The 4 stages of branding – Stage 3: What you do for your prospects

In previous posts, we looked at the half of the branding spectrum occupied by different levels of beginner brands. At Stage 1, we found brands that focused on describing who they are. At Stage 2, it was those that emphasized what they do.

At Stage 3, we move into the realm of more advanced branding. We see what happens when a brand recognizes the power of going beyond the basics.  


Stage 3 - What you do for your prospects

Advanced brands begin at level 3. These are brands that understand the strategic advantage of differentiating on the benefit they provide to their prospects. They go beyond what they do or how they do it to help people understand what effect those things will have on their lives. These benefits can be expressed rationally - "We save you time". But the more powerful benefits have an emotional pull - "We free up time giving you more of those precious moments to share with those that you love". 

It's easy to stay detached when presented with a purely rational decision. An emotional appeal reaches beyond that easy detachment, connecting with that part of us where aspirations and even dreams reside. When a brand connects with this part of us, it feels more relevant, more meaningful, and more valuable.

Advanced brands understand the power of putting themselves in the shoes of those they serve. Of understanding what's really important in these people's lives. And then offering something that speaks to the heart as well as the head. 

I like to think of the distinction this way. Neophytes view the brand as a necessary evil in the process of selling something to someone ("We have to have a name and then tell people what we do.") Advanced brands focus on how we might help someone. They ask, "What can we do to help you achieve your aspirations or even dreams?" By doing this we develop a relationship with a person that is much more meaningful than a transaction.

There are amazing benefits of creating a brand that nurtures this relationship. It can blunt the sensationalism of a new entrant into the market. It can help fend off the effects of a competitor slashing prices. It can do all these things because it develops trust.

Advanced brands understand the importance of this. Trust is something you can't buy or manufacture. It has to be built and earned by having a relentless focus on the desires of those you serve. But once you have it, you can go farther - faster.

The evolution

Stage 3 branding begins to show us what's possible when we focus our efforts on helping prospects understand what we can do for them. That creates a compelling reason for our prospects to develop preference for our brand. But there is still an even more powerful level of branding available to us. A level that shows our prospects that, by aligning with our brand, together we can make a difference in lives, communities, and even the world. That's the realm of Stage 4 branding. A stage where we encounter the Big Audacious Meaning.

Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at

ProcessDan Salva