[Podcast] In-House Branding with Kyle Millar

[Podcast] In-House Branding with Kyle Millar

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What’s it like working on corporate brands from the inside?

In this episode we take a peak behind the curtain to see how big brands are managed by their in-house teams. We sit down with the fantastic Kyle Millar, VP of Marketing at SodaStream Canada.

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Kyle outlines how he views brand strategy, the principles he uses to build brand, create memorable customer experiences and to inspire his teams to success. He also digs into what it’s like to work “in-house” – both the highs and the lows.

If you are thinking about working in-house, or if you are just curious as to what it’s like joining a large organization in their brand department, this episode is not to be missed.

Previously Kyle has led leading brand roles in Unilever, Molson Coors and Capital One – so it you want to learn from someone whose been there, done it and got the corporate T-shirt, this is the episode for you.


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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, folks, and welcome to JUST Branding. We’re in for a treat this time round. Today, we are going to be thinking about branding from the inside.

We have a career brander who basically has made his career from the inside. And so we’ve got some interesting insights and conversation to have. Who do we have with us?

We have Kyle Millar. He is currently the head of marketing at SodaStream Canada. He’s a purpose-driven brand marketeer with a wealth of in-house brand experience.

And he’s held previous roles as head of brand at Capital One, which incidentally is where I met Kyle. He’s been the marketing lead at Molson Coors beverage company and a number of roles at Unilever on brands such as Axe and Dove Men. And over his 15-year career, he’s worked on brands throughout their life cycle, launching, growing, stabilizing or declining and focusing on truly making that badge something anyone would be proud to wear.

So it’s really exciting to have you on Kyle. Thank you so much for giving up your time to speak to us today. Welcome.

Oh, thank you very much for the kind welcome, Matt and Jacob. I’m excited to be here. I know we’ve been having this in the books for a while.

So, yeah, let’s get to talking. I’m excited to be here.

Yeah, awesome. It’s lovely to see you again since we were kind of colleagues, weren’t we? I think you came over to the UK when we were launching a new sort of repositioning for Capital One.

And I think I met you first there. And then where Marty Newmyre, who Jacob and I are big fans of and a fellow guest on the show, actually, he was speaking, I think, if I remember at that event. And then also, I think I flew over to Canada at one stage in Toronto, and I think we hung out there for a little bit.

So it’s lovely to see you again.

Yeah, no, it’s great to see your face and your beard is still as epic as ever. But yeah, it’s been a while. It’s great to go over to the UK and see some of the brand work that was happening there.

I feel like any brand marketer loves to see Marty Newmyre speak about branding. It’s one of those things that you turn to the little kid when you listen to him speak. So yeah, it was exciting.

It was a treat. It really was. Great.

So today, we’re going to be picking into this idea of brand. And I was saying to Jacob just before we pressed record that it’s interesting because we have a lot of guests on the show. A lot of them are experts, obviously, in their own right.

And a lot of them operate, though, outside of businesses and advise into businesses, as it were, from the outside in. But you do your work from the inside, right? And so, I’m really interested to hear your perspective on a number of topics, which we’ll dig in together.

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And I think it would be interesting for our listeners, anyone who’s perhaps not worked in-house or maybe a founder who’s thinking of managing their brand and building a team in-house. It’d be great to hear some of your thinking in relation to some of those things. But perhaps before we go into all that, it would be great to have your definition of brand and how you sort of see brand and the value of it to a business.

Yeah, it’s a great question. Everyone always asks, how do you define a brand? And many people give you tons of different answers, right?

From whether branding is the logo, the colors, those kind of things. And, Matt, I know you always have a very adverse reaction to that.

It upsets me. I nearly was a little bit sick when you said that.

I kept it down.

We’re all good. But branding to me is something you feel. That’s kind of the only way I can really describe what a brand is.

It’s not a set of things that appear on a piece of paper or kind of how your TV commercial looks. And many people don’t really understand what that means. And it’s evolved over time, what that word means.

Back in the 1800s, it was really about the physical branding of something, like a burning into a piece of wood. Over the 50s, it was about differentiating. In the 70s, the 90s, it was like a personality.

Lifestyle brand marketing became popular. And now it’s this idea of purpose-driven marketing. It’s about creating something out of nothing.

And one of the things I always talk about with brands, when it comes to my teams or my agencies that I work with, is a brand is very much like a friendship. As a brand, you kind of act a certain way, and that consumer will decide that they like you or not because of what you do. When you’re trying to make a new friend, you don’t go up to a new friend or new person and say, hey, I want to be your friend.

How should I act so you and I can be friends? That’s crazy. No one would do that.

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You just kind of act. And then if your values align, that’s kind of how a friendship forms. And it’s very much the same with a brand.

You are authentic in yourself. You show what you stand for and the why. And then once again, people like that.

And the same goes for afterwards. When you become friends and you ask somebody, why do you like this person? You won’t say, oh, I like it because they wear the colour red.

