Meta Brands: A Working Theory

Brand strategists devote their careers to understanding how organizations create and project distinctive identities that resonate with consumer segments.  Sociologists, anthropologists, and ethnographers devote their focus to studying how segments of people create and project cultural rituals, trends, and relationships.

Standing somewhere in the middle, I can’t help but notice an increasing convergence.

In a commodified culture, social trends and relationships are inherently ‘branded’ because they rely on the common consumption of products.  As this happens, clusters of product-dependent practices consolidate and become accepted as cultural norms.

Take specialty coffee shops, for example (a case I know all too well).  Forget Starbucks, I’m talking about independent cafes in urban hipster enclaves around the developed world.  They exude a distinct, almost elitist notion of independence that is constructed and communicated by many of the same ingredients. Exotic coffees. Funky decor. Shiny, prominently-featured espresso machines. Ironic t-shirts, indie music, local art. Pierced, tattooed and indifferent baristas. Wifi.

Marketers often refer to these cultural clusters as ‘the category’ and their rules as ‘category conventions’.  But I think that’s a vague, static definition that leaves a lot to be desired.

Instead, I propose we start thinking about ‘meta brands’

I’d argue that these commodified cultural clusters behave a whole lot like the meticulously-crafted mega-brands of yore.  They create and deliver on expectations through a common set of meaning, experience, and visual languages.  They build loyalty relationships and organize into a hierarchical architecture of preferences.  They’re dynamic, they compete for attention and resources, and they make adjustments based on perceptions of customers.

But.  Unlike traditional brands, meta brands are entirely decentralized — their strategy is directed by the uncoordinated decisions made by dozens or thousands of individuals.  That means their cohesion is more subtle; visual language is unified at an abstract level, not in color palates and typefaces.  They’re also participatory in a way that mega-brands will never be — consumers lead the way as much or more than firms.  And, of course, they’re incredibly dynamic, uncontrollable, and difficult to define.

And they’re everywhere.  I would argue that any brand, big or small, is operating within the confines of at least one meta brand.  Music genres.  Concert venues.  Bars.  Restaurant categories.  Clothing boutiques.  Social networking sites.  News sources.  Health care.  Personal media players.  Political parties.

‘Category’ used to work when there were a handful of players in each of the above areas.  But in the era of the long tail, such neat vertical organization is no longer relevant, and power relationships are far more complex.

Meta brands are fundamentally driving who we are and how we articulate that through consumption.  I’ll be thinking more about them.

© Ryan Cunningham 2008

25 Responses to “Meta Brands: A Working Theory”

  1. 2 fix the debt September 16, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I believe thast is amonjg the most important information for me.
    And i’m glad studying your article. But wanna statement on some
    general issues, The site style is ideal,
    the articles is truly excellent : D. Excellent activity,

  2. 3 Curriculum Vitae September 19, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

  3. 4 Frank Gore Jersey Sale October 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    For example, LULU saw its net revenue increase in the category.
    Scott Reames, a aaron rodgers jersey authentic green veteran, took over the last two weeks I have been spoiling
    myself with all the parents, students, and a bizarre touchdown call that will be
    able to play. aaron rodgers jersey authentic
    green most recently closed a deal with Fulham.

  4. 5 WebinarJam Review March 11, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Howdy would you mind letting me knpw which web host you’re
    using? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different webb browsers annd I must say this blog loads a lot
    quicker then most. Can you recommend a good hosting providsr at a
    honest price? Cheers, I appreciate it!

  5. 6 Carlsbad real estate May 8, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Everything published was actually very logical. But, think about this, suppose you composed a
    catchier post title? I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your website, but suppose you added a post title
    to possibly get people’s attention? I mean Meta Brands: A Working Theory |
    Preparsed is a little vanilla. You could peek at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create article headlines to get people to open
    the links. You might try adding a video or a related pic
    or two to get people excited about what you’ve written.
    Just my opinion, it could make your posts a little bit more interesting.

  6. 7 jasa seo November 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    What’s up to every body, it’s my first visit of this website;
    this website consists of amazing and genuinely excellent information for visitors.

  7. 8 rumah batam December 8, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Hi my friend! I wish to say that this article is awesome, nice written
    and come with almost all significant infos. I’d like to see more posts like this .

  8. 9 Natural Health Tips December 9, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Excellent article. Keep writing such kind of information on your site.
    Im really impressed by it.
    Hello there, You’ve done an excellent job. I’ll certainly
    digg it and for my part recommend to my friends. I am sure they’ll be
    benefited from this website.

  9. 10 Whatever you want here January 2, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    At this time it looks like Drupal is the top blogging platform available right now.
    (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

  10. 11 network April 2, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    Hi there! Quick question that’s completely off topic.
    Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly?

    My web site looks weird when browsing from my apple iphone.
    I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able
    to fix this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share.
    Thank you!

  11. 12 DJZO|DJ ZO|Alonzo Powell| Music Producer| October 4, 2015 at 10:45 am

    You’re so cool! I do not believe I’ve read through anything
    like that before. So nice to discover someone
    with some unique thoughts on this topic. Really.. many thanks for
    starting this up. This web site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!

  12. 13 Majakani Kanza October 15, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    Hey there, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your website in Firefox, it looks fine but when opening in Internet
    Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, great blog!

  1. 1 Rebranding Sustainability « preparsed Trackback on November 6, 2008 at 8:52 am
  2. 2 Check the Metaphor: Intersections « preparsed Trackback on November 6, 2008 at 8:57 pm
  3. 3 Leaving the Vocal Minority Behind « preparsed Trackback on November 13, 2008 at 1:53 am
  4. 4 Risk Society and the Cost of Doing Nothing « preparsed Trackback on November 17, 2008 at 9:50 am
  5. 5 Belief Systems « preparsed Trackback on December 5, 2008 at 12:22 pm
  6. 6 Joanna Geary 18/11/10: know your readers! « Journobolla: an online journalism blog. Trackback on February 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm
  7. 7 Imperial Advance Trackback on November 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm
  8. 8 arthur falcone Trackback on February 25, 2015 at 2:25 am
  9. 9 freedom mentor Trackback on February 26, 2015 at 2:57 pm
  10. 10 iPhone Repair South Austin Trackback on March 4, 2015 at 8:20 pm
  11. 11 caterpillar jacket Trackback on June 20, 2015 at 9:05 am
  12. 12 bulging disc surgery Trackback on July 31, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

Add the Feed

Follow the Stream

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.


%d bloggers like this: