I can be a sucker for a powerful television spot or a clever print ad. Built upon sharp human insight and with a compelling creative story, a good ad can make people think differently about a product, a company, an industry or even the world. It can even inspire people to behave differently.  

But the world is changing. People are armed with smartphones in tow, able to quickly capture an experience they have with a brand (good and bad) and share it with the world. A brand’s every move – whether it’s an employee, a product or store experience – is on display for all to publicly embrace or scorn. Whether we like it or not, the world is quickly becoming more and more transparent.

Today, brands are defined less by what they say and more by what they do.

Companies have to do more than write smart ads to develop a positive brand perception. They have to also ensure that every single employee and every touch point with a customer or partner brings to life the brand and what it stands for.

Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G and author of the book, Grow, found that brand ideals drive the performance of the highest growth businesses. In other words, companies that are steeped in human values and stand for something more than product, are more profitable. He said, “It’s not what people buy, but what they buy into.”  For example, Apple stands for a courageous, inventive, rebellious and intuitive approach to life. And it’s felt at every interaction with the company.

People won’t buy into a brand’s purpose unless it’s authentic to the beliefs and actions of the company. Consumers crave authentic brands where they can connect with a set of values, not just a logo or clever tagline. According to Craig Bida, EVP at Cone Communications, about 70% of consumers say, “Don’t tell me you’re perfect as a company, because I know you’re not perfect…But tell me where you’re going and where you are.” Authenticity is expected.

When you have an inspiring and authentic greater purpose, it can rally the organization and everyone it touches, including employees. A successful brand conveys a bigger purpose, making both employees and customers feel like they belong to something – part of something greater than just a computer or pair of stylish shoes.

Today, the culture of a company is far more important than a job that falls to human resources alone; it’s imperative to the long-term success of a brand and its business. The strongest brands are intrinsic to the company’s culture, demonstrating, rather than declaring, their unique point of view. The strongest brands are built on culture and then felt externally.

There are three crucial components of a company’s culture – its people, passion and purpose. The company’s values are the tie that binds. The soul of your brand. When fostered and fully embedded into the company, a strong culture then inspires an authentic external story, image and experience. 

brand culture

Done right, a culture-built brand will inspire people to take out their phones to share the good experience they just had with your brand.

Three months ago I had my beautiful baby girl, Melrose, and I was fortunate enough to "go completely dark" while on maternity leave. I spent the last twelve weeks getting to know my daughter, learning how to be a mom, soaking up the newness of being a family of three and – best of all – staying far, far away from work!

While stepping into the scary realm of motherhood has proven to shake my personal confidence to the core (how am I allowed to take care of such a little, fragile human being??), it has also provided me the opportunity to completely rinse off my somewhat stagnant, dusty “work-brain”— a sneaky soot that can settle onto any mind that sets into a repetitious, comfortable rhythm.

Back into action after my hiatus, I’ve found that I have a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm for the world of branding and marketing boosted by the ability to see things anew. As I reopen projects, review work and reconnect with colleagues, I’m amazed at the new angles, insights and ideas that quickly rise to the top. Why didn’t I see that before? What if we did X instead of Y? Let’s try this instead of that!

Having the opportunity and time to step away created a refreshed mental state and perspective when I stepped back in.

I witness this same inspired thinking when my clients take the time to step outside their office walls for a mental and contextual “shakeup” that inspires new thinking and provokes creativity in individuals, teams and organizations. When you set aside time to step away, turn things upside down and immerse yourself in a completely different experience it can have big positive impact on how you think and problem solve.

That’s why I whole-heartedly believe in the power of creative workshops. Designed and moderated correctly, a workshop can have the power to produce results that are simultaneously on target and unexpected.

You can generate the most powerful creative, new thinking when you:

1.     LEAVE THE OFFICE BEHIND: Let’s be honest. You can’t come up with new ideas or fresh thinking when you’re sitting in the same boring conference room that you hold the dry ‘status meetings’ that everyone dreads.  Make a point to go outside your office building into a more inspired environment whether it’s a local rental facility or even a customer-inspired location.

2.     RECRUIT AN EXTERNAL GUIDE: Every office has an inspiring lead or visionary that has awesome skills in facilitating a meeting. But if you want to truly think differently and challenge yourself to develop new solutions, hire an outside consultant to guide you through the problem-solving process. A new person at the helm can shake things up (in a good way) and offer a new perspective you may not have considered before.

