necessity of an integrated and holistic approach to marketing. He advocated that marketing should not be seen as a series of discrete actions or tactics but as a comprehensive system where every aspect, from product development to customer service, is interconnected. Kotler’s emphasis on creating a seamless consumer experience across all touchpoints changed how businesses approach marketing strategy, ensuring that each element works together to support the overall brand promise and meet consumer needs.

The holistic marketing concept is organized around four main components: Integrated Marketing: Ensures that all forms of communication and messages are carefully linked together, maintaining consistency across all marketing channels. Internal Marketing: Emphasizes the importance of internal processes and employee engagement as integral to delivering customer satisfaction. Relationship Marketing: Focuses on building long-term relationships with customers, stakeholders, and other partners to foster loyalty and repeat business. Socially Responsible Marketing: Recognizes the importance of social and ethical considerations in marketing practices, including the impact on the environment, society, and cultural norms.

Brand Resonance Model (Kevin Lane Keller, 2001)

The Brand Resonance Model builds on the concept of brand equity, outlining a pyramid of steps leading to brand resonance, where consumers have a deep, psychological bond with the brand. It starts with ensuring brand identity (who are you?), followed by creating meaningful brand meaning (what are you?), eliciting positive brand responses (what about you?), and culminating in brand resonance (what about you and me?). The Brand Resonance Model, a component of the CBBE Model, specifically focuses on the ultimate relationship and level of identification that a consumer has with the brand. It is depicted as a pyramid with four levels, each building upon the last: Brand Salience, Brand Performance and Brand Imagery, Brand Judgments and Brand Feelings, and Brand Resonance. The Brand Resonance Model is essentially a detailed view of the last step of the CBBE Model (Brand Relationships), detailing how to achieve intense, active loyalty and attachment between the consumer and the brand. It emphasizes the importance of not just being known, but being loved and integrated into the consumer’s lifestyle and identity.

Blue Ocean Strategy (W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, 2004)

Though not exclusively a branding theory, the Blue Ocean Strategy is influential in marketing because it advocates that businesses can succeed not by battling competitors but by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space. It encourages brands to innovate and create new demand, making the competition irrelevant. Red Oceans represent all the industries today, where companies fiercely compete for market share, and the boundaries of industries are defined and accepted. The competitive space is crowded, prospects for growth are reduced, and profits are slim. Blue Oceans, conversely, represent all the industries not in existence today – the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In Blue Oceans, demand is created rather than fought over.

Cultural Branding (Douglas Holt, 2004)

Holt argues that the most iconic brands achieve their status by acting as cultural innovators. They craft a brand myth that addresses societal tensions and desires, positioning the brand as a symbol within cultural movements. This approach sees brands as playing a role in cultural narratives and movements, creating deep emotional connections with consumers. Unlike traditional branding strategies that focus on functional benefits or emotional connections, Cultural Branding emphasizes the role of brands in fulfilling societal myths and addressing cultural tensions. Brands like Harley-Davidson, Apple, and Nike have successfully employed cultural branding strategies.

The Golden Circle (Simon Sinek, 2009)

Sinek’s Golden Circle theory posits that successful brands communicate by starting with “Why” (their purpose, cause, or belief), then explaining “How” (the process or values that differentiate them), and finally “What” (the product or service they offer). This approach aims to inspire and attract customers who share the brand’s beliefs. The Golden Circle model suggests that when organizations and leaders articulate and lead with their “Why,” they attract customers and employees who share their fundamental beliefs, creating a strong, loyal following. This is not just about transactional relationships but about forming connections on a belief level, leading to more profound and lasting success.

What’s Next in Brand Marketing

“Purpose often fails. But perhaps it is so hard to fix because this failure can come in many shapes and sizes. Purpose can fail when a brand reaches too high and tries to build a purpose that is too lofty. Here, purpose becomes the ever-feared fluff.” (Meggan Wood, Forbes Councils Member)

While countless books on marketing have been published since Sinek’s profoundly influential book Start With Why, we haven’t been introduced to any new concepts that deliver such an effective, albeit simple, new framework or model we can apply to the modern marketing ecosystem. Drawing inspiration from the great minds in branding that have come before, this is where we start to ask the question: What comes after purpose?

