Homenewsabout usContact UsWebsite

Winning marketers create and manage meaning around their brands

In the highly commoditised world of consumerism, the biggest challenge facing brand experts and marketers is not to create a differentiated brand or product/service, but to build salience by creating and managing meaning around a brand. It is only by having a very specific meaning in a consumer's mind that a person will ultimately buy a particular brand or service.
Tiaan Ras
Tiaan Ras

Brand ‘sins’

Too many brands do not clearly crystallise who and what they are. In other words, they do not differentiate clearly enough between what they actually stand for and what they do not stand for, as a result there are far too many grey areas.

Brand managers also tend to think far too tactically about brands. Instead of focusing on conveying a consistent message about the brand’s personality and characteristics, they all too often come up with new campaigns and marketing messages that only confuse consumers more.

Instead, brands and companies should agree on a solid strategic framework in terms of cause, meaning and positioning, and time and time again test marketing plans and actions against this framework. If any action or plan falls outside the framework, it makes no sense to pursue it. Having a strategic framework also minimises personal opinion, which may derail the positioning and meaning of a brand.

While the strategic framework should largely remain in place, the context will change continuously according to market relevance. For example, care-giving at the beginning of the century could differ substantially from what it is today, therefore, to avoid becoming irrelevant, one constantly needs to adapt and redefine context and meaning. And this is where the magic of a great creative partnership lies. Within the parameters of the strategic framework and insights, a great creative team can conceptualise brand narratives that are relevant in the current context.

Differentiation vs salience

Salience instead of differentiation is a brand’s new, unique selling proposition (USP). Brands should not try and be different, but to be the very BEST in a particular segment or category. To achieve this, they should utilise and build on their strongest characteristics, and in the process also create their own, distinctive personality. As the emerging millennial market tends to look for a ‘cool’ brand experience (instead of merely being loyal to brand), going forward, brands should also focus strongly on building more of these ‘experiences’.

Meaning management system

To assist current and future clients building and managing meaning around their brands, Etiket has created a unique brand positioning platform or meaning management system known as the Reimagine Toolkit.

Combining the thinking and evolving the work of thought leaders like Carl Jung, Carol Pearson, Simon Sinek, Marty Neumeier and Byron Sarpe with our own tried and tested brand philosophies, experience and strategies, the toolkit not only formalises the agency’s strategic approach to brand and business positioning, but always answers the question as to HOW we create or evolve brands in context and inspire action.

Assuming that companies, like people, are dynamic organisations, the toolkit measures four human characteristics or dimensions, namely personality, purpose, product and promise with three axes in each dimension. Including a third axis in every dimension (as opposed to the usual two-axes segmentation) allows for a more refined and unique positioning of a brand that results in building brand meaning through salience rather than differentiation (USPs), which, in a matter of months, becomes just another point of parity.

The construct continuums that are measured on the three axes in each dimension always answer to one of the following three questions:

  • Why does the brand do it?
  • How does the brand do it?
  • What does the brand stand for?


In terms of brand personality, we work strongly with Jungian archetypes or universal characters and characteristics, which provide an implied value set around a brand. Brands that retain substantial meaning and value also tend to centre on archetypes, for example Jeep, which personifies exploration, Lego (creativity) and Ouma (care-giving).

As an additional overlay to the personality dimension, we have created eight master archetypes with 24 brand archetypes. The depiction of a brand or a business as an archetypal character, for instance an adventurer, performer, jester or sage) creates a basic and intrinsic understanding and meaning of the business’s personality, how it should behave and how it can inspire action.

The conceptual and theoretical thinking behind the development of the toolkit has been stress tested with brand experts, academics, research experts, a psychometrist, a clinical psychologist and marketing experts. On a practical level, the tool has been tested with several clients in strategic workshops. This will be ongoing.

While a lot of effort has gone into the development of the tool itself, substantial work and energy are also going into formalising and capturing the methodology behind the tool to ensure a consistent approach in the application of the tool.

Currently, the tool is being applied in a qualitative and facilitated manner, but a combined quantitative and qualitative approach is foreseen once enough qualitative data has been gathered to formalise a questionnaire and discussion guide-like construct.

Tried and tested, we firmly believe many brands can benefit from this unique meaning management system to keep them at the forefront.

9 May 2017 12:01


About the author

Tiaan Ras is the Chief Strategy Officer at Etiket Brand Design.