How Third-wave Brands Build Better Business

Christopher Kent Meunier, Senior Strategist, South Africa

02 January 2019

You’re a cave dweller, at least according to Instagram. If you’ve recently uploaded a picture or explored your ‘Discover’ page it means that you’re probably just as obsessed with imagery as our forefathers were with posting onto their (cave) walls.

Images and symbols are short ways to communicate lengthy messages. There’s that deafening cliché; “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Your brand is no different because it allows you to immortalise your business’s key differentiation into easily understood media.

As we’ve evolved so too has the practice of branding. Our prolonged relationships with business as consumers has ensured that branding has gone from saying ‘mama’ to fostering us into old age homes. The following waves are the key milestones of brand practice’s development as the love child between business and consumer. 

Lascaux Cave Painting

Photograph by Prof Saxx

First-wave Branding / The Icon

Brand practice can be rooted as far back as the Old Norse word ‘brandr’ or ‘to burn’ and was used to mark livestock according to ownership. Branding in a corporate sense isn’t much different, it’s origins in business were exactly that – to mark a product as being produced by your respective business. 

In other words and originally, all that was necessary to sell a product was to create something of superior value as a result of its better quality and to convince the consumer, through a branding activity, that only your business could be capable of producing such a masterpiece. 

Needless to say, such endeavours had not taken into consideration the systemic repercussions of the brand on all stakeholders but did always place consumers as its first priority.

What it had failed to do was to consider the impact of a brand on corporate communications from a holistic purview and, in doing so, left branding’s impact on strategic communications severely diminished.

” Consumers do not buy a product. They buy a product benefit. ” – David Ogilvy

First-wave branding was born in a marketplace that had businesses battling over the betterment of key product specifications and not a higher purpose. It was the beginning of mass consumerism and of free enterprise, the Western World had just skirmished itself out of war and was ready for the capitalist boom.

Iver Johnson Revolver Ad

Image by Truly Deeply

Second-wave Branding / The Meaning

Since such a time, branding has evolved into something significantly more nuanced. It is no longer simply what you tell people you are or how quirky your name is. Instead, it is what the community believes you are as a result of your active communication of purpose.

I use the word ‘evolved’ because in many ways a brand is still used to attribute credit for a good or service to a particular entity but it has had to simultaneously adapt to the rising complexities from ever emerging competition and ageing consumer relationships by growing a sense of sentimentality – a natural maturation of the industry.

This is to say that, instead of merely a method of identification, brand practice has evolved into a method of meaning-making. In the 90’s a brand would only influence advertising in as far as a product’s superior specifications go but advertising now often includes a brand’s vision of the future or reason for being.

We have gone from wanting better objects to being mesmerised by better ideas and it is in this perception of a brand’s idea that lies the power of the next wave – consumer experience.


Case Study

Brand: Nike
Campaign: Dream Crazy

Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign featuring the controversial Colin Kaepernick, among other popular athletes, is a prominent example of a brand that takes a bold position on socio-political circumstances in order to bolster its relationship with its target market. ‘Dream Crazy’ challenges its audience to be bolder than ever before by asking if their dreams are ‘crazy enough’. Nike attaches itself to a story greater than itself and in doing so leverages the sentimental gravitas necessary to create meaning for its current and prospective consumers.

Third-wave Branding / The Relationship

Stakeholder capitalism means that all key stakeholders of a company are prioritised equally and indefinitely. In this era we see branding take charge of all major functions of the corporation because it centralises the roles of all departments around the premise of your brand and business purpose.

The influence of stakeholders on a company’s reputation has never had as much impact and, so, brand practice permeates all areas of business. This wave has CEO’s use branding as a tool to not only express the voice of the company but also as a means of corporate governance through the corporate brand.

The redefinition of the brand to suit your business’s relationships with stakeholders is critical to achieving its end objectives. Recently, American Express changed its perspective on relationships from card issuer & card holder to club & member. Using Nike again, it has had to shift its relational values from seller & buyer to coach & athlete.

Such brand paradigms give clear direction to your enterprise on all tiers of corporate transaction. Transforming it from a one-dimensional communication to a multi-faceted organisation which becomes dynamic to the market because it allows for dialogue with all stakeholders – on the premise of its intended objectives or meaningful purpose.

This inevitably brings your business to life as it becomes responsive to and grows a personality within the environment it operates – resulting in better engagement rates, honing a sense of authentic differentiation, and securing loyalty through a sense of honesty.

There can be no effective business strategy without the consideration of a strategic brand narrative.

In the next entry, we will explore approaches to the construction and reshaping of your current brand narrative.


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