The answer lies in the “Adaptive Brand Ecosystems” concept, an approach that merges Aaker’s structural insights and Sinek’s purpose-driven philosophy with a strategy fit for the digital age.

Adaptive Brand Ecosystems propose a new paradigm where brands are not just purposeful entities but living, breathing organisms that adapt, engage, and evolve within their environments. Here, the brand’s essence is fluid, shaped by interactions, technological advancements, and a genuine commitment to ethical responsibility, promising a revolutionary way to connect with consumers on a level that goes beyond traditional marketing narratives.

David Aaker, often cited as the father of modern branding, introduced the concept of brand personality in his book “Building Strong Brands.” His model focuses on developing a brand as a complex entity with a distinct personality, much like a human, including traits, culture, and values. This approach is pivotal in creating deep, emotional connections with consumers. Aaker also emphasized the significance of brand equity, consisting of brand loyalty, awareness, perceived quality, and brand associations, which contribute to the value offered by a product or service.

Simon Sinek, on the other hand, introduced a simple yet profound model for inspirational leadership and marketing, encapsulated in his Golden Circle theory. He argues that successful organizations start with a clear understanding of “Why” they exist, before moving on to “How” they do what they do, and finally “What” it is they do. This “Why” centers on the purpose, cause, or belief that drives every organization. Sinek’s approach has been highly influential in purpose-driven marketing, suggesting that consumers connect more deeply with brands that have a clear, altruistic purpose beyond just profit.

Merging Aaker’s and Sinek’s perspectives offers a compelling framework for modern brand marketing. While Aaker provides the structure for building brand identity and equity, Sinek injects the soul, emphasizing the importance of starting with a purpose. However, as we explore new territories in branding, there’s an opportunity to go beyond purpose-driven marketing.

The next evolution could involve what might be termed “Adaptive Brand Ecosystems.” This concept suggests that brands should not only know their foundational purpose (Sinek’s “Why”) and have a strong, character-driven identity (Aaker’s model) but also must be adaptive, flexible, and responsive to their environment. This involves:

  1. Dynamic Engagement: Brands should constantly learn from interactions across various touchpoints, adapting messaging, and strategies in real-time based on consumer behavior and feedback.
  2. Co-creation with Consumers: Moving beyond traditional engagement, brands should foster environments where consumers contribute to the brand’s evolution, creating a more personal and invested relationship.
  3. Sustainability and Ethical Responsibility: In a time increasingly defined by social challenges, a brand’s commitment to sustainability and ethical practices becomes part of its core identity and purpose.
  4. Technological Integration: Utilizing AI, machine learning, and other technologies not just for marketing efficiency, but to enhance the customer experience and create new ways for consumers to interact with the brand.

In this framework, brands are seen as living entities within their ecosystems, constantly evolving based on external pressures and internal innovations. This approach can create deeper, more resilient consumer connections, ensuring long-term relevance and loyalty. It’s a blend of maintaining a strong, attractive brand identity and personality while being genuinely purpose-driven and adaptable to the rapidly changing world.

The concept of an “Adaptive Brand Ecosystem” represents a modern approach to branding that acknowledges the complex, dynamic nature of today’s business environment. This approach suggests that brands must evolve from being static entities with unidirectional messaging to becoming more like living ecosystems that adapt and respond to their environments.  Like the brand and marketing models that came before, I am currently working on a visualization model to help simplify this new approach.

The Third Place

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In the quiet hum of a bustling coffee shop, where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the low murmur of conversations, lies the essence of what sociologists call “The Third Place.” A concept popularized by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, it refers to those inclusive locations that are neither home (the first place) nor work (the second place), but rather public spots where people can gather, interact, and build community.

