A Brand Guide to No-Win Politics.

For years, business in America has beenalice-donovan-rouse-195453 cautiously apolitical. We build brands to appeal to people who love the outdoors, to fashionistas, to shoppers on a budget – never expecting any of those brands to become a political stand. That’s why working in marketing is so disorienting right now. The ground is shifting beneath our feet.

Today, brand management has more in common with a war room than a corporate office. We’re seeing brands forced to pick a side. We’ve seen Budweiser defend the idea of immigration in a Super Bowl spot. We’ve seen Nordstrom drop a line of clothing because of its association with a daughter-in-chief. We’ve watched as Starbucks pledges to hire 10,000 refugees, and we see more examples of politics affecting brand every day.

jose-moreno-196356It feels like marketing is coalescing around “resistance” brands who stand in defiance of current politics, and “cooperator” brands who do not. For some companies, angering “cooperator” customers isn’t a big deal. For some, it’s half of their business.

At Williams Helde, we believe brands should be true to themselves. If that means taking a stand, then by all means, take a stand. But if that means trying not to anger any of your customers, then you must be very careful in how you craft your communications. Here are three things to keep in mind.

Be Vigilant.  Social media makes it too easy for a small misunderstanding in customer service to become a hashtag and rallying cry for a highly politicized customer base. For example, Uber intended their dropping of “surge pricing” in New York to help their customers, never thinking how they affected striking cab drivers, and were taken aback by the #deleteUber hashtag. Brands should monitor all channels consistently to make sure those misunderstandings are addressed before they spiral out of control.

Have a Plan. As noted above, brands never jerry-kiesewetter-195442expected their love of the outdoors to become a political stand. But as policies become more controversial, positions that once seemed benign could suddenly become a battleground. Make sure your marketing department has a response to possible flashpoint issues like immigration, education, the environment, and more. You never know when your brand will be accidentally pulled into a controversy.

Communicate Clearly. Your brand is a collection of experiences, and the bulk of those experiences happen when your customers interact with your employees. If those employees don’t know your corporate position on an issue, you increase your chances of miscommunication or misstep. For example, if you are a retailer and one of the brands you sell makes a “resistance” or a “cooperator” statement, your retail brand is affected. Williams Helde has developed expertise in making brand decisions resonate throughout corporate culture, and we know how to let your employees understand how and why decisions are made. We can help you develop a plan to protect your brand from backlash.

It’s getting weird out there, people. We have to stick together. Williams Helde is helping brands like yours figure out how to navigate uncharted political waters. If you need to talk a little strategy to keep your brand off the rocks, please drop us a line.

Prepare for Active Explorer Season.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re gearing up for rainy season. Shorts are going away, rainproofing is a priority, and we’re looking for the perfect gear to keep our stuff dry from the storms the North Pacific sends our way.

It’s the perfect time to study the Active Explorer.


If you don’t know who the Active Explorer is, you can catch up here. In a nutshell, it’s your most educated and affluent customer, looking to improve their bodies and minds. Active Explorers are seasonal creatures. We love the summer sun, but a little wind and rain isn’t going to keep us off the trail. Our passions are yearlong and nationwide.

Seasons are what keep us grounded. We look forward to the change. We search for fresh apples and fall harvests in the Farmers’ Markets, make a list of hikes that feature fall colors, make sure the tread on our tires can handle a little mud. Our minds are open.

That’s where you come in. When people’s minds are open, you can make a new first impression. Take these three steps to prepare for a whole new customer mindset:

Explore your ecosystem. No matter what you’re selling, you’re not selling in a vacuum. Look at your adjacent products and services to see if they’re offering something you could complement or supplement. For example, if you’re a hardware store, help your Active Explorers find ideas to build a place to store their gear for a long wet winter.

Hiking-Shoes-588x391Get ideas from outside. Take note about how other products and services take advantage of autumn. Automobiles, coffee shops and department stores all have deep-seated reasons to offer new styles, flavors and fashions. If you’re a bank, an insurance agency, or a fast casual restaurant, what could your pumpkin spice be?

Retell your story. If you’re an established business, it may be easy for your customers to forget why they loved you. Every once in a while, you need to remind them. One of our favorite examples is Brooks, a century-old shoe company that decided to focus completely on making the best running shoes in the world. Not only did their customers take another look, but so did everybody else, making them one of the leading specialty running shoe manufacturers in the world.

Another article on brainstorming. This one will have you taking flight.

There have been numerous articles written on brainstorming. Too many. In fact the term itself actually bothers me. It implies some sort of magical brain explosion that just plops out when you gather people in a room. But there is magic, creativity and incredible value that can happen when you believe in the power of bringing people together with diverse viewpoints to solve problems.

For many years we employed a fairly standard creative process; AE talks to clients, writes brief with strategists, briefs creative team, and then sells their ideas back to client. There is a sequential and logical fashion to this and it worked swell for the first 40 years of our agency’s history. There were problems lurking beneath the surface, though. It was wasteful, for one; lots of back and forth between teams, rounds of revisions and typically a lot of great creative left on the floor because the account team isn’t behind it. The process created divisions between the account and creative teams and left the account team with no ownership of the creative. The creative teams either became order takers or tyrants depending on whomever had more power in the selection of ideas.

It’s hard to describe the magic that happens when a team loses their inhibitions, trusts each other and works together to solve problems. The results are outstanding; fewer rounds of revisions, more ideas that are on strategy; quicker, ready to market ideas and less obvious, yet more producible results. Teams come together and everyone understands and owns the strategy. It flattens the hierarchy and lets all the talents shine, not just those of a supreme creative leader. The benefits are amazing. We call this process Flight.

Five basic principles for Flight-like thinking. 

  1. Truly believe and embrace the fact everyone is creative. I have heard so many times by folks that are not technically on the creative team that they are not creative—only to see their idea rise to the top and get produced. Leave job descriptions at the door and listen to everyone.
  2. Come prepared. You can’t pick ideas off trees, and you can’t expect ideas on demand. Most people’s brains are working in the background of daily life and by priming the thoughts ahead of time you have planted the seeds of brilliance. Start with sending everyone a pre-read, then have a short 15 minute briefing together before the ideation session begins. And if the ideation is falling flat don’t be afraid to postpone and come back when people have had more time to germinate.
  3.  Define the problem. Really define the real problem. Trying to figure out what you are solving is the most difficult and most important task at hand. Be aware of the obvious and the discreet. Have a robust discussion to talk through all the possible angles.
  4. Make sure your sessions have structure. Start with a warm up exercise and then employ a tool or specific way to get ideas shaped (unless you are utilizing narcotics-which is not recommended). Freestyling can become unpredictable and forces people to go obvious routes.
  5. Create a clear decision process. Decide on the best way to evaluate the ideas as a group and stick to it. Try evaluating wearing different hats. Be open to directions that nobody had envisioned going, and don’t let the most senior or loudest voice in the room have the most votes.