No one says that, right? But a lot of ideas of brands like, oh, the colour red is really empowering. It is.

It’s a great way to help show who you are. But it’s not the reason why. The reason why is because of, once again, who you are.

It comes, everything comes back to that why, that purpose and that connection standpoint. So when you ask a friend why you like them, oh, they’re trustworthy. Or they make me laugh.

Same idea as that’s how you describe a brand. So looking at those from a friend who had a brand, those are very kind of similar ways. And one of the easiest ways that I help to really define branding and what that means for people.

I love it. I love it. And this phrase purpose driven marketing is a little bit of a buzzword.

Can I get you to sort of just kind of clarify that a little bit? Because I think I know what you mean. But how would you sort of define that?

I mean, because in-house, I work just briefly with a few in-house teams and I hear that phrase occasionally. And I always think I know what it means, but I’d just love to hear how you’d sort of, you know, clarify that.

Yeah. Purpose driven marketing for me is about what’s the change you’re trying to have in the world. It is the idea of the why.

Why do you stand for what you believe in? Everyone’s trying to have some level of impact in the world. And purpose driven marketing is the same thing.

It’s not about a brand attaching itself to, you know, a non-for-profit or something like that. It’s what are you trying to change in society? You know, in some of the brands I’ve been fortunate enough to work on, you know, Dove Men, those are one of the key ones that helps to sort of change societal views on beauty, right?

That’s the idea of purpose driven marketing, of why do you stand for something? And that helps when you understand the why, the what of what you do becomes so clear. And a lot of times the reverse happens.

Okay, we’re going to create this. Now let’s figure out why we wanted to create that.

Why it’s helpful.

It’s why are you figuring that out afterwards? You have to understand the idea of the why, and then that why becomes crisp, your what becomes significantly easier.

Yeah, and I guess innovation going forwards becomes easier as well, because you can keep creating or redefining what you’re doing to remain relevant. But the why should stick around for a long time, possibly never change, depending on the sector and what your why actually is. But interesting.

Yeah, Jacob, do you have anything?

I was going to ask you, Matt. Yeah, I was going to ask you, because we hear purpose-driven branding a lot in our space. It’s kind of interesting to hear Kyle talk about purpose-driven marketing.

So did you hear branding more talked about in that kind of context? Yeah.

I mean, one of the reasons why I love Kyle is because he’s very aligned to how I tick, right? And we got on very well, you know, when we were colleagues and continue that relationship, as you can tell, by all the insults that he’s already thrown at me. But the thing for me is his purpose is core to any business that wants to stick around, right?

And depending on how you define, and I don’t know if we want to open this Pandora’s box, but branding and marketing and how you see the two, you know, they both should stem from purpose for sure. You know, for me, branding is a little bit more strategic. It’s a bit more high level.

And I know Kyle also aligns with that concept. Whereas marketing, although has a strategic element, is usually focused around more tactical delivery. That’s what I believe.

And so it’s more about lead generation or actually helping to move customers through the sales, you know, towards a sales funnel. Whereas brand is more, you know, potentially can touch multiple areas of the business. It’s about creating experiences and innovation and products.

And anyway, that’s how I see it. How do you see it, Kyle? I mean, do you see a difference in that or?

Yeah, no, very similarly. And once again, brand is that idealistic place you want to be. It is where are we trying to go to?

What is that 3,000 foot view? Marketing gets into the usual four P’s. And I always make this joke about I spent four years at university studying marketing.

And the only thing I remember is those four P’s. It’s the only thing I remember. But I guess very tactical.

And when marketing and branding come, interchange words, you lose the meaning behind them. Marketing is that idea of how are we going to show up in that technical point, that moment of truth? What’s the price?

What’s the product?

What’s the place? What’s the promotion?

Those are great. But that won’t actually define what your brand is. It’s just helping you convert.

Branding is the feeling, once again, it goes back to how do you feel when you see that brand? And that really is kind of the most important thing. And one of the papers I read a few years ago really kind of helped me understand this even better.

We as humans aren’t rational creatures, right? We like to believe we are. We like to think we look at numbers and sense and all that stuff, and we’re like, yeah, this makes the most logical.

But in reality, we aren’t. We grab something because we feel something in it, and then we backwards rationalize it. Oh, I bought this because it was on sale.

No, in reality, you just liked that there was a bald man on the logo, and that’s why you bought it, right? And that’s very true. That’s how humans work.

What are you trying to say?

I know I’m losing my hair, but man. You’re absolutely right.

But it’s this idea, though, where branding is the feeling, right? And that’s what goes back to, and I love that Marty Neumar talks on that a lot, right? It’s the feeling that people give to your brand.

And that’s what’s so hard to do. Marketing actually is easy. Branding is very hard.

And branding for me is the challenge that gets me up every day, because it’s so many factors that have to be looked at consistently to make a brand powerful and sustain throughout time.

So I’m curious with the roles you have, how much are you working on that branding phase before you go into that tactical phase, like bridging that gap?