In today’s digitally connected world, where remote working and online relationships dominate our social fabric, the significance of these third places has been multiplied, offering a tangible antidote to the isolation of digital life. They are the locations where we exchange ideas, have a good time, and build relationships.  I’ve always had a third place where I felt comfortable – places where I could escape my office to get some free thinking done.  It was often a coffee shop; other times, a park, restaurant, book store, or fitness center (kidding on the last one – I never went).

When I left my career in advertising, where creative thinkers surrounded me in an office, I struggled to find my new community. I was working from home quite a bit, but also in a workshop, where the sounds of metal grinders replaced the sounds of a coffee grinder.  For the better part of the first year of my new venture, it was myself and one employee at the workshop.  We got along very well, but each came from a different background – I missed the immediacy of being able to wander into one of my co-workers’ offices to run an idea past them or engage in social banter.  I needed social interaction but didn’t have the luxury of a traditional office.

I wasn’t alone.

Amid the global shift towards remote work, the importance of face-to-face connections has never been more pronounced. Dr. Tina Phillips, a psychologist specializing in human connections, asserts, “Humans are inherently social creatures. Despite the convenience of digital communication, the depth of face-to-face interaction is irreplaceable. Third places offer a venue for these essential interactions, bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds.”

Connecting in a Connected World

The digital era has transformed how we interact, often reducing complex human emotions to emojis and text messages. This shift underscores the necessity for physical spaces where unplanned, spontaneous interactions can flourish. Dr. Phillips says such interactions are “crucial for our mental health and sense of belonging.”

Companies have capitalized on the third place concept to carve out significant niches within the market. Starbucks has famously positioned its cafes as “the third place,” a comfortable and inviting space between home and work where people can relax, meet, or work independently. This branding strategy has contributed to Starbucks’ image as a community hub and driven its expansion worldwide.

Similarly, coworking spaces like WeWork have redefined the traditional office environment, offering flexible, communal areas that cater to the needs of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote workers seeking connection and community. These spaces embody the essence of the third place, where the blending of work, play, and social interaction fosters a unique ecosystem of creativity and collaboration.

The resurgence of local bookstores and libraries as community hubs further illustrates the enduring appeal of third places. These spaces offer more than just books; they provide a sanctuary for thought, discussion, and connection, hosting events that bring together diverse groups of people.

For me, I found Sandy’s Tavern.  A burger joint just two blocks away from my workshop.  It became my afternoon ritual.  I would take my laptop and notes to my semi-reserved bar stool, where I would post up to work, socialize, and sip a few 3.2% lightweight beers while enjoying one of the best burger and fries baskets you will ever taste.  Eventually, I would become very close friends with the owner, staff, and a group of regulars who had the same routine.

Meaningful Relationships and Social Engagement

The search for meaningful connections and community remains at the heart of the human experience – almost as important as finding a great hamburger. In its many forms, the third place is a testament to the enduring need for physical spaces that foster social interaction and community building. In the words of Oldenburg, “Third places…are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The more we have, the more connected and grounded we feel.”

The journey towards fostering human connections in the digital age may be challenging, but it is clear that the third place plays a pivotal role in this quest. As we seek a balance between our online lives and the physical world, these spaces offer a little hope, reminding us of the value of community and the simple yet important pleasure of a face-to-face conversation.

The Remote Work Generation

As the narrative around work and productivity evolves in the post-pandemic era, the conversation naturally extends to the contentious debate on returning to the office. The shift toward remote working has not only redefined the boundaries of the workplace but also reshaped employees’ expectations and desires. In this new reality, the traditional office space and the often derided “forced fun” of corporate team-building activities no longer hold the appeal they once might have. The emerging consensus among self-aware companies is that adaptability, rather than insistence on returning to pre-pandemic norms, is key to thriving in the new economy.

