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The chart above displays a shift in how human beings experience transactions, plotted over a period of time since the Industrial Revolution. With the rise of one-way mass messaging it’s no surprise that personal interaction and one-to-one dialogue took a nose dive while a faceless (and relatively powerless) consumer was encouraged by corporate sales strategies. Nor is it surprising that we’re returning to a period of high accountability and high expectations with the advent of the internet and more recently Social Media. Regardless of the size of the customer base, brands are now and will continue to be held accountable for what they actually do.

One way of defining culture is to imagine all the different ways that people around the world encode, classify and communicate experience. This includes the brand experiences that customers seek, obtain and remember no less than those related to fine art, literature or architecture. All these elements are integrated in whole experiences of the environment that develop from historical roots and flower through successive generations in that rich variety of manifestations we call “culture”.

We feel that brands have to be considered in a cultural context. Many brands are built on long-standing cultural foundations that shape the recognition and communication of value in ways that obliquely influence our behavior just as often as they’re entirely overlooked. And the best brands contribute to the cultures in which they take root, extending outwards from the conceptual domains of commerce or politics to touch every aspect of contemporary life.

Of course brands that take culture into account – that build on it and contribute to it – enjoy quantifiable successes. But they also act as agents of qualitative transformation, helping to restore consumers to the status of customers, replacing frustration with delight and reducing uncertainty in the face of a marked environment full of claims that cannot always be trusted. Irony in advertising is a symptom, not a trend.

Both symptoms and trends are often difficult to recognize unless we take the trouble to observe changes over time, taking into account things like developments in technology or the ways that people forge communication networks with the tools available to them.

We recognize that viewing brands in their larger cultural context is critical to establishing branding itself on a sustainable basis. We’re all beholden to the realities of business and we recognize and respect the honest motive of profit – it’s a part of why we do what we do. But just a part. We believe the key to a future world of better brands lies in recognizing, respecting and cultivating the tapestry of world cultures in which they operate today. All that’s required is what we like to call “Enlightened Self Interest”. Ultimately, we feel it’s about recognizing the distinction between wealth and riches.

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The Culture Insignia is intended to evoke our systematic approach to cultural insight. The 12 unicursal graphs are each produced based on the application of the same simple rules, and yet each is distinct. Conversely, though each polygon is different, when viewed together there are many recognizable formal similarities. Similarly, human cultures display marked differences, but when systematically explored they reveal consistent underlying themes. These themes are keys that help us to unlock individual and collective expressions of meaning.