Yeah, so branding is kind of the first step, right? And it goes back to the why, right? Why are we here?

And then if you don’t have the idea of where you’re going, well, you need to create that first. And it goes back to the thought of, is there a change you want to have? What do we believe in as a company?

And you don’t have to find necessarily always the white space. And a lot of places talk to the idea of white space. Well, no one’s focusing here.

Well, a lot of the best companies that have been created in the past couple of years aren’t about finding something totally new. They’ve taken an existing industry or idea, and they’ve just tweaked it a little bit to create the idea of why behind it and really just driven the idea of why home. So when you first articulate the why and you understand that, well, then everything’s kind of not falls into places to say, but becomes easier.

It helps you understand what you’re going to say yes to, but more importantly, what you want to say no to. And that for me is the guardrails, right? And that then allows you, so when you’re going through planning with a brand in your future set, I like to look 3 to 5 to 10 years out saying, what are we looking at right now?

And then we’re looking at tomorrow, then 10 years down the road, and that can drive everything to innovation. Because then if you can figure out where you want to be, you then kind of backwards engineer, okay, what needs to happen? What are the milestones that really go into that?

So a lot of the things when I brief an agency, I like to give that context of where we’re going to go. And for me, a vision statement is so important. And I will spend months trying to figure that out.

But it’s really easy to make a bad vision statement. It’s super easy. Like you can just throw anything on a piece of paper, feels like a vision, great, we’re done.

But making it simplistic is so, so important, right? It’s like the old saying that goes around where it’s, I didn’t have enough time to write you a short letter. Like it’s brilliant.

Jacob uses that literally all the time. He loves that. It’s now going to be best.

But it’s true. It’s like when you have a really crisp vision statement, it helps to block out all the noise that’s around you and all the trends. As a marketer or a brand individual, you have all these new hot trends that come along and every kind of person is trying to sell you on, hey, have you jumped on TikTok?

Is that right for your brand? Should you be doing that? Is that part of your vision?

If it is, then great, jump on it. But if it’s not, then why?

Why be distracted by it?

Just because it’s a hot trend doesn’t mean it has to be right for you. So I think, Jacob, to your question, branding is the, sorry, the branding idea, that why is sort of the first thing. And if you can’t articulate that, then you need to spend a bit more time before that goes.

Now, if you already have a brand, you know what you want to do and what that stands for, it becomes a bit easier because then you sort of say, okay, we’re going to go and do X and then Y and then Z. That helps you kind of idea. And once again, where your brand is on that kind of, that consumer journey or that brand timeline of, are you growing, are you declining, are you stagnant, that also helps to really inform that.

So it really just comes back to, I probably said the word Y already like eight times in the past 10 minutes, but that’s what, that’s the crux for me and my team probably gets sick of me because I always ask Y about 50 times in the meeting. But that’s, once again, it understands what makes someone tick.

100%. So can I ask you about like misconceptions about this Y and the purpose? Because often we do talk about purpose and like the Y, but what are the mistakes you see from, I guess, inside a company that you often come across?

Yeah, so why in branding? You know, branding in general is usually just deflected to it’s the marketing team’s responsibility. And I think that’s the single biggest misinformation or misconception that exists in business today.

Branding is owned by everyone. Doesn’t matter what your function is. Doesn’t matter if you’re internal or external, what you do.

Branding is the entire company.

It should be. It should be.

I totally agree with that. How weird is it that people don’t have that, particularly leadership doesn’t, well, I say particularly. In my experience, a lot of leadership, they need to get used to that idea.

Once they get it, they’re like, we need to do this. And they double down on it. But at first, a lot of the engagements I have, people are like, what is this brand thing?

Isn’t this really fluffy? And how does it relate to me over here in product development? It’s like everything.

It’s everything to you.

It is the personality of what you’re building. It’s the DNA almost of everything. If a leader ever comes up with all this brand stuff, it’s just what?

It’s basically saying, I don’t care about the ins and outs of my company. I just care about profit and loss. I just care about getting through the day, hitting my targets.

Great, you can do that for a little bit. By the end of the day, a brand only comes to life when the people who actually live, breathe every day, align to it. And that helps to set, once again, goals.

Your brand can help you to set your financial future. It can help to set your recruitment, your resourcing, how you’re going to approach it. It goes to everything.

It’s not just a calm strategy. It is, like I said, it is everything that goes about, and it helps to identify how you want to operate with your suppliers, how you want to operate when it comes to recruiters, how you want to operate when it comes to sales, and your partners, if you’re in a retail space, that’s also another part of your brand. It’s not black and white.

We operate differently because we believe in something differently.

This is who we are, right?

And people buy who you are. They don’t necessarily buy what you sell. And that, I think, is 100% true.

Love the little subtle Simon Stinnick kind of little drop-ins there.

Have to.

Big fan of Simon. One day we’ll get Simon on the show. Maybe you can join him, Kyle.

I’ll be a non-video member.

