Digging Up Thomas Gad’s 4D Brand Model

I was recently called in to pinch hit for the Emily Carr / BCIT Design Essentials: Corporate Communications course. This is the outline, more or less, of where we’ll start (or where we started… the first class is done and this is a bit of re-cap). The class is primarily going to be based on observation and understanding what the general scope of an organisation’s communication scope might entail… both internally and externally. We swim in the stuff everyday, and that makes it a pretty reflexive environment to work in… often you just need to step back and listen to what you are being sold (or told) everyday, and decode the techniques that are being used by people, institution and corporations to communicate with you using the different media at their disposal… we made quite a list.

Coordinating this communication is somewhat natural and even to some degree sub-conscious if you are an individual (remember corporation stems from corpus, the Latin for body)… the task gets more demanding when you are managing multiple bodies… or multiple selves I guess. The goal of any brand model is to assist in generating (or evaluating) uniformity across multiple elements, channels and brands within an organisation. Brand models are plentiful, and no single model can capture the complexity of the human relationships both within and outside of an organisation. What they tend to have in common is an understanding that it is not just the literal messages that matter but the gut feeling that goes along with them.

All you have to do is peruse the business section at your nearest book store to realise that the world needs another brand model like a fish needs a bicycle (thanks Bono)… still i thought it would be good to dig up this simple model by Thomas Gad. It’s pretty clean, and  makes it a good starting point for an introduction to the brand evaluation process. In his book 4D Branding, Gad proposes the central tenet of the “Brand Mind Space”.  What this term alludes to is the mental construct that those who experience the brand make when confronted by the totality of its identity elements.  This mind space, intrinsically individual and ideal, is where all channels of a brand’s identity find common ground.  It is the territory which, ultimately, all brands seek to claim.   I was disappointed to find that his book is currently unavailable from my usual sources – so I’ve added a description below of the 4D concept and a couple of diagrams I used in class to illustrate the idea, but first a primer:

A brand’s essence, this mental construct, or “mind space” is reinforced through multiple channels.  There are innumerable texts providing brand strategy models to describe the way this “mind space” is constituted.  Using the current example (Gad’s Four-Dimensions) we can expand the thought in the following way:  a given product or service impresses upon us a reaction based on the way it promises to fulfill four basic types of needs: functional, social, mental and spiritual.

A car, for example, is an extension of its functional dimension, the quality of the drive and its reliability.  But it is also has a social dimension, it may be one kind or another of a prestige automobile, or a rugged off-road vehicle, both of which suggest their own affiliation to a specific group of owners.  It may be particularly fuel efficient or electric, or may have an honest service policy, things that speak about a spiritual dimension.  Finally it may be particularly safe, or come with roadside assistance, giving peace of mind and addressing a mental dimension. Here is a diagram that expresses this idea, comparing a Hybrid vehicle (tending towards the spiritual) and an SUV (tending towards the functional)


When combined these four dimensions create an identity for the product or service that distinguish it from other products, a kind of DNA, as Gad would put it.  Purveyors of branded culture feed our senses, probing us into awareness of the supposed virtues of products, using every communication channel available.

Successful brands create a sense of community by assigning cultural value to themselves and these easily digestible values become a ready-made extension and a public declaration of our own values and affiliations (through our consumption patterns), until the brand reaches the stage of being, very literally, a mark of personal identity.  This notion of identity, both corporate and individual, must adapt to the rapid pace of technological and social change.  Identity is a fluid and constantly evolving concept that needs, in this context, to be responsive to external and internal modification. What can be termed “social media” is also a driver of the new responsiveness required by brands and corporations as previous broadcasting techniques are overtaken by conversational situations.

Next class we’ll look at what the techniques of each medium are and how they can be used to communicate an agenda that is in line with the core values of an organisation.

1. Gad, Thomas: 4D Branding: Cracking the Code of the Network Economy, Prentice Hall, 2001.


About this entry