An Open Letter to Whole Brand Thinkers: Let's Take Over the World

A creative blueprint toward a better future

Help wanted.

This is a rally cry, a call to arms, a late-night SOS.

A hail Mary and a hell yes.

Like no other time in our history, the world needs more whole brand thinkers: heroes of the new—but not normal—capitalism.

This is one of the greatest opportunities to put yourself to amazing and profound use and go beyond making stuff. Instead, design an entire brand. Reimagine and reinvent capitalism.

Easy enough.

The Romans said: "To Know Truth. To Make Beauty. To Do Good."

Oh, is this what you do? I've been looking for you.

But what the hell is a whole brand thinker, you ask?

Great question. You're a misfit, a creative and strategic generalist who sees a broad horizon but knows when and where to go deep. You've never paid attention to the rules set forth by the marketing-industrial complex, because you understand brand is not a construct of a company or organization.

It is a construct of real people, consumers, citizens and communities. A collection of heartbeats. Right. On.

You know in your own heart of hearts that a brand is really the memory in someone's head made up of every experience they have had with it. That's why Nike is one brand to you and another brand to me.

You get that a brand is not just some of the stuff a company or organization does, it is everything a company or organization does. Every single action, from the inside out. (You can thank today's consumer demands for transparency for this.)

Historically, most companies think in fragments: Brands are merely the domain of the marketing department, spiritually silo'ed away from  the congregation of products and business and operations. They're seen as assets, something to be turned on and off, used in convenient but dangerous ways: as a verb. You know. Branding.

A whole brand says and does things on the inside that match the things they say and do on the outside. There is no party in front and business in the back. The party and the business work in tandem, everywhere, like Lennon and McCartney, Kahneman and Tversky. Key and Peele.

Brands-as-usual were broken long before the pandemic. Ad schools and MBA programs are turning out students that celebrate creativity but to what end? Doctors have the Hippocratic Oath. It is time for brands to have such a manifesto—a stance, a belief and behavior system that transcends "All is fair in love, war and money-making."

Societies are increasingly polarized, and economic models work for only a few. Meanwhile, we face racism, populism, nationalism and other -isms popping up faster than Whack-a-Mole. We are at an inflection point, and we have a choice:

Pursue relentless growth, greater efficiency, the bottom line in a world where these practices are running into personal, social and planetary limits. Or dream bigger. Build something better, something softer, more social, more soulful, more regenerative. More memorable, meaningful. Useful.

Consumers deserve better.

Employees deserve better.

Communities and our very planet deserve better.

Knowledge—truth—is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle. Purpose without action is as cheap as talk. Fragmented brands don't understand this like you do. 

Is everyone a whole brand thinker? Of course not, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a whole bunch of people like you are looking for your thing, a way to make a bigger impact. To use your strategic brain and creativity to add good to what's next—not just what's now.

Will every brand respond to what we're offering? No, but the alternative is frightening. Most brands will still see the brand the same way as they see their marketing folks, as creative weirdos sitting in a corner saying, "Trust me." Most brands will perpetuate the marketing industrial complex, celebrating bad cheeseburgers with nonsensical hype and earworm anthems.

That's not innovation.

We need you. We need a collection of people like you to create a better future, to leave your mark on something more meaningful.

So here's your moment: Let's build a new kind of capitalism, one that doesn't reward brands doing whatever it takes to be successful. Brands should actually add value to people's lives—for consumers and employees alike, in ways that don't deplete the Earth, in ways that matter more than neutrality. 

It's time for a version of reality where whole brands and whole brand thinkers rule.

Let's go make that world. 

Profile picture for user Tim Galles
Tim Galles
Tim Galles is Barkley's chief idea officer and the director of the Whole Brand Project, Barkley's think tank with a mission to build a world with more whole brands. He's also the author of Scratch: How to build a potent modern brand from the inside out.

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