I just want to hear it live.

Yeah, so I was going to say to you, we want to dig into the in-house world a little bit. And I think probably a good way of us doing that is to ask you to tell us a little bit of your story. Obviously, in the intro, we went through kind of what happened, the high-level stuff.

But would you be okay to talk us through a little bit of that story? And I guess maybe not the details, but maybe some of the things that you’ve found work really well in-house from a brand perspective and some of the things that work less well. And you don’t have to give names or specifics because we obviously don’t want to get in anybody, including Jacob and I, into any legal problems or anything.

But just kind of things that you’ve learned along the way. I don’t know if you can tell that as a narrative, and if not, then just kind of bullet points or whatever, but that’ll be really interesting, I think, for folks to hear.

Yeah, no, it’s great. So I lived most of my careers, I defined it, I was like, I’m a person of three. I always believed there was three roles to everything.

And I have three roles of great branding that actually comes to life. So the three are, it’s simplicity, consistency and authenticity, right? Everything a great brand does needs to do all three of those.

And that’s been true throughout my career now. Started my career at Unilever. And Unilever was, sorry, it still is a fantastic place.

It helps to establish the foundations for great brand marketers. And the brands you get to work on there are some of the best in the world. And really that was the first place that helped me identify the idea of consistency.

And you have these brands, when I was working on X, that is a brand that is the same all over the world. It is about giving guys confidence, right? That is the crux of how they communicate it in a country.

In the UK, it’s called Lynx.

Yeah, same in ours. Yeah, right.

So it’s Axe in North America and Lynx in other parts, but it goes to show you, you have a different brand name, but the essence of the brand is still confidence for guys. And that’s consistent throughout the world. And what allows for that is once again, a really clear idea of what is the purpose of the brand?

What is the vision of the brand? What are you trying to help? In this case, what are you trying to help guys do?

And that for me is how you drive that consistency. And if you continue on that, you’re not having to remind people who you are. They instantly know it becomes once again, a badge.

And that is really critical, especially in young guys’ life when it’s in your bathroom, right? It is a badge of who you are. And if somebody’s over and they see it, they instantly know what type of person you are.

They instantly know the values of who you are. And that’s really, really critical for me. Some other, the second one around simplicity is another one for me.

And I’ve said this before, but simplicity helps to block out the noise. It helps to be really steadfast in what you believe in. One of the brands, when I was Innovation Manager at Unilever became, and this was not a successful launch.

Sorry, the launch was successful, the brand was not. And really this brand fell to the challenge of not being simplistic and clear in what it wanted to stand for. The messaging became garbled.

There were almost too many cooks in the kitchen at one point. And because of that, the consumer felt confused. They didn’t know what that brand was standing for.

And that became a challenge for the marketers to understand how are we gonna find success? Now, what’s your true look like? Is it, are we doing this?

Are we doing that? And the brand eventually did become discontinued. But that was a great lesson for me as I was the innovation manager leading that, that became too confusing.

And as a marketer, I couldn’t even explain it. So how am I expecting somebody else to understand that? I remember briefing my agencies and I’m a huge one on having a clean brief.

I love having like a one-page brief and that’s it. You walk away and that’s the perfect gift. And my agency is right afterward, like, we don’t understand your brief.

And I was like, oh, I have, something’s wrong here. So that kind of what led into my idea of consistency and simplicity. And then lastly, around authenticity is my third.

And authenticity just goes back to every single part of the organization. Are you gonna act the way that you say you’re gonna act? Or are you just trying to, once again, jump on that trend?

So when it comes to working on brands that are purpose-driven, authenticity is key. And a lot of brands that try to attach themselves to purposes or means that aren’t authentic to them, it’s like two magnets that are just, you know, they just can’t come together. You know, when I was working on Molson Canadian, one of the, and Molson Canadian for those listeners, it is, Molson Canadian is like the beer of Canada, right?

It is synonymous with everything you think of when you think of Canadians when it comes to being cold, hockey, like Canadiana, right? In a bottle. That’s the only way I can really describe it.

And one of the authentic things that we really wanna do on the brand is just own hockey. And that’s authentically who we are. And we supported grassroots initiatives from hockey rinks, getting young kids into hockey.

How can we support the local rinks? How can you support local communities? That’s something that authentically Molson had always done and still does to this day cause they believe in that.

And that’s one of the whys behind why they operate. And there’s always a saying at Molson that there’s always three people in a town. There’s always a mayor, a priest and Molson rep.

And if it’s true or not, I love that idea because it comes down to, they’re authentically living that value, that purpose. And that’s really, really important. So those are kind of my three roles that I’d learned over time working on multiple brands.

One of the, the biggest challenge I’d say within this space is when you have too many people trying to input their own, their own views into something. Now it’s great, I believe a good idea can come from anywhere. But when you’re having people from all different functions trying to weigh in on something without a reason for why, that’s where it kind of gets muddled, right?

