Building a Modern Brand

Recapping the first in our Strategy Session series

On February 11th, 2015 we hosted our first live event here in Vancouver. The first in a planned quarterly-ish series we’re calling The Strategy Sessions.

The idea behind it was simple: let’s zoom out from discussions around channels and tactics to engage the local marketing community around some bigger strategic questions.

We were lucky enough to be joined by guests from lululemon, TELUS digital labs and THNK Vancouver (who also provided the venue for the evening.)

The theme of the evening was Building a Modern Brand. The key word there is “modern”, because — let’s face it — things have changed.

— HBR cover story, July 2014

Largely driven by the digitization of modern life, these changes are hard to summarize. But some common themes are emerging: more complexity, more choices, more options, more channels, more supporting technologies and more specialization — both within internal teams and in the agency world.

That’s a whole lotta more.

So how are the successful modern brands coping with all of this change and complexity? The evening’s first speaker — Christine Turner, Director of Brand Operations at lululemon — shared her perspective.

For lululemon, the secret to coping with change and complexity is to stay true to who they are, quirks and all.

Christine opened by comparing her working life to her early days working in a busy restaurant. From the diverse mix of characters to the many variables at play to constant movement activity, the similarities are many.

And these days the speed and complexity are intensifying.

According to Christine, lululemon are definitely facing more and more fresh challenges when it comes to connecting all of the dots — the ever-evolving mix of channels, technologies and touchpoints that go into managing and growing a modern brand.

But the good news is they seem to be very adaptable. Their secret, says Christine, lies in their unique brand and culture. “It’s about staying true to ourselves” she says, “quirks and all”.

For them, the values and beliefs that define that brand and culture are much, much more than bullet points in a brand styleguide or HR handbook. Instead, principles like community involvement, integrity, audacity, simplicity and collaboration are decision-making tools. They provide a very useful and very necessary compass that keeps the brand team focused on their “true north”.

-Christine Turner, lululemon

Staying true to themselves also affects the way the team uses agencies. Christine, who herself has an agency background, explained that the full service AOR model was not a good fit for lululemon — especially in today’s climate of complexity. Instead, they combine a robust internal team with specialist partners to fill the gaps and maintain a healthy level of collaboration.

It’s clear that the path lululemon is taking is highly individualistic. And it’s also clear that, in an environment this complex, there are no “silver bullet” best practices or sure things.

But at Modern Craft, we firmly believe that there are some universal principles and precepts that can help modern brands navigate the ever-changing landscape and find success.

Two principles in particular are at the heart of our thinking. We like them so much, in fact, that we painted them on signs to decorate the event space.

We sum up the first of our two principles this way: Never Stand Still.

These are the principles that guide the work we do at Modern Craft.

As an agency that specializes in strategy, this idea speaks directly to how we think and work. It’s about realizing that the future is now, officially, impossible to predict. Acknowledging that customer needs and the technology landscape are changing too fast for traditional planning methods to keep up.

Ultimately, it’s about coming to terms with the fact that constant change needs to change the way we plan.

The second session of the night was an in-depth look at how one large enterprise has overcome these challenges. As it turned out, Neal McGann and Laura Moldovan — two of the leaders at TELUS digital labs — had a lot to say about never standing still.

Neal and Laura speak the blunt truth about the dangers of standing still.

TELUS digital labs started with a question. A few years back the massive telco’s digital team were faced with monumentally complex redesign project. Past experience told them this would be no easy feat but, rather than panic, they had the presence of mind to stop and ask themselves:

Is there a better way?

Specifically, they were after a new way of working that would allow them to create better work that truly served their customers — and do it much faster. Fast enough to keep pace with the changes in the world around them.

After a few failed experiments and some success embracing the agile development model, they found the answers in (of all places) a book:

TELUS managed to learn from the startup world instead of being disrupted by it — nice one TELUS!

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, the Lean Startup movement — and the book by Erik Ries that sparked it — is based on a simple, common sense idea:

Learn as quickly as possible what works and what doesn’t.
Then do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

In practice, it’s about constant experimentation and customer-centricity. Making many small bets, testing the results with real people, and repeating the process.

Brilliantly, it eliminates two of the most expensive and time-wasting elements of bringing a new idea into the world: bad guesses based on insufficient evidence and ungrounded opinions held by the loudest and/or most powerful stakeholders.

It’s radical and simple all at once. And it’s worked marvellously at TELUS. The team has seen remarkable gains in speed to market, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. In fact, it’s been so successful that the methodology is now spreading outward from the digital team into the wider enterprise — Lean training is currently being rolled out to thousands of employees across the org.

We’re thrilled to see TELUS joining other large organizations like GE in growing the movement in the corporate world. At Modern Craft, we believe that Lean principles have power and relevance to brands and businesses on multiple levels.

But there’s another idea that we believe in just as strongly. This idea — the second of the two principles that drive our practice — can be summed up like so: Stand For Something.

Put simply, it’s about brand — building a unique identity and drawing people to it. But brand in a different way, perhaps, than many of us are accustomed to thinking about it.

Specifically, we believe that the equation at work with most powerful modern brands is less about targeting an audience and more about building a tribe. Less about what the tribe buys, more about what they buy into. And less about the brand promise, more about the shared passion and purpose that connect the brand to the tribe.

The final speaker of the night — Sarah Dickinson of THNK Vancouver — focused on this theme.

After introducing THNK and their dual mission to spawn the next generation of creative leaders and tackle big societal challenges, Sarah spoke about how passion and purpose are central to the THNK model.

After this short introduction, Sarah broke from the slide-driven format of the evening to lead attendees in a group exercise exploring what passion and purpose mean to us all in our life and in our work.

It was a great chance for folks to connect with each other and apply the lessons of the evening directly.

The evening closed with a spirited Q&A and then a final “collaborative session” in which the remaining attendees helpfully assisted the Modern Craft team in ethically disposing of the excess beer and wine.

Go collaboration!

All in all, we found the entire evening more fun and rewarding than we could have possibly imagined. So … look for a sequel soon!

We’d like to close by thanking our speakers for their brilliance and openness, THNK Vancouver for the amazing space, and all of our attendees for making the night so fun and memorable.

Holding an event in Vancouver?
Consider hiring
Tina Kulic to take some beautiful photographs like these . . .