By Tim Galles
Director, The Whole Brand Project
Chief Idea Officer, Barkley
When I was a kid, my dad built an agency from scratch.
A brilliant entrepreneur, he had taken over the family retail business, which meant doing his own advertising. He was so successful at it, his peers around the country began asking if he could do theirs, too.
He approached this new venture with the naivety of a novice combined with the creativity of an entrepreneur. He had no rules, no model or dogma to follow. He simply applied creativity to every endeavor, branding everything from his internal customer service to his external communications.
He never saw the design of a product or service any differently than the design of a TV commercial. He believed media was as much a creative act as a logo, a blend of art and science.
He saw internal culture ideas as core to a business’ success. He talked to people before, during and after the purchase cycle. He saw a brand as a show, an experience and a holistic endeavor, and as a result, he built a creative agency that broke rules and orthodoxy.
And I watched and learned.
One day, a stack of big, beautiful books show up on our kitchen table, multiple copies of George Lois’ massive treatise on creativity, “The Art of Advertising.” I grabbed one and stuck it in my room because I loved the way it looked — never to be opened until my junior year of college when I possibly began despairing on what to do with my life. Boom. Like that, I was hooked.
Hooked on ideas. Hooked on creativity.
Not only had I grown up watching this in action, here was someone else in the world who endorsed this approach — and the brands he worked on thrived. George Lois saw everything a brand did as communication, everything as advertising. He practiced creativity without borders, and that’s exactly what a whole brand does. Of course, the world is very different now. But one thing still remains, brands that apply creativity to everything — everything — will win.
Your brand is everything. Everything is your brand.
I’ve spent my career practicing creativity on brands — grabbing inspiration from everywhere and reading more books on the topic than I can remember. And I’ve become frustrated with two things: the lack of understanding that a brand is everything a company does, and how agencies and companies severely limit the role creativity plays outside of traditional creative spheres like marketing and advertising.
My mission is to make business more creative and to make brands whole by thinking about everything they do as a creative opportunity. A brand has never just been about logos and advertising — it is the sum of every action it takes. What an exciting and worthwhile palette to play with.
And creativity? Creativity is simply the act of finding new ways to do things. That’s it. It’s an act of discovery, a fresh-eyed approach to problem-solving and often, a way to give the world something it didn’t know it was missing. And for modern brands, creativity is vital, like oxygen.
Fueled with deep human insights and a high-octane, perpetual momentum to keep growing — heart and hustle — creativity leads to powerful advantages that transcend marketing departments to become a part of culture.
Rethink your brand from the inside out.
Use creativity to rethink how, where and when you sell your products and services, and how those consumers experience it, even the stories they tell. Use it to map every part of your operating system, from business ideas (inside) to marketing ideas (outside) and every idea in between.
Work backward by imagining your biggest possible future. Ask yourself: What’s possible? What if? What’s next? Look where you haven’t looked before, listen to what you’ve been avoiding. You’ll be amazed at the ideas you’ll generate. And don’t listen to those people who say storytelling for brands is dead, that data and efficiency have taken over.
Storytelling has never been more alive.
It’s just no longer limited to advertising, PR and content. Technology, social media, the behaviors of empowered consumers and cultural beliefs at large now make it possible for everything a brand does to be a chance to create a story that gets shared and motivates someone to choose it. Or not.
Have a new business model that addresses green manufacturing? There’s a story.
Have you deleted a product, service or ingredient because your most passionate consumers convinced you it wasn’t the right thing to do? There’s a story.
Have you over-committed a substantial portion of your yearly budget to create an idea that helps people live better lives, above and beyond your actual product? Have you created a brand holiday and gigantic action to prove your red thread? Have you stood up to the world by supporting a controversial figure because it proves your red thread?
Story. Story. Story.
Whole brands add good to the world — not noise.
People don’t love brands — they love ideas, the powerful engines that move the world forward, from business ideas to marketing ideas and every idea in between. Internal brand culture ideas. Business model ideas. Service Ideas. Product ideas. Design ideas. Experience ideas. Content ideas. Experiential ideas.
Whole brands thrive across this whole spectrum of ideas, creating stories that are shared, that give someone a reason to work for you, or inspire a consumer to choose or forget you. The sooner your brand adapts to this way of thinking, the more powerful it will be.
And the more creative these ideas are, the more memorable and meaningful they are. The more intentional and provocative they are, the more they push, transform, grow and change the game. They signal to people the swagger, seriousness, energy, confidence and not-messing-around attitude of the brand.
That’s why the creative idea — the defeat of habit by originality — is the single most important currency to brand today — because, as George Lois always said, creativity can solve almost any problem.
This is how magic happens.
There’s no better time to build a whole brand, to rally your entire organization to join you. This is how you change your business and enrich your culture. It happens every day. I just think it should happen more. The brands that get this will never look back. The ones that don’t won’t be around for long.
Envision your brand as a system that connects all the moving parts inside and outside an organization, centered around your red thread and find your welcome place and roles with consumers and in culture. Imagine it behaving like a network, fluid and nimble. Spend time to get your brand right from the start or refresh it by pulling it all the way back to the beginning, and it will have the resiliency to evolve and adapt in response to change.
I am incredibly optimistic about the role brands will play in the future. They should be creative labs for ways of working, business ideas and enhancements to culture.
This is an excerpt from my latest book Scratch: How to build a potent modern brand from the inside out and originally appeared in Medium.com on December 15, 2021.
Dec 16, 2021
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