Doug Holt’s Cultural Branding Framework

I can watch Doug Holt’s Cultural Branding talk over and over. His framework is quite beautiful and it helped me understand an underlying framework that I’ve used to take older organizations and rework their myth to make them relevant to the present day.

  • Brand advances an ideology
  • That resolves a profound cultural tension
  • At a particular moment in history, due to societal shifts
  • Via content repurposed from subcultural “source materials”

Worksheet version

From his book, How Brands Become Icons he gives a few key axioms:

  1. Iconic brands address acute contradictions in society. “By tapping into a collective desire or anxiety, iconic brands develop a status that transcends functional benefits. They challenge people, either directly or subtly, to reconsider accepted thinking and behavior.”**
  2. Iconic brands develop identity myths that address these desires and anxieties. “By creating imaginary worlds, they offer escape from everyday reality.”**
  3. Identity myths reside in the brand, which consumers experience and share via ritual action. When the brand performs its myth, it becomes the symbol  and embodiment of it all. It allows the consumer to lessen their identity burden with association, and it is reinforced through barely perceptible moments of epiphany.
  4. These identity myths are set in populist worlds. It isn’t about business or about being with the elite — it’s about the people in the margins who are unaffected by all the trends and messages that surround them. These worlds aren’t extrinsically motivated and are instead intrinsically motivated.
  5. Iconic brands perform as activists, leading culture. An iconic brand enables consumers to think differently about themselves, and goes beyond the addition of new capabilities provided by the product; it’s the identity value that allows them to be at the cutting edge.
  6. Iconic brands rely on breakthrough performances rather than consistent communications. There are key, precisely timed moments when an iconic brand comes into the foreground. It isn’t about a regularly timed message — it’s about being at the right time with what Holt calls “a few masterful performances.”
  7. Iconic brands enjoy a cultural halo effect. “When a brand delivers a powerful myth that customers find useful in augmenting their identities, this identity value casts a halo on other aspects of the brand. Great myths enhance the brand’s quality reputation, distinctive benefits, and status value.” —Doug Holt

Over time, the brand comes to embody the myth. It becomes a shorthand symbol that represents far more than just a brand of soft drink, cigarette, or car. While there are now many expensive watches to choose from, Rolex still symbolizes success and status around the world.
—via a Millward Brown summary**