How to Build a Better Brand — and Why You Want One

Build your brand symbol. Businessman turns wooden cubes and changes the word 'build' to 'brand'.

By Tim Galles, Chief Idea Officer, Barkley + Director, Whole Brand Project

I’m at that stage of my career where I no longer exchange simple pleasantries when I pass people on the stairs. There’s no time — the world is on fire. I’m not fine, thank you. These days, when people ask how I am, I say: “Busy. I’m starting a revolution. Join me?”

I’ve also been quietly seething that so much of the marketing industrial complex still lives inside a box it built itself. It still lacks this simple understanding: a brand is not a logo or marketing or an asset to be dialed up or down. It’s everything an organization does. Great brands, what I call whole brands, see every experience they create, from the inside out, as the brand. These brands build their behavior systems around beliefs that people recognize, choose — trust, even.

What a great honor and responsibility post-2020, a volatile, ambiguous era where chaos rules and taunts us to tame it. Us, as in brand builders. Earth may indeed be aflame, but we are sitting on a solution: Brand trust has never been higher, as are people’s expectations of brands.

This is a moment. The world isn’t waiting for the government and its policies to save it. It’s looking for changemakers like you, dear reader. Like us. It’s looking for good business. Business, as a force for good.

These are the vital conversations I’m having these days — thorough dissections of modern capitalism. I had such a discussion with Stephanie Wissink, managing director at investment bank Jefferies and a frequent research collaborator with my teammates at Barkley. In good company, we agree that the very role brands play in our society is shifting.

“Structured institutions are breaking down, leaving room for brands to rise up and carry a new responsibility, a new license based on trust in community conversations, bringing people together around passion causes, and providing escape and relief from an uncertain world,” Wissink says for the record.

I concur.

Driven by purpose, whole brands grow faster, win more customers, and have stronger cultures than their competition. They understand that purpose is not just a marketing tool but an everything tool: change management, culture strategy, employee engagement, habit change, organizational transformation.

This flip in brand thinking totally changes the game: When you begin to see your brand as every action it takes — from sustainability plans, culture, product and service innovation, design and experience and marketing — business gets better, stronger, more connected and coherent. Potent, even. Which is why whole brands also dominate the market and double the Standard & Poor’s 500 index in market performance. They command a premium price among consumers. And the measurement framework we used to score these brands? It has the power to predict market performance with near 70 percent accuracy.

In State of the Whole Brand 2022: How to build a Whole Brand — Right now, we share ideas from some of the world’s most creative brand builders and newly ordained whole brand thinkers. We agree this is how to build a whole brand, in five easy steps:

Invite your entire organization to own your brand — not just the marketing department.

“A whole brand is one in which each function of the organization understands the role it plays in supporting the central tenants of the brand image,” says Ian Fitzpatrick, global director of brand strategy and operations, New Balance. “That could mean the way Accounts Payable prioritizes vendors (or whether they use that phrase at all!), the way product is shipped . . . or how customer support is staffed.”

Establish a purpose everyone understands and believes in.

Niki King, head of sustainability at Unilever North America, describes it this way: “Whole brands are those we can trust . . . The business is run efficiently and maximizes shareholder value. The company culture is one that allows employees to realize their individual purpose, yet creates an atmosphere of one team. It holds its suppliers to a high set of expectations. It provides a quality product or service. And, most importantly, it makes a positive impact in the world.”

Deliver an always-on creative brief to your entire organization, guided by a purposeful, core idea that guides every action your brand takes, inside and out.

“Organizations with beliefs activated by behaviors across their entire brand are better positioned than those with no sense of purpose,” says David Gutting, creator of the Whole Brand Index and SVP of Strategic Projects at Barkley. “Brands that rely on marketing or residual interest in their products or services have been, and continue to be, at a severe disadvantage.”

Practice and perfect brand culture by matching what you say inside your organization with what you share externally.

“Believe everything starts with your culture,” says Eric Ryan, co-founder of method, OLLY, Welly and Cast. “At the end of the day, ideas are easy and execution is hard. And great execution is only going to be delivered by great teams and great culture.

Measure what matters, balancing your brand’s profit and performance with its impact on people, community and the planet.

“Whole brands that have gotten it right embedded a legal commitment to stakeholders into their corporate governing documents, with meaningful legal accountability,” says Bart Houlahan, founder of the B Lab. “They have baked purpose into the DNA of their operating system.

This is how you build a trajectory to the right side of history as well as the future, where companies stay relevant, useful, competitive. This is how you become a brand the world needs, not just a transactional machine focused solely on shareholder profit.

“Brands become whole through the aggregation of expressions,” Fitzpatrick reminded me in our last idea exchange. “This takes grueling, tedious, sustained effort over years. . . Almost no one will fully appreciate it as it’s happening. Whole brands rarely earn their architects’ glory. Settle in, this is going to take a while.”

But start soon. Today even. Capitalism is going to be with us for a while, so let’s get better at it.