And that’s why it’s important to have that sort of that crisp alignment. I think alignment is key. That’s one of the biggest things.

I’m so pleased you said that because I really agree. And I was going to sort of tap. That was literally my next question.

How do you get that alignment? How do you, because obviously if you’re working in-house, you’ve got your role, your position. If suddenly you say, hey everybody, let’s all align around this brand thing, they might, I imagine, will be like, well, who are you to lead on this?

Why do we have to kind of get involved? I’m over here in HR. What’s that got to do with everything?

So how do you get that buy-in and that kind of drive and connect with those people to make that happen?

Yeah, honestly, the best type of way to gain alignment is creating it inside out. That is about not having one person say, hey, here’s what we’re gonna stand for, go do it. Cause everyone will be, I don’t really believe in that.

Once again, the best brands are the brands that are led by the people who work at the company, who work on the brand. And that’s everyone ingrained. So that’s why the places I feel could be more successful, the ones that believe that marketing owns brand.

It’s not, it is everybody owns that brand. So gain alignment is, and I’ve done this in the past, and I did this one of my past roles. When we were starting to create, what’s the idea of our brand?

What’s the purpose that we’re gonna establish? I created, with the help of my team or agencies, this kind of almost this deep dive into us as a company and as a culture. And a lot of times that step is, that’s this first step, and that’s usually skipped.

Where, yeah, there’s times where I’ve worked at other companies, and the first step is, let’s do market research. Let’s look at consumers and see what they are. And it’s great, that stuff should be done at some point, but not in step one.

As a company, you need to understand what do you value. And when you bring people in through, and I’m a huge believer of collaboration, when you bring other people in, whether that’s internal or external, to help you build that idea, it becomes infectious. Because then everyone has a little bit of it.

Everyone has their say, they feel like they have skin in the game. So gain alignment, Matt, is critical, because then people want to see the succeed, and then it becomes just part naturally of the DNA.

Absolutely. You’ve articulated that so well. And this idea of collaboration and swarming and workshops and connecting with people, I 100% agree.

And I always say, I don’t know what you think about this, obviously from your perspective, but I always think that I don’t exist with my clients to come up with all the answers. We’re gonna come up with answers together. That’s the aim of the game.

And it’s not about what I think or just what one person thinks. It’s about what we collectively think. And the skill I often find is trying to find ways that we can make decisions as a group.

And that’s the challenge. But that’s where good workshop design comes in and good research and aligning over things in layers like you’ve been talking about, like kind of like why or the purpose. And then we can go on into activating that.

And there’s obviously various functions that need to kind of align to that. So there’s usually layers involved in the thinking. And I know when we met in Toronto and I know we were both part of a, well, I was experiencing some agile working in a corporate level at scale.

Like it was insane. Like I was so impressed by the speed by which if an issue arose in any of the marketing teams, it could get up to leadership by 12 o’clock noon at any one day and be on somebody’s desk to be dealt with and back down the chain, pass multiple layers and bearing in mind, the company that we were sort of working for was huge. How do you take that kind of approach?

I know obviously we’ve both experienced it, but do you take that approach into your teams, that kind of agile way of working? So in terms of executing, after you’ve got a strategy, how do you find the best way of activating some of these things are? What’s the best way to proceed with it?

Yeah, I think a lot of that is still true in how I operate today. It’s the idea of empowerment, right? When empowerment’s only enabled when the team understand what we’re going after.

And when you don’t have, once again, that clear goal, empowerment becomes really difficult. Because if you give empowerment a clear goal, people start going in other directions. So with my team that I currently have now, they are empowered to make decisions.

I’m not there to give approvals or to say, yes, tick the box. It’s very old school in that kind of mentality. The idea of here’s what’s happened, here’s the decision I made, and here’s the learnings maybe that have come out of them.

And it’s this idea of for me to be informed but not making a final decision. And the team, once again, it’s skin in the game. It’s the idea of I helped to build this brand, I wanted to see this brand succeed, and I feel like I can make change.

So when it comes to the idea of, when you have to kind of rally behind something that’s a challenge, the team can do that easily because they’re able to jump in, because they know they have the ability to make that decision. And that goes not only for my team internally, but also the partners that I work with. Having them help to get the best, right?

And that empowerment sometimes becomes, marketers almost become this gate for your agencies where agencies will come to you, you’re the final gatekeeper, you’re the yes or no. And that’s how I think great ideas die, is if you can empower somebody to make a decision, well, then why are you working with them? If you don’t trust them, then you maybe should question what that relationship actually is.

And that I think is another key where I remember early in my career I was always told, the agencies that you work with, they care about your brand, but not as much as the marketer as well. But should we then find partners who will? And that is really, really important to you, especially if you’re doing an agency search, for example, and you’re in-house.

Like those people who live your brand, they need to live your brand just as much as you do.

This is why I wanted to have this conversation, because your sort of approach and the way that you see the world, I think is, as you say, you talked about old school there, but a lot of people are stuck in that old school. A lot of people are stuck there. What would you say to them?

