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The 4 stages of branding — Stage 2: What you do

In the previous post, we looked at Stage 1 branding — the first of the four stages. As we saw, Stage 1 branding is at the neophyte end of the spectrum. It does little more than let us know that the brand exists. It is a natural stage for a beginning organization. But as that organization advances, the brand should move further along as well.

Evolving the brand allows an organization to build upon what has been established in the first stage. So at Stage 2, we not only help a prospect recognize who we are, but we also help them understand what we do.

Stage 2 branding begins to recognize that establishing differentiation can help separate an offering in the minds of prospects. It is an approach that relies on describing what you do or how you do it. This results in a list of attributes that can support the claim of what makes the brand unique.

In the past, many brands got by going no further than this. But today, it’s more difficult to compete if you stop at this stage of branding. For starters, it is difficult to have a truly clear set of unique attributes with the growth of competition. Even if a brand accomplishes this, it is difficult to sustain because of the speed of innovation. Other organizations can quickly spin up capabilities, neutralizing what was once a competitor’s unique set of attributes.

Many organizations still operate at Stage 2. It gets a brand beyond the basics without requiring much branding sophistication. But it really doesn’t go much further. It’s like my auto mechanic who has a sign that says they do oil changes, brake jobs, etc. It’s good they let everyone know what they do. But there is not much there that tells us why we should choose them as opposed to those grease monkeys across the street. Many small businesses never evolve beyond this stage because of the associated demands that they can’t or won’t meet (either financially, strategically, or both.) As a result, we may have a vague idea of what they do. But most of the time, we are forced to figure out why that is different than another option. And we very rarely do.

This leads us to view these businesses as much the same, and treat them like a commodity — making our decision to engage with them one based largely on price alone. That makes it more difficult for these businesses to create the margins they desire as they tussle with competitors in the downward spiral of pricing battles.

That scenario should be motivation enough to move your brand along the spectrum.

Both Stage 1 and Stage 2 branding provide the basics for an organization. They answer a prospect’s fundamental questions, “Who are you and what do you do?” But they do little to help that same prospect discern an advantage that the brand delivers to them. That’s important, because understanding the advantage helps them develop a preference for you. We’ll examine this in Stage 3 by looking at branding that delivers a benefit. Or in other words, how it helps your prospects understand what you do for them.

Dan is the creator of the Big Audacious Meaning. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here on Linkedin and at

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Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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