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.
The orchestrator behind this data? David Gutting, creator of the Whole Brand Index and chief provocateur at Barkley. With Gutting’s grasp of history and culture, there’s no brand, product, technology, or experience that can't be explained by the infield fly rule, French New Wave cinema, or an obscure NASA fact. In his role as Director of Strategic Projects for Barkley, he consistently applies his vast experience to connect disparate forms of knowledge into simple, deep, and actionable ideas — the kind that separate whole brands from their fragmented counterparts.
Gutting recently shared the origin story of the Whole Brand Index and 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.
Galles: Tell us about your research: what was your initial brief?
Gutting: This all started as part of an effort to launch “Scratch: How to build a potent modern brand from the inside out." We were looking for hard data to prove key premises of the book. In looking at the problem, it struck me that we had an opportunity to leverage the performance framework that we had developed for Barkley back in 2017. Our growth team agreed to get us funding to do a national research study in which we would assess a wide number of brands in multiple categories. With that commitment, we had a testable approach which became our working methodology.
Galles: What surprised you most about your findings?
Gutting: That it was so easy to prove a central point: namely, powerful brands in today's world were ones that did not practice one-dimensional marketing, but instead invested in wide-range, "across the spectrum" approaches to growing their businesses. It's not that we had doubts about what we believed, but the research came back so compelling, it proved easier than we imagined.
Galles: Tell us about the predictive power of the Whole Brand Index, the tool you created to evaluate why certain brands dominate the market.
Gutting: It's all about the relationship between independent and dependent variables. Our model is built on a simple premise: brands have firm control over a fixed set of variables when they enter the marketplace to compete. They control their product, their workforce, the customer experience, their design system, and their messaging. If you do all those things well (the independent variables), you build a powerful, multidimensional brand that achieves outstanding business results (the dependent variables): overall penetration, brand preference, advocacy, price premium, brand buzz, steady increase in usage.
The Whole Brand Index (WBI) measures the first set of things — the independent variables. The Market Performance Average (MPA) measures the second set. We calculated correlations between the two, and, guess what? They were extremely high, with a 57% determinative relationship between the WBI and the MPA.
Galles: Did you find any significant differences in your pre-pandemic data as compared to what you've recently released?
Gutting: Nothing surprising. In the latest research, fielded a year after the pandemic lockdowns, we definitely saw drop-off in the market performance of some brands, especially in categories like travel. We also saw a surge in brands that have been on the rise before COVID hit, D2C brands that had been shifting paradigms already.
Historically, pandemics cause social upheaval. We can't ignore that, but neither should we assume that brands cannot continue to thrive.
Galles: What is the hidden power, the secret to success for elite brands in your research?
Gutting: They are not governed by traditional rules of marketing. They do things their own way. Like Tolstoy's happy families: they are all the same.
Galles: How do whole brands win by ignoring the marketing funnel?
Gutting: The funnel is constricting. It views success as a matter of conversion. That's the wrong way to look at things. Success is winning choices.
Gutting: 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.
Jan 19, 2022
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