Like, how do you prize that power out of somebody’s hands and say, look, empower others? How do you do that or can it be done? Like, have you seen it done where you maybe worked alongside someone and sort of helped them do that?

Yeah, that’s a great… That’s the million dollar question, though, too, Matt. If I crack that, I’d probably be on a private island somewhere.

It really is the idea almost of how can you get someone to trust somebody, right? And that goes back to empowerment. It goes back to belief.

It goes back to what you’re going after. But when somebody is sort of stuck in the old kind of way of thinking of everything needs to come through me, that’s where my first question comes back to, well, why don’t you trust them to make that decision? And that, once again, that goes back to, well, then should you be working with them?

And I actually, I use when I was talking with some other, my friends who work at other companies, and we’re talking about what’s the return to work strategy here for COVID, or sorry, after COVID. And a lot of them have said, well, a lot of places want you to come back into the office. It’s probably going to be five days a week.

And what arose from that was the idea around, well, they don’t necessarily know if they can be trusted to work from home. And then my question goes back to, well, then why are you working? Why are they working with you?

If you don’t trust them, should they be working with you? It’s the idea of trust in every kind of facet. And then on the other side of all that, I always think that people who are in charge, and I’m one of those people, sometimes look on the bad side of, well, how do they make the wrong decision?

And then you start going down this spiral of like, this could happen, this could happen, that could happen. But they never flip it on the other side and think, what happens if that decision is right? What happens if that makes your life so much easier and you just unlock huge amount of growth?

And I think in my SodaStream right now, we’re seeing huge growth because we’re empowering our teams, we’re empowering our retailers to help us. And that really is the idea of empowerment and trust. So if the leader ever comes to me and says, I don’t want to relinquish that control, usually there’s a core reason why.

There’s usually a challenge around the belief of trust. So helping that is definitely key. I’m not sure if I was able to clearly articulate that.

Oh, man, that was great. We’re getting such good advice here. And I hope Jacob’s listening, right, because I’m trying to get into it.

It sounds like we’re trickling down into culture, what’s embedded in the culture. And it shows how the values that you established in the beginning, like the why, really does, like you said, empowerment and trust. If they have values of the company, that will trickle down all the way down to culture and then eventually innovation.

Is that where you’re seeing this or how you think about it?

Yeah, culture is everything. And when I join a new company, I always have a usual deck. Every person wants to do like, here’s my family, here’s my two kids, here’s my passions in life.

But I always kind of finish off any of those kind of intros into really understanding like, here are the things I’m good at, here are the things I’m bad at, and this is me. Or like warps and all kind of thing. And once again, early in my career, I had an manager and his perspective was, you should be very professional.

You should always show your strongest self. Never show weakness. I probably show weakness every single day.

Well, I love that you shared the mistakes you made earlier and like what you learned from it and how you grew from that experience. I love that.

Yeah, it’s actually hilarious where every company is like, oh, we embrace failure. No, you don’t. You like the idea of embracing failure.

You don’t actually like failure. Finding a company that actually says if you make a mistake, you make a mistake. Come back and tell me what you learned about.

That’s a beautiful company. That’s a beautiful brand if you can find that, right? Not taking yourself too seriously.

And that’s something that within all of my teams, why I don’t kind of hold that final yes or no, it’s to give them the right to go and make a mistake and then come back and say, hey, this didn’t work. Here’s what we’re going to do next time. And that’s fine.

That’s how you get to greatness, right? Like how many shots did Michael Jordan miss? You never talk about that.

You talk about the shots he hit. But at the end of the day, he had to miss those shots to make that shot. And that is so, so important when it comes to cultures.

Once again, trusting your teams, giving them empowerment and building a culture that is okay to fail. I think that kind of starts at the top. As a leader, especially, you don’t have to be perfect.

You don’t have to have all the answers. And Matt, I love that you’re saying, like, you’re not brought in as a brand consultant to give them the answers. You’re there to help, to facilitate, and your ideas might be wrong.

My ideas are wrong all the time, too, but that’s fine. That’s how you build stuff. Once again, things aren’t created perfectly.

They’re created, and then you try to make them perfect.

For sure. And definitely in a strategic space. Not one person can own that.

As you say, you’ve got to get buy-in from everybody, and you’ve got to mold that. You might set the direction, you might set the foundation of the why, but then as it gets executed, you might need to look at the way that it’s being executed to bring it back on track. I think everything you’ve said is so insightful.

I think it’s brilliant. Thank you.

I just wanted to ask you a question, because this comes up from time to time, at least in my line of work, in terms of setting up teams. And you’ve worked in house for most, well, for all of your career. And I just wondered if we could sort of shift gear into a little bit of sort of practical org structure kind of style stuff.

So let’s say you had a company and they were thinking about getting some brand management and getting that to kind of connect with their marketing a bit better. And maybe some of these other areas that we were talking about. How do you, what are your thoughts on sort of org design and in an ideal world, what have you found kind of works well?

