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On brand shaping, silo breaking and doing less, better.

On brand shaping, silo breaking and doing less, better.

The Big Rethink according to Happify’s Gareth Kay.

2021 was the year of the whole brand, those holistic, built-from-the-inside-out companies and organizations that add value to people’s lives and also do what’s right for their communities and the planet. And this fall, we pressure-tested our thesis that whole brands also win the market.

In our first State of The Whole Brand, The Big Rethink, we make a powerful business case for the model we use at Barkley to shape brands for the future: Whole brands are twice as likely to be recommended as their fractured competitors, with a 40% increase in market share and employee satisfaction running 85% higher. 

We also include provocative endorsements by trailblazing thought leaders and cultural provocateurs like whole brand thinker and Happify’s SVP, Brand, Gareth Kay. 

Kay shared his POV on whole brand thinking in a recent interview with Tim Galles, our chief idea officer and director of The Whole Brand Project. We couldn’t agree more.

Tim Galles: If it were up to you, how would you declare a brand whole or fragmented?

Gareth Kay: I’d ask if the brand has a clearly articulated organizing idea that guides every decision every person makes. Is this idea instructional and inspirational? Does it drive behavior, or is it just a set of empty promises? I’d also look at employee attitudes, whether employees are aware of or understand the organizing idea, if the belief guides actions across the organization. You'll be amazed how often this dramatically decreases as you move away from the boardroom and toward the customer.

I’d also conduct an experience audit to ask if you feel the brand in all the things it puts out into the world. Think product, customer service, supply chain, hiring, advertising, etc. Follow that up with a gap analysis: do people know what you stand for? Do they believe your actions match your words. The majority of brands sadly will quickly reveal themselves to be far from whole.

Galles: What have you seen in the past 18 months that gives you hope that brands or businesses can be a force for good?

Kay: Unilever. They don't get the credit they deserve for breaking quarterly reporting, changing packaging, etc. It's not sexy and shiny, but the things they are doing at their scale will make a significant difference. Patagonia is the exemplar and a lesson in intent.

Galles: Based on the past 18 months, what three priorities do you see as mandatory for every brand or business to prioritize?

Kay: Break down silos and see the brand as a horizontal OS, not something the marketing department does. More is no longer more, do fewer things, further and better. Reflect the diversity of the world, on all dimensions. We seem to be patting ourselves on the backs as an industry, but the journey has only just begun.

Galles: What was the most important thing your brand or businesses did in the past 18 months to be a force for good?

Kay: It's too early for me to talk about this at Happify Health (although we have a lot cooking) but the thing I am most proud of over the last 18 months was working with the brilliant Elle McCarthy at Electronic Arts to focus the company on the power of positive play in the gaming world. It's a force for good that is not recognized enough for this in culture.

Galles: What’s one thing you are thinking about when it comes to brand based on the last 18 months?

Kay: It's what I've been focused on for the last seven years and will be for the next decade: brands are only as strong as their weakest link and they have to continually strive to set new expectations for people. Actions really do speak louder than words.

Galles: What would you like to see happen in the next 12 months to prove that brands or businesses can be a force for good?

Kay: Get way better at proving their positive societal impact. Show that brands that influence culture don't just sell more but matter more. Get more CFOs and CEOs to realize this. Oh, and I'll say it again, break down anything that resembles a swim lane or relay race in an organization.

Finally, we need simple, clear, irrefutable evidence that whole brands are more valuable financially and culturally. They create financial value by selling more, commanding a price premium, reducing costs, building a bank of goodwill more quickly, etc. They create cultural value by making a brand that people can genuinely believe in. They appear less mercenary and, I would argue, a whole brand, by definition, has to see the whole person, not just a channel, wallet or being a consumer of a category.

Galles: What do you think brands should “rethink” moving forward?

This is going to sound simple but I know it's not. Businesses have to break down the silos in their organization. Brands have to get out of the marketing department and be a horizontal OS that informs everything a business does. (After all, at its most basic, a brand is what someone says about you when you are out of the room).

The quickest way to this, I believe, is to break down the reliance on reviewing performance (and therefore compensation and progress) on objectives and key results (OKRs) that focus on team contribution rather than the team's contribution to the overall business. Far too often, OKRs encourage selfish behavior. They need to be rewritten to more honestly reflect contribution toward a common goal and how they have helped a brand become more whole.


We're on a mission to build a world with more whole brands, those ​​that spread their strength across a defined set of actions, grow faster, win more customers and have stronger cultures than the competition — those that act as a force for good.

The world needs us all to rethink how we’re doing business. That starts with here. Inspired? Join us at The Whole Brand Project, where we’re rallying innovative thinkers from all industries to join us.


The Big Rethink: State of the Whole Brand 2021

The Big Rethink according to Oatly's Heidi Hackemer

An Open Letter to Whole Brands

The Whole Brand Project: Join the movement.

WARC  | The whole brand: Ending the divide between brand marketing and performance marketing

Barkley US

Dec 03, 2021

filed under:
Whole Brands


BCorp, Brand Culture, Culture, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Sustainability, Whole Brands
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