3.     OBTAIN DIVERSE VIEWPOINTS: While marketers may not be experts in operations, operations may not be experts in sales, and HR may not be experts in manufacturing, bringing together diverse points of view (even if not tightly linked) to solve a problem can help everyone see and understand things differently.

4.     DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE WRONG: In any organizational structure, it’s easy to fall prey to the “I’m always right” trap. We all want to be perceived as the highly skilled experts we were hired to be. But this hold onto perfection can create detrimental blinders to new and sometimes better ways of approaching challenges. Let go of your ego and allow yourself to try something new and fail.

5.     LET YOURSELF BE VULNERABLE: Change can be scary for anyone as it can challenge our personal confidence and make us feel susceptible to disappointment and failure. But venturing into new territories and finding the courage to take risks (even small ones) can encourage you to try on solutions that may be intimidating but are worth the somewhat daunting effort.


So, more work doesn't always beget better work. Take yourself out of the daily grind, put yourself into a new and very different environment and switch up your typical problem-solving approaches. You'll be amazed at the refreshing results. 

AuthorHanah Holpe

All too often, a company will look outside of its walls to define its brand, hoping to create a position and a reputation based on the needs of the marketplace. This isn’t entirely wrong but it’s an incredibly too narrow a view and can only lead to the development of a flash-in-a-pan brand that doesn’t stand the test of time (as noted in my recent blog post, “5 Lessons Learned from RadioShack’s Mistakes”).

A lasting brand has depth that taps into the authentic values, personality and culture of the organization. Thus, to develop the best branding, you must first discover and hone not only what it is you do but also, and most importantly, WHY you do it.

I am a huge fan of Michelangelo and in fact, may have read the 800+ page book, The Agony and The Ecstasy one too many times. But he carried great wisdom in his art that in many ways is applicable to the art of branding. He believed that the art of sculpture was about uncovering rather than creating and has been known to state that, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

It is with this same philosophy that marketers and business leaders must take to ensure a lasting reputation in the marketplace.

A brand’s greatest potential lives within the walls of the business and in the fabric of its culture: the history of the company, the vision of its leaders, and the experiences and perspectives of each division and employee. 

To effectively tap into the branding potential within your walls, it is important to note that the responsibility doesn’t start and stop with marketing alone—it relies on the creativity and the participation of everyone within the company.

Senior management ownership is crucial to any brand’s success but from customer service to human resources and from sales to R&D, the engagement of each function in developing a brand is just as paramount.

Bill Gates in his forward to Edison and the Rise of Innovation writes:

“Edison consciously built on ideas from predecessors as well as contemporaries. And just as important, he assembled a team of people—engineers, chemists, mathematicians, and machinists—that he trusted and empowered to carry out his ideas. Names like Batchelor and Kruesi may bot be famous today, but without their contributions, Edison might not be either.”

The term, ‘co-creation’ has graced all our lips many times in the last several years—usually referring to the increased collaboration between brands and their consumers. But an often-overlooked source of co-creation needs sit within an organization itself. 

There are five guiding principles any organization should follow to ensure you’re first and foremost, effectively ‘looking in’ before looking out to develop a lasting brand.

1.   Do your 'water cooler' research: Research what makes the company unique. Talk to employees, interview group leaders and conduct a survey to understand the internal perspectives. Most importantly, take the time to walk the halls to listen to the real dialogue and observe what’s happening within the culture.

2.   Tap into your collective creativity Rather than just task an outside brand guru to go off in their ‘black box’ to develop your brand story, bring together a diverse set of minds from several parts of your business to help identify your brand’s unique, signature strengths and uncover your brand soul, together.

3.   Train employees to help keep the brand promise: The best organizations recognize that you can’t deliver on a brand story if it’s not met with and supported by the same brand behaviors. Ensure your employees understand what the brand means and how it’s relevant to them and their role within the organization and its success.

4.   Inspire and foster a culture of brand advocates: Just as—if not more important than—training employees, it’s imperative to inspire and rally your employees to believe in and champion the brand as much as you do. This should be somewhat easy if you developed a brand promise that’s true to your organization. Find your brand advocates and arm them to share in the story.

5.   Take the time to do it right: It would be quick and obvious to immediately develop a communications strategy and plan to communicate the brand to external audiences. But you must first take the time to properly communicate it across the organization and also ensure it has infiltrated the culture. This takes time especially with a large and layered company. Don’t rush it. Plan for the long-term.

AuthorHanah Holpe