Lead Forensics
Welcome to the Whole Brand Project, a platform for celebrating and sharing how whole brands are winning with markets, people, communities and the planet — join the evolution.

Ambition


“This might just be the most exciting creative brief you ever get. Whole brand thinking is about building a new kind of capitalism, one that doesn’t reward brands for doing whatever it takes to be successful. Brands should actually add value to people’s lives—for consumers, citizens, employees, communities and the planet, alike, in ways that make organizations, ecosystems and people thrive. Let’s go make that world.”

Tim Galles
Director, The Whole Brand Project
Chief Idea Officer, Barkley

We’re on a mission to build a world with more whole brands.

This is a living, breathing project designed to fuel our relentless pursuit to build better brands, and it needs a new breed of thinkers like you in order to truly impact the world.

We started the project because we believe there are two kinds of brands in the world: fragmented brands that see their brand as merely an outward-facing expression of their organization, primarily driven by a marketing department, and whole brands that see everything they do, inside and out, as the brand, viewing the job of "brand" as everyone’s responsibility in the organization.

We’re a bunch of creative generalists who believe a whole brand is designed for growth. It perfects an arsenal of strategies and creative ideas across a spectrum of actions and opportunities — outperforming competitors and building market value and a stronger brand culture as a result.

The Whole Brand Spectrum is your playground and tool for evolution: opportunity spotting, internal integration, collaboration, alignment, communication and growth. Whole brand thinking requires a simple shift in thinking: in today’s market, a brand is the sum of every experience a consumer has with a company or organization. It’s everything. And it’s vital for solving complicated problems that result when the parts that make up a business aren’t working as one. When a business works as a unified whole, it evolves into something much greater than the sum of its parts: A whole brand.

This site contains the most recent proof of our hypothesis: the results of our second Whole Brand Study of 140 brands in 20 categories. And it introduces a model to measure the power and performance of such brands. The result? An ongoing initiative to build the kind of brands people, consumers, employees, communities and the world value.

Elements


Whole brands spread their strength across a defined set of actions, grow faster, win more customers and have stronger cultures than the competition.

Becoming a whole brand is no easy feat: Most brands live in a space between fragmented and whole. Our study delves into the performance measurements of such brands — product, brand culture, experience, design and communication. We’ve made correlations to complete the following definition that determines which brands are truly “whole.”

  1. # The four elements of
    a whole brand:
  2. 1 A whole brand is an organization that treats everything it does as the brand.
  3. 2 A core, long idea guides, inspires and connects every action a whole brand takes, across the spectrum of marketing ideas to business ideas. We call this the red thread.
  4. 3 A whole brand is full of purpose and action, and it matches what it says and does internally with what it says and does externally.
  5. 4 A whole brand measures success holistically by balancing profit and performance across the Whole Brand Spectrum with its impact on people, communities and the planet.

Study

Athletic Wear
Whole Brand Index: 85
0
100
Brand's Market Performance: 85
-200
500

These scores are highly correlated and together rate the strength of brand impact determinants and total mark effectiveness.


Whole brands spread their strength across a defined set of actions, grow faster, win more customers and have stronger cultures than the competition.

Our study was built on two large data sets, each with its own sample set. Each sample included 2,500 people — 5,000 in all — and answered questions about 140 brands in 20 categories.

Methodology:

We examined brand performance in five different brand dimensions, things that every brand controls when they enter the marketplace. Consider them independent variables.

  1. Product ActionsOverall product and service value.

  2. Customer Service ActionsLevel of customer support and service that a brand provides.

  3. Customer Experience ActionsMemorability and uniqueness of customer experience.

  4. Design and Access ActionsEasy to recognize and find and overall simplicity of usage.

  5. Communications and ActivationVisibility and impact of marketing communications.

These measures resulted in a Whole Brand Index (WBI) score for each brand, which highlights the performance difference between whole and fragmented brands.

We then determined the correlation between the WBI and a brand’s market performance and created a group of 25 brands we deemed the most “whole brands,” that, in our judgment, matched our overall criteria for a whole brand.

