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September 29, 2022 //  //       //  Opinion

Winter is Coming - It’s Time to Tend the Roots of the Brand

Leaves are turning, temps are cooling and signs point to a slowdown. It’s a key time to nurture the brand… an essential source of resilience for the business. A strong brand maintains customer loyalty, helps preserve price and margin, attracts top-performing talent, and rallies investors. A strong brand can drive as much as 50% of enterprise value. 

Brands are just like those autumn trees out the window. The roots - purpose and DNA. The trunk - values and positioning. The leaves - behavior and activation. As the leaves of big spending begin to fall in the cooling air, it’s important to tend the roots and prepare for winter. 

It’s time to ensure the enterprise engages in the Brand DNA - what it means, when to use it, where to put it, and most importantly how to build on it to serve the customer. We spend a lot of time training brand stewards on how to activate the Brand DNA, helping teams develop the muscle memory that increases brand strength. 

After all, everything an enterprise does should be an expression of its DNA, which gives life to everything: values, voice, truths, benefits, behaviors, strategies and tactics. Unfortunately, far too many organizations don’t have their DNA documented. Or if they do, it’s sitting on a dusty shelf in the back corner of the marketing department. How can a tree grow without its roots? 

A valuable, yet sometimes tricky, tool is the classic 12 archetypes created in the mid 20th century by psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung. The Outlaw, Magician, Hero, Lover, Jester, Everyperson, Caregiver, Ruler, Creator, Innocent, Sage and Explorer… Danny Ocean’s entire crew of bank robbers. I’ll be honest - I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with them. I’ve learned through sometimes, let’s say "uphill", experiences, the archetypes can help a lot and they can also really get in the way. Leave them in the conversation too long, and they pull people away from the heart of the issue. Leave them out of the conversation entirely, and the Brand DNA can feel arbitrary or subjective.   

Bridging the gap from Brand Archetypes to Brand DNA is crucial, yet simultaneously easy and hard. We assert the archetype is the parent, and the brand is the child. The traits and characteristics the brand inherits from the archetype - that’s DNA. To this end, we’ve learned to use the archetypes a bit like scaffolding - quickly put up during construction, and just as quickly torn away. 

We operate on two key beliefs: 

  1. Don’t over-simplify. Purists insist we must choose Outlaw or Sage, but certainly not both. We see it differently - we believe brands are complex and nuanced creatures… coming from at least two parents, often from three (we may need to let the biology metaphor go here). Brand Archetypes geeks know there is a massive canon of information, much of it contradictory. Apple is a Creator over here, a Magician over there.  Resist the urge to oversimplify. Instead, triangulate the right combination of archetypes that truly, authentically reflects the spirit of the brand.   
  2. Focus on the end goal. Bring in the 12 archetypes early to help clarify distinct points of view and develop DNA everyone can champion. Put them up only briefly, and then get to the heart of it. What is the trait or characteristic the brand would inherit? Everyone chose Caregiver in the workshop - is that because of commitment or compassion? These two different ideas could lead the brand strategy in different directions. Focus on WHY the archetype is relevant. Suss out the nuance by defining the traits, exploring word associations and synonyms, and prototyping how the idea would come to life.  Sometimes we even realize as a team we chased the wrong rabbit all along, and we are actually a Magician instead. 

Training DNA  

The next step is training. Brand is a team sport - it shouldn’t be owned by the C-suite or the Marketing department. It should live and breathe everywhere in the enterprise. It should be a springboard everyone can use to innovate. Every employee and partner must understand, feel and embrace it, or customers will not understand, feel and embrace it. 

We love to get small groups engaged hands-on. First we ensure everyone knows the Purpose and DNA. We allow time for people to internalize the ideas, ask questions and dive deeper.   

Then we create. Creative icebreakers to limber up the mind. Brainstorms around how DNA traits guide behavior, how those behaviors guide strategy and planning. Then we solve real-world challenges with prototype products or content using DNA traits as guideposts. Brands we admire, that align with our archetype parents, offer creative expressions to help us bring DNA traits to life. Attendees walk out knowing how to use and apply DNA in their day-to-day. 

We all know winter is coming - the signs are everywhere. As we prepare for "the long night," one thing can be certain: a strong brand makes the business more resilient, but only if everyone believes in it and can effectively deliver it. Today while we still have a bit of lingering daylight, it’s a great time to tend the roots of our tree.  

Paul Sears is Managing Director, Brand & Engagement Strategy. With nearly 20 years in advertising, brand and marketing strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns. 

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