Whole Brand Thinking: Run your brand like a showrunner.

Brandrunner - Wide

Every business sees it at some point: they have people who are good at coming up with ideas, and people who are good at making ideas happen. The trick is to have those two realities work in sync. It’s one of the keys to a successful whole brand. But how do you do it?

Look at your brand in a totally different way: Think of your brand like it’s a (TV) show. Hit shows have smart “showrunners.” It’s a unique position — requiring both creative and management skills. It’s the person who puts the show together, from concept to producing each episode, and who keeps it running. Great showrunners are more than day-to-day producers because running the show isn’t just about putting live action on the screen. It’s about running the show from top to bottom, about turning an idea or a concept into something that lives and breathes.

Seinfeld, for example, was “a show about nothing.” Larry David was its showrunner, and he was a master at taking everyday things — like George losing his glasses at a health club and Elaine getting bitten by a dog in an optometrist's office — and making them into hilarious stories that were fodder for water cooler chats all over America. 

When it comes to your brand, the key to success is to get people up and down, inside and out of your organization to think and act like showrunners. But instead, they’re brandrunners. Think about it. Nothing good just happens by accident. Someone put thought into it. The Apple Store, for example, isn’t a fun and engaging place just because it has cool products and a stylish layout. Sure, those things help.

Apple projects a compelling idea — they want to challenge the status quo. The people who run the Apple brand see to it that no matter what you come in for, when you enter that store, you’re going to experience that core idea (at Barkley, we call it a “red thread”).  Apple says, “Think Different,” and in their stores, that idea comes to life. 

From the way you’re greeted to the way they ring up your purchase, it’s a different kind of retail experience. Everyone in that store knows their role. They all have a job to do delivering their piece of elegance to you. Every one of them is, in ways large and small, a brandrunner for the Apple brand. It starts when they greet you and only ends when you walk out knowing you got what you came for.

Takeaway for whole brands: The key to success for a whole brand is that a core idea drives everything. So, everyone in the organization needs to know and understand that idea and how it relates to their roles. 

Saturate your entire operation with a brandrunner mentality. Let’s say your operation is built on a pillar of superior customer service. People who are customer-facing are trained to make certain customers get “white-glove” attention, but what about everyone else? Brand managers, HR recruiters, innovation teams, supply chain management? 

Make running the brand a thing — something that is respected and revered, and that becomes possible for everyone. Build rituals around it. Make it an unwritten code that brandrunning is what your place is all about, and that anyone can do it … but everyone needs to do it because the brand is everyone’s responsibility.

Run the brand, run the business.


  1. Know your core idea. If it’s not strong enough, rework it until it is, so everyone in your organization is armed to be a brandrunner.

  2. Rethink your “brand guide” and “brand foundations.”  It’s not just a rule book for your logo. It’s an owner’s manual for the brand that explains and extends the core idea, teaching everyone its importance and its unique relevance.

  3. Introduce the idea of a brandrunner inside your brand. Make it fun — use inspiration from Hollywood. Have your talent recruiter search for people with an elevated combination of skills — people who know how to ideate, but also know how to implement and spread ideas internally. 

Learn more about showrunners here.

This article originally appeared in the Whole Brand Briefing newsletter.

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