Yeah, so I mean, I guess here’s the cop-out answer. It depends, right? It depends on what is the purpose of the company, where does that brand currently sit?

Is it growing? Is it stagnant? Is it declining?

Like what do you need? The usual, like in today’s sort of world, I’d say, is most companies when they’re forming, it’s all about growth marketing. That’s the very first thing that everything gets focused on.

What is that conversion level of the funnel? And just all in on that, right? And if that’s a stage, that’s totally fine.

That’s 100%. I don’t necessarily always think that as a brand, you need to have the beautiful campaign, the beautiful dove campaign for real beauty. You don’t need that from the start.

That can come. That’s important. You still need the why though, right?

You still need that part, but you don’t necessarily always need to communicate it through a beautiful piece. So growth marketing and growth marketeers are critical. And those small conversion pieces that people look at, that I think a lot of people kind of throw away as maybe nothing is still hyper important.

It is your first window into a brand. So that’s kind of the first one when you’re small and focusing on that. The best kind of structures that I’ve always looked at has been ones that look at strategy and execution, right?

And how they work together. I believe that as anyone who’s looking to be great in brand and great in marketing needs to understand both sides of the coin, right? And if you, I usually like to start people in the execution side first, you understand the reality, you understand kind of what can happen and what doesn’t and then move to strategy.

And every marketer I talk to, whether it’s people who are fresh out of university or people who are trying to shift into this, their answer is, I wanna do strategy for brand, but you don’t necessarily know how that works yet. You don’t know kind of the ins and outs. So having somebody understand speed on the street to then actually help to create that brand vision is super critical.

So those are kind of the two functions I always look at. Now you can divide that as much as you want. You can look at having a research team, an insights team, another team that focuses just on PR.

Whatever your type of brand is and how you find the best ways to connect, there is no kind of one size fits all, but it is important to once again look at, here’s the brand that we are creating, here’s or the company, however you wanna spin it, and then here are the best ways that we feel as a brand, we are going to communicate. And this is how we’re gonna do that. So it goes back to what are the needs that you need, and then building a team around that.

But I’m a strong believer in those kind of two functions of strategy and execution are critical to any successful brand.

Awesome, yeah, thank you. Okay, so we’re coming slowly towards the end, which I’m really gutted about because this has been such a great conversation and I love your take on things I always do, but it’s just great to have a chance to kind of grill you.

Which is an odd experience because of, it’s rare that you get this in your career to kind of go back over an old colleague and just like kind of pick their brains about stuff. But I kind of think it would be great for our listeners to hear any of your kind of, I mean, do you have any top takeaways, top tips around brand management that you want to kind of leave us with?

Yeah, I think there’s kind of a few, right? It’s first off is being really clear, right? Be really clear about that line.

And that will take you the longest amount of time to articulate, to craft, and to really align people to that. And that should take you the longest amount of time. Because if you don’t have that, you’re just gonna pay for it later on down the road.

So as anyone who’s working in the brand space and the marketing space, whatever it is, focus on that. And it doesn’t have to be because there’s a target market over here or because you need to be different or differentiate from your competitors. It’s be distinct, right?

You can have the exact same product as somebody else, but if you’re distinct and you know that why, you’re head and shoulders above everyone else. Being consistent and that’s the second part for me, is how are you saying the same thing? One of the things I’ve always found in my career with people has been marketers get tired at the campaign before people do.

So most of the time, we live that every single day. I’ve seen the same commercial like 50 times before it ever hits TV or hits digital. And I’m bored of it already and it’s just launched.

So I’m like, let’s do something then. Or a consumer hasn’t. So you want to do something new and change it and do all this stuff.

You have to really drive the idea of consistency. How are you letting that kind of breathe? How are you kind of driving that idea of this is who I am, this is who the brand is to really kind of come through.

And then lastly, once again, it’s being authentic. So those kind of three rules for me. Authenticity continues to be such a key one in this space.

And it’s not just about what you say, what you say, it is about what you do. And that should permeate every single touch point you have with people. Not just with your communication, your product, or anything like that.

Those have to be there, of course. But it should go into every single function that you do. Once again, how do you operate when it comes to your hiring, when it comes to your sales team, when it comes to your operations?

If you’re not authentic, if you’re not true within that space, you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth. So I think it’s so important that as anyone who’s looking to work with somebody who’s an internal in-house, or if you are currently in-house, looking at those three things and really kind of driving those ideas home of simplicity, consistency and authenticity.

I love that. And in-house, I think, having been in-house, I do think you get more time to work with people on that and to really, usually, I mean, it depends on the setup, right, but you do have a little bit more time, whereas if your agency is sort of only glimpses of time with leadership and with clients, and you’ve got to take those principles, and I think they work either whether you’re in-house or not, they’re universal, but you have less time often to kind of hammer those home. So would you agree with that?

I mean, I know you’ve been in-house most of the time, but do you think you get that problem?