The insistence on dragging employees back to the office overlooks a fundamental shift in how work is perceived and valued. Today, employees seek more than just a paycheck; they seek flexibility, autonomy, and, importantly, meaningful interactions that aren’t mandated as part of a corporate agenda. Dr. Emily Stone, a business psychologist specializing in workplace culture, emphasizes that “The future of work is about choice and recognizing that meaningful engagement cannot be manufactured through obligatory social events. Instead, creating opportunities for genuine connection, perhaps by encouraging encounters in third places, can significantly enhance employee satisfaction and loyalty.”

Companies that understand the benefit of third places are positioning themselves ahead of the curve. Rather than enforcing outdated interaction models, they are exploring how these neutral, inviting spaces can catalyze creativity, collaboration, and community. By supporting or creating third places, businesses can offer employees the flexibility to find balance and connection on their own terms. This approach acknowledges the diverse needs of a modern workforce and that inspiration and innovation often strike outside the confines of the traditional office environment.

Companies Primed to Benefit From The Third Place Movement

Several companies and industries have notably benefited from the third place concept, leveraging these communal spaces to foster engagement, creativity, and loyalty among customers and employees alike. Here are some examples:

  • Community Centers and Nonprofits: Organizations that operate community centers or similar spaces often benefit from the third place concept by providing a safe and welcoming environment for various groups to gather, participate in activities, and support each other.
  • Retailers with Community Spaces: Some retail brands, such as REI and Apple, offer community spaces where customers can attend workshops, learn new skills, or participate in group activities. This approach not only enhances the customer experience but also builds brand loyalty.
  • Fitness Centers and Yoga Studios: Fitness brands like Peloton, which offer both online and in-person classes, and traditional yoga studios use the third place concept to create communities centered around health and wellness, encouraging regular attendance and social interaction among members.
  • Restaurants and Cafes with a Community Focus: Beyond serving food and drinks, many restaurants and cafes are designing their spaces to serve as community hubs where people can meet, work, or participate in events, attracting a regular clientele who value a sense of belonging.
  • Makerspaces and Creative Hubs: Spaces dedicated to creativity and making, such as makerspaces, art studios, and craft workshops, attract individuals interested in learning, sharing skills, and collaborating on projects, fostering a vibrant community of creators.
  • Online Platforms with Physical Meetups: Companies like, which facilitate online groups that host in-person gatherings, indirectly benefit from the third place concept by encouraging real-world connections and community building among people with shared interests.
  • The Modern Public House: One of the things I enjoyed about operating a business in England was the various pubs I would come across. We don’t have the same concept in the US, but several companies are trying to re-create this sense of community – with quite a bit of American flair.  Smash Park, which recently opened a location in the Twin Cities, is a venue that combines entertainment, sports, and socializing and is perfectly positioned to leverage the third-place concept to its advantage. Smash Park naturally embodies the essence of a third place: a communal, inclusive space where people come together outside of their homes and workplaces by offering a diverse array of activities- from pickleball courts to arcade games and from live music to diverse dining options.

Social Engagement and Mental Health

Embracing third places aligns with recognizing the importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace. Providing employees with the autonomy to choose where they work and interact acknowledges individual preferences and lifestyles, fostering a culture of respect and understanding. This cultural shift benefits employees and enriches the company by cultivating a more engaged, motivated, and satisfied workforce.

The benefits of embracing third places extend beyond employee well-being and attracting and retaining top talent. The flexibility and autonomy associated with third-place-friendly policies can significantly draw prospective employees. Companies seen as adaptive, human-centric, and forward-thinking are more likely to appeal to a generation of workers who value freedom, authenticity, and meaningful connections.

Companies and organizations that recognize and harness the power of third places will find themselves at the forefront of the new economy. These entities understand that the future of work isn’t about returning to the past but about moving forward with intention, embracing the changes that have reshaped the landscape of employment, and fostering environments where creativity, well-being, and community flourish. In doing so, they are not only enhancing the lives of their employees but also setting a new standard for what it means to be a truly modern workplace.