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M.AD Insighter Series

Wade Thompson, Founder of Son&Sons

Jul 14, 2021 - 04:00pm

Speaker

Wade Thompson

Founder and Creative Director at Son&Sons

Overview

Wade Thompson founded the global brand growth agency, Son&Sons. He has led brand strategy and identity projects for some of the world’s most admired brands, including Coca-Cola, Patagonia, Sonos, Etsy, Merrell, and FreshBooks. Wade is a constant student and teacher of brands, culture, markets, and strategy. He believes the role of a brand is to […]

Wade Thompson

Founder and Creative Director at Son&Sons

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Wade Thompson founded the global brand growth agency, Son&Sons. He has led brand strategy and identity projects for some of the world’s most admired brands, including Coca-Cola, Patagonia, Sonos, Etsy, Merrell, and FreshBooks. Wade is a constant student and teacher of brands, culture, markets, and strategy. He believes the role of a brand is to expand business capacity in ways that enrich human capacity.

Not sure you've got the time to watch the whole thing. No problem, we've got you covered. Here's the full transcript from Wade's talk:

Wade Thompson | M.AD Insighter Series Transcript

Hank Richardson:

Everybody. Hey, thank you for coming today and welcome to Insider Series broadcast today. We've got a great presentation for you. We have Wade Thompson. Wade is the founder and CEO of brand growth agency, Son&Sons, and they advise marketing and leadership teams of high performance brands all around the globe. They position brands and they really bring them to, not only a full commercial attitude, but a full human capacity opportunity. And he's led brand and identity projects for the likes of Coca-Cola, Patagonia, Etsy, Merrell, and FreshBooks.

Hank Richardson:

And the thing about Wade that you might like to know is that he is a constant student, even though he is a constant but professional. He never stops learning. Culture, market, strategy, you name it. He's one of the most interesting people you'll meet today. He believes that the role of brand is obviously to increase business capability and capacity in ways that absolutely enrich the human experience. And it's also profitly that I share with you that once upon a time, Wade sat in those zoom seats right where you were, going back into history and time. That's been a quite a while, and now he's very successful. It's with that all in mind, that spirit, that we begin the programming. Wade, thanks for coming today.

Wade Thompson:

Thanks for having me, y'all. And thanks for being here. I know nobody wants one more zoom meeting. I scrolled by somebody and it looked like they had a whole gang of people hanging out at home. So kudos to you for recruiting a group of folks. Y'all I'm , again, Wade Thompson. I run a firm called Son&Sons. I've been in the brand world, actively, for probably about... Don't let me do the math... For a while. I've been leading my own firm for 12, 13 years, worked with others for about five years before that. And I was in your seats. I was a student at Portfolio Center before becoming [Mad 00:02:46]. And I think for me, you're in this position of just pure potential, right? And this idea of everything can be what if, and I think it's a really beautiful place, because especially right now in the business community, the world is driven by what must be, or what things have to be.

Wade Thompson:

You're at a place right now where you get to remind us what we could imagine and what we could be. Even businesses that are thriving during COVID have often been dominated by fear and have shrunken budgets that would go to creativity or innovation or different ways to connect with humans, and more it's gone towards operations. So how do we manage business continuity? And we want to keep people safe, and that's an important thing. That attribute of, sometimes it's important to be afraid, right? We want to make sure our business stays open. We want to make sure that we're operating in ways that don't increase the spread of and accelerate a pandemic. We want to operate in really responsible, kind ways. Great. But a lot of the budget that would have gone to, Hey, how do we connect with people? How do we innovate and grow and do things that make more meaning and grow more love for brands?" That's really put on hold for a little bit in favor of just pure operational efficiencies.

Wade Thompson:

And so now we're living in a world full of tasks, right? If we were live, I would get to hang out with you in person. We would have dinner the night before we do this, I would do a workshop with you in person. There's all this downtime. So I get to see you, understand how you're working. I get this more holistic view of you, and you get a more holistic view of me as a person and as a practitioner. And we're living in this world where we're each in our little pod doing more technical task-focused work than this big, broad loom that weaves us together.

