Design Led Business: Lets Talk Brand

September 29, 2016


For most in the business world, the word design conjures images of buzzing I.T. incubator hubs, consumer focused empathy labs or super-charged brand and media consultancies. Some may reflect wistfully on engineers and architects transforming space, form and function, or artists and fashion ingénues invoking visceral experience. Primarily though, design in its conventional form has been synonymous with making and/or selling stuff.


To sell stuff, buyers are essential. To buy stuff, imagined fulfilment in the purchase of something you don’t already have is critical.  Ok, nothing philosophically ground breaking here. A clarifying caveat though - lots of designed stuff has significantly revolutionised paradigms of thought.


Consider the 1947 Bendix Deluxe, the first affordable front loader automatic washing machine to hit the market. I’m imagining my grandmother, a post-war, highly educated housewife liberated from the laborious duty of laundering, free to expel discretionary time and energy self-organising with her long suffering female comrades. Without Grandma Gigi’s Bendix Deluxe, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson’s executive order expanding the 1965 affirmative action policy to cover gender discrimination may never have been signed into law. Even so, how will my new iPhone without an earplug jack that doesn’t Bluetooth with my Prius (like the old one did) change MY life for the better?


So what is it that wets the appetite of unfulfilled desire? Those who have mastered the art of engagement seem to have the answer. I know two colleagues with this particular super power: the first, former CEO of a business consulting firm, the second, a 30-year veteran OD consultant, leadership expert and executive coach. Both could have enrolled Grandma Gigi in abandoning her Bendix Deluxe to go skydiving with nothing but her bloomers on. Don’t get me wrong, they would have absolutely jumped with her and made sure she arrived safely on earth.


In the post conventional space, the art of engagement is a necessary practice to mobilise movements, solve intractable problems and facilitate the new. This is particularly the case when large-scale, systemic changes demand full participation in order to keep pace with disruption.


Brand is key, and I don’t just mean logos and copy on marketing collateral. I’m talking about the telling of a story through images, words and actions that reflect the intent, culture and vision of an organisation. You can’t fake it till you make it. It needs to be real, authentic and something that is reflected in every action, word and interaction across an organisation. Brand is a lived experience, a dynamic never-ending quality of communication that ignites imaginations, opens hearts and enacts wills.


Internal facing brand strategies are as important as customer facing ones. My current professional services client is a private enterprise on the cusp of rapid growth. The company is about to complete an 18-month infrastructure reboot, including a fully integrated ERP to enable delivery at scale. However, the externally facing marketing strategy upon which the business was built is not sufficient to manage internal engagement with a growing team that have specifically joined the business because of its promise to deliver system-wide impact for the communities they serve. For the first time the client is up against an engagement challenge, one requiring an internal communication strategy that leverages human capital, grows knowledge capital and weaves cultural capital into the fabric of the organisation. Without a brand that internally communicates a genuine people, profit and purpose story, the business may struggle to sustain full participation from its delivery team.


Generating both internal and external engagement is the consequence of multiple elements:


  • A clear intent that articulates the stand an enterprise takes in the world

  • Strong leadership that can both dynamically steer AND generatively adapt

  • Consistent, easeful structures, processes and financially fair agreements

  • An energizing culture based on the enactment of shared values

  • A kick ass product or service that makes a difference in people’s lives


However without a living, breathing brand strategy that can communicate all of this across a multiplicity of divergent world-views, nobody’s grandma is jumping out of an airplane in her bloomers.


If you are a profit, purpose, people and planet enterprise or organization interested in generating genuine brand engagement, contact me at to learn more about how we might work together.


Next time, join me as I dive into the mind of Sean Esbjorn Hargens and his fabulously elegant design tool for building wisdom economies. For more on design, leadership and business, visit


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