The 4 Phases of Culture Brands

How to win in every phase

A brand can only play within the limits of the culture it finds itself in, but sometimes a brand comes along that actually pushes culture forward, and when it does that, positions itself as the natural winner in that new world.

Every culture cycles through four phases: Entrenchment, Tension, Exploration, and Transformation. Each phase has its rules, and only when you know the rules can you know how to best break them and push your audience forward.

The culture of the auto industry is in a different phase than that of the fashion, finance or media industry. It's imperative to understand where your space is in the cycle of culture in order to move it to the next.

When social media entered our lives, we all came to understand the cultural rules of operating in that space, but it wasn't until LinkedIn helmed the notion of "personal branding" that we realized that something was changing. LinkedIn saw the opportunity to move the culture of its category forward and ended up creating a market that valued them over their competitors.

Signal, REI, Apple, Tesla, Hudson Health, Ezekiel, and the blockchain brand universe all did the same thing but at different times and in different phases.

The rules and triggers of each phase reflect the fears and hopes of society.

The Entrenchment and Tension phases move from blind comfort to vivid discomfort that needs to be sparked with a smart dose of pain. 

In the Exploration phase we find a balance of high optimism and high risk, and brands in this phase can leverage this interplay to their advantage. The Transformation phase can be precarious but highly prosperous if brands understand how to get there.  

As you read this article, ask yourself if your brand is responding to culture or influencing it.

There is a time and place for responding, but if you've begun to feel the limitations of a culture that is holding your brand from reaching its next stage of growth, now is the time to influence.

Here is how to do that.

Party Like There's No Tomorrow

Here's what we've been consuming.

The billionaire’s guide to self-help (Vox): “It’s a phenomenon of our age that entrepreneurs are celebrities at all […] An entire motivation-porn segment of business journalism affirms the distinctiveness of the billionaire’s mindset, repackaging interviews, speeches, and books into life hacks for the masses [...] Self-help, particularly the kind doled out by the very rich, has adopted the posturing of New Thought preachers, with echoes of the prosperity gospel that found a resurgence in post-World War II America.” 

The Case for Anticuration (The Other 90): "Culture has taught us to organize everything, but when everything is sad, curating it all makes it feel even worse. Throw in a dollop of dull and you’ve got a cocktail for some truly uninspiring curated lives. Or put another way, a ripe space for some counter mentality. Anticuration fills that space with reminders that looking beyond the curated can be the refreshing respite that’s missing."

Getting high with the most high: Entheogens in the Old Testament (AKJournals): “The Bible expresses what many psychonauts know, that the same substance can produce different effects in different settings. Myrrh, for example, is mentioned in contexts implying analgesia (Mark 15:23) and aphrodisiac properties (Proverbs 7:16–18), as well as the prophetic states of the Tabernacle [...] Israelite priests anointed with the Holy Ointment expected to encounter YHWH and be changed by the experience, to become capable of ministering to Him and understanding His will.”

Cracking the Code for a New Wave of Members Clubs (Skift): “‘Members clubs are having a moment right now,’ said Fuerstman. ‘They’ve been around since the dawn of time. Their popularity sort of waxes and wanes based on what’s happening in the world. I’d say now kind of coming out of COVID in particular, there’s this sort of renaissance people are trying to create more clubs, there’s a need for belonging and connection.’” 

Is art once again becoming a lifestyle choice rather than an asset? (The Art Newspaper): "Young, NextGen, red-chip art—call it what you will—has turned into a problematic disruptor. Works by the latest crop of hard-to-source names of the moment routinely sold for multiples of their estimates (and gallery prices) at all three auction houses, are seemingly sucking demand out of the market for works by art history’s supposed blue-chip brands."

From Monopoly to Mystery Date (Now & Then Podcast): “The idea of using games to reflect a society and also to instruct people in how to behave really is the whole central idea of board games really encapsulated by things like The Game of Life or The Game of Monopoly... [they] reflect the growing concept of both democracy and also capitalism [...] These are racing games, and they do in fact, tell us a lot about America.”

Imaginary Friends

Quick hits of insight in socially acceptable places.

So Cool It Hurts

Creative inspirations for the other side of your brain.

"Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”

- William Plomer

Jasmine Bina
Founder & CEO
Concept Bureau, Inc.