I actually believe so. Like the old way I was trained was, you give a brief, you give the AMC teams four weeks to come back with their first idea. Every AMC gives you one, two, three ideas.

The middle one’s always the best one, so they sandwich it together with two bad ideas, and the best one’s in between, right? It’s a terrible model. Like, who created this model?

I’m a big believer once again, it goes back to, my AMC’s are an extension of who I am. I should, if my team ever comes to me, and they say, hey, Kyle, I need more time on something, I’ll say, okay, like, help me understand why. And then, of course, most of these deadlines are just make-believe.

I just made them up. Yeah, I wanna have it by X date. If my AMC ever comes to me who’s, you know, out of house and says, we need a bit more time here to challenge us, most of the time I’ll say 100%.

Of course, you need more time. I’d rather you give me something beautiful than something to hit a magical timeline. So for me, it’s one thing it goes back to, it’s having an open line of communication to help to build on that.

But I’m also another believer, after I give a brief to my team or to my agencies, I will always have a touch base with them prior to like the big reveal presentation. I hate the big reveal. I hate it.

Like my advice to anyone who’s listening to this, who does this, stop doing it. Like it’s just, it’s not enjoyable. Like as a marketer, you’re like, I better like this because you spent four weeks doing it where I’d rather be brought along the journey.

And it goes back to the same idea. When you’re creating a brand in-house, don’t have a big reveal, just build it together. And that I think is-

A collaboration.

Collaboration, right? It’s so, so important. You know, if like Matt, Jacob, like for you guys, you probably have those great clients that you’ve worked with.

And I bet you those great clients are the ones that have probably worked in tandem with you, not the ones that have been, go away for a few weeks and come back to me.

100%, 100%. I don’t do big reveals. I agree with you.

I canned them a while ago. And I like to work developmental and swarming and people together collaborating. As you say, it’s just the best way because, otherwise all the pressure, like I do, I mean, but in the past I have, like I’ve done whole pitches and the whole narrative and all that stuff and I’ve not been terrible at it.

But as you can imagine with my gift of the gab, but the issue with it is, is that if you get it wrong, oh my days, or if someone doesn’t like it, like it’s just, it’s like being stabbed in the heart. If you’ve, as you say, you’ve done work for four weeks and then some person, like just you present it to them and it’s just, they don’t like it, or they point some massive floor out, which you would never have known. And then you just feel really stupid.

Whereas if you’d have shared stuff along the way, that gaping hole in your thinking would have been, would have been picked up on. So, as you say, it just makes more sense to partner with people. What do you think, Jacob?

What are your thoughts?

I love the phrase build it together. And I also agree with that, especially in the early phases when you’re trying to get that information out of them and facilitate the conversation. So I 100% agree, especially in the early phases.

I think once, well, at least in my experience, I find once you get to a stage and you go off and like I’m more in the design space, so you get this strategy, then you go into the executional side of things in terms of is it the identity or the website or whatever the next deliverable may be, that’s when we can do a little bit more of a story reveal. So that’s kind of how I have experienced it.

Yeah, there’s ways of doing that though. I sometimes partner with an agency at the moment and as a strategist, they will me in for particular projects. And what I find is they’re really cool because what they do is they create a mood boarding process.

So it’s still collaborative, but they haven’t done loads of execution or created a massive concept. The strategy has been developed. Yeah, there’s obviously reveal and check-in meetings, but there’s ways of building into the process, perhaps ways where old school, it would be like Mad Men, wouldn’t it?

And like Don Draper would like rock up with an easel and put the concepts there and really give it like a show. Whereas I think now it’s, you’ve got to be quicker, you’ve got to be nimbler, and you’ve got to take feedback on board and mold things as exactly as Kyle said together, even if you’re in an execution phase, but even more so in some of the things that we’ve been talking about around the purpose and the why. Brilliant.

So Jacob, have you got any final questions for Kyle?

No, no final questions apart from where people can find you.

You can find me online. So if you want to find me online, LinkedIn, it’s probably the easiest way if you want to connect with me or if anyone has any kind of questions they want to ask. My personal Gmail is MillarKyle, M-I-L-L-A-R-K-Y-L-E, gmail.com.

I’m happy to answer questions. I love talking about branding, as I probably have capitalized most of this time with you guys and me just listening to myself talk.

That’s what it’s about though. Imagine being a guest on our podcast and not speaking.

Oh no, I had to make way for Matt for some point because that’s usually his role. So I thought we’d switch it up.

Well, the podcast is called JUST Branding. So I think you’re in the right place.

That’s perfect.

For sure.

We’ve really appreciated your time, your energy, your expertise and your insight. Thank you so much for coming in today. We wish you all the best and we’ll keep tabs on you.

And with no doubt, we’ll check in as time goes on.

Thank you, Tom.

Thank you very much. Yeah, appreciate the time and Matt, great seeing you. Jacob, great to meet you virtually, obviously, but it’s been an absolute pleasure.

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