All data was gathered from consumer surveys and available market performance. Correlations between our five core metrics were made to values of internal brand culture, purpose and the red thread, which were not included in this study. Check back regularly for updated analyses.

The Key Finding:

Brands that ranked in the top 20% on the Whole Brand Index dominated brands in the lower 80% across five key metrics — all calculated directly in our study and mapped to our Whole Brand Spectrum.


Whole Brands vs.
Fragmented Brands
2x
Whole Brands are recommended nearly twice as often
3x
Whole Brands triple fragmented brands in "bought most often"
2x
Whole Brands double fragmented brands in market penetration
5x
Whole Brands are rated five times more likely as a "brand on the rise"
11x
Whole Brands are eleven times more likely to command a premium price
Whole Brands
Fragmented Brands
Whole Brands
Fragmented Brands

See below how the top ten brands performed in our study.

Nike
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Home Depot
Amazon
Netflix
IKEA
Southwest Airlines
Planet Fitness
Lowe's
Old Navy

Check out our Whole Brand Battles to see how individual brands match up in different categories.

Proof


Red thread is the core, long idea at the center of the brand, guiding and inspiring all brand actions.

We’re always on the hunt for data that proves our hypothesis.

Select an area of the whole brand spectrum below to see how whole brand behaviors add up to profit, performance and impact.

Business Ideas

Marketing Ideas
  • Red
    Thread
  • Sustainability
  • Actions
  • PR
  • Content
  • Advertising
  • Design + Experience
  • Products + Services
  • Culture

Q+A


Questions about methodology, philosophy or future projects? Let’s talk.

Q: What is the benefit of whole brand thinking?

A: Whole brand thinking is not just for the marketing department. It is a mindset that leads everyone in an organization to believe they are keepers of the brand. It’s everyone’s responsibility to apply creativity across the whole brand spectrum, use it as a workshop and playground, and the starting point to make the brand as valuable as possible.

Whole brand thinking solves for the complicated problems that result when the parts that make up an organization aren’t working as one. Having a whole brand isn’t just about alignment, it drives efficiency inside an organization and profitability outside the organization. It is a powerful tool for opportunity spotting, internal integration, collaboration, alignment, communication and growth. When an organization works as a unified whole, it evolves into something much greater than the sum of its parts: A whole brand.

Q: What is the difference between a whole brand and a fragmented brand?

A: From marketing ideas to business ideas, a whole brand is one that sees its brand as every action it takes, from the inside out. Its fragmented opposite sees the brand mostly as an outward-facing expression of the organization, driven by the marketing department, rather than a system of connected ideas. Fragmented brands see “brand” as something that can be dialed up or down, invested in or not, as an asset and a noun rather than an action and a verb.

While the Whole Brand Index measures the brands listed in our study along a scale of 1-100, no brand will ever reach either end of the scale.

Q: How did you determine what to measure when creating your whole brand index?

A: The Whole Brand Index (WBI) is based on all the ways a brand competes, the only thing that matters in measuring the source of brand growth. The WBI is made up of five core determinants: the product the brand sells, the skill and attentiveness of its workforce, the experience provided to customers, the design system that pulls those customers in and makes the brand readily available (both physically and mentally), and all the various communications channels and modes that help the brand tell its story.

Anything the brand does to win a consumer's choice can be cataloged under one of those five things. Recognizing this, that's how we built the model.

NOTE: In the addition to the five core determinants used as our main criteria, a whole brand will score high on having a core idea (a red thread driven by purpose) and a strong internal culture. These foundational elements are built on passion, advocacy and a shared and motivating understanding of the goals and objectives of the brand, as well as a measurable positive impact on people, communities and the planet.

Q: How did you determine the market/financial impact of a whole brand?

A: We did this in two ways: The first was measurements in the survey we conducted, thus covering all brands we studied. The second was to look at widely accepted measures of brand performance, available for publicly traded brands.

For the first set of measurements, we looked at five things: overall purchase/usage in the last year, percentage of time a brand is bought most often by a consumer, net percentage of consumers willing to pay full price for a brand even if a competitor is on sale, percentage of consumers who have actively recommended a brand to others in the last six months, and net percentage of consumers who see a brand as on the rise or on the decline.

The first three have direct financial impact; the last two are perceptions of brand performance. We add these numbers together to obtain a Total Performance Score (TPS).

We ran a mathematical correlation between the WBI and TPS to test the strength of the relationship between the two. Overall, the correlation is 0.84. Anything above 0.50 is considered a high correlation.

For the publicly traded brands, we looked at 5-year CAGR, price-to-book ratio 9 (a proxy for brand value), price-to-earnings ratio (trailing 12 months, known as P/E TTM, and return on assets. We then averaged these numbers and compared the averages based on the WBIs of the brands — comparing the top half of WBIs to the bottom half.

This is not a strict mathematical correlation but a direct comparison of performance.

Q: How do I discover my brand’s score on the WBI?

A: Contact us. We can measure your brand’s performance on the Whole Brand Index.

Q: What is the first step to consider when building a whole brand?

A: At the core of every whole brand is a long idea — what we call a red thread — that guides, inspires and connects every action it takes, across the spectrum of marketing ideas to business ideas. If your brand doesn’t have a red thread, be ready and looking for that idea. Ideally, it is born and inspired by your brand’s purpose. Then comes the work of the socialization and adoption of that idea, from your consumers to your workforce — the work of the whole brand.

Q: How do I get involved?

A: Several different options for you:

1. Download a copy of the report here.

2. Read an excerpt of "Scratch: How to build a potent modern brand from the inside out," our how-to guide that details the process for how to practice whole brand thinking within your organization — or order it from Amazon.

3. Send us examples of whole brands and their actions across the spectrum.

4. Check back regularly to see how the project is evolving. More proof, examples and ideas on how you can make your brand a whole brand are on their way.

Resources


From hard data to guides on how to build a whole brand from the inside out, check out these powerful readings:

  1. A deep dive into the market performance of 123 brands in 16 categories balanced with consumer perceptions, proving the power of whole brands vs. their fragmented competitors. This study explores how whole brands dominate the market, and gives marketing leaders and their C-suite counterparts proof of the impact of whole brand thinking.
  2. We believe in the power of whole brands so much, we wrote a book about how to build one. Part workbook, part prediction for the future, Scratch is the culmination of ten years of modern consumer research that posed the question, if we were going to build a brand from scratch, knowing what we now know, what would we do?
  3. From interviews with CEOs from some of the most purpose-driven brands today to a step-by-step workshop on finding your own brand's reason for existing beyond profit, this book explores how standing for something more than just the bottom line is a powerful way to connect to modern consumers and your internal workforce, alike.
  4. This is an argument for the inherent good of both business and capitalism, featuring some of today's best-known and most-successful companies. It illustrates how both can unite to create value for all stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, investors, society and the planet.
  5. Don’t let the title fool you, this beautiful little book is all about designing a beautiful business (or a whole brand). It is full of great stories, examples and the poetry of business not as usual.
  6. This how-to guide shows you how to fuse brand and culture together, creating a whole brand that isn’t possible by simply cultivating one or the other alone.
  7. The bible for how to use your brand as a force for good in the world, describing a business model that serves people’s needs, respects planetary boundaries, and is compatible with, and ultimately even necessary for, financial success.
  8. The founder of Patagonia shares the persistence, courage, accidents and experiments that have gone into being head of one of the most respected whole brands on earth.
  9. For true brand lovers, each issue of this beautifully designed magazine takes a close look at a single brand through untold stories, cultural connections and insights into what it takes to build a whole brand.
  10. Not much is written about the power of “brand ideas” or “red threads.” This important book argues that the frenzy over digital and social media has created a schism in the marketing world that is hindering brands from attaining their true business potential. The tension between traditional branding and the seemingly unlimited possibilities of "digital" branding leads companies to abandon the tried and true aspects of a foundational brand for the flash of the new at their peril.
Athletic Wear
Whole Brand Index: 85
0
100
Brand's Market Performance: 85
-200
500

These scores are highly correlated and together rate the strength of brand impact determinants and total mark effectiveness.

Download Report