Wade Thompson:

Right now, imagine yourself at some party, and you've just started talking to the weird girl in the corner. And you're like, "Why is she all alone?" And you start to talk to her or him. And you realize, "Oh, cause they're a total nut job, and they won't shut up about their cats." I'm going to be that way about brands, because I haven't had a chance to talk to people about this for a long time, and I've been a little bit cooped up. So let's do this.

Wade Thompson:

I'm a bad designer... Or I'm a mediocre designer. I'd only go so far as a pure identity designer. I think I kind of suck. I prefer other people's work to my work. So if you have big ideas, or you're better at some aspects of this practice of writing or design, video, photography, whatever it is that you're [inaudible 00:06:00] to do, just know that there's there's room for all of us.

Wade Thompson:

We're not all going to be the Massimo Vignelli or folks like Michael Beirut. We need to have a role to play and bring value. And as long as we nurture that, we're in good shape. But regardless of how much time I try to be an amazing graphic designer, I'll only be pretty good. But there are other things that I can really excel at. Son&Sons is an extension of Portfolio Center, or of Mad. Everything I learned in your seat is what I wanted to keep going with. I didn't want to let go of it. I just was not willing to say, "I want to work differently." or "I just want to work some traditional way." I love the idea of being insanely passionate. I love the idea of just working with super talented peers. And that's why the second I graduated from school, I went back to teach, because I love working with y'all and you feed me so much, and we get to learn from each other. My business, and the way that I continue to work, is based off of this deep collaboration and flamboyant creativity.

Wade Thompson:

We started the business, I did, accidentally, because I was excited. I was trying to help people out. I was super curious. I was open. I was easy to work with. That was pretty fun. And I ended up with some really big projects from the Coca Cola company. They were too big for me. And I didn't want to work all night. I'm not that person. I knew I'd do better stuff if I brought a crew with me. So that's where Son&Sons started. Right. We started as a group of young creative people doing work that was way over our heads, and we were just killing it. We were in a small studio in Manhattan, and we'd have clients fly to us thinking that we're some big agency. We had some dude fly to us from New Zealand and he was so pissed off that we just had this crummy spot. We were on Broadway and Houston, up on the 10th floor of this building above a methadone clinic. It just shattered his whole idea of who he thought we were. He thought there was going to be some beautiful lobby and a guest reception area and a billiard table and a bar. Whatever, I guess he wanted caviar and stuff, but we'd end up still doing the work for him and doing great.

Wade Thompson:

But I would just say that it's all about the people, the work, the passion, your heart, and what you can bring to folks. And that if you want to start something up small or do something amazing that's way above your head, it's not above you. You can connect with people who believe in you, and do amazing things that maybe an agency of a hundred people might be doing, and it's and like three or four of your friends from school.

Wade Thompson:

So [inaudible 00:09:26] is this kind of rambunctious group. I'm going to show you some pictures just to help focus this. And I hate to do this death by PowerPoint or whatever the hell we're going to do now. PDF. But here's an old picture of our team. A lot of these people are not with the team anymore, but these are all nice, friendly people. Many of them graduates from your school, and they're super happy. I'm sorry. I was kind of a dork. Midlife crisis, guitar, and skateboard is kind of a jump the shark move.

Wade Thompson:

Okay. Here's what we do. We work with a lot of these clients and really help them think about what is so beautiful and unique about you, and how do we make sure that we codify that in ways that help you outperform your peers. Just a quick exercise. We're going on a little scatterbrained walk with me. If I had it my way, I'd just go and I'd walk around the city with each of you and talk about all this stuff.

Wade Thompson:

But we see this, we want it. We love the package. It's a pretty picture. Makes me thirst for it. Maybe I want this. Maybe this is boring packaging. I don't know. This used to be important to some people. I'm not sure if it is anymore. This is pretty cool. I'd rather have this from my daughter or from a friend than any of the other stuff we looked at.

Wade Thompson:

But we do judge books by their cover, and we have a pretty good idea of what's inside of them. We do that with people, too. And we do that with brands. I would say as a species, we know that the dude who eats the funny looking fruit is the same dude that is doubled over puking and eventually like gets left from the tribe and we don't see him anymore. So going back to caveman days, we are really, really, really good at seeing and perceiving and judging based on that. And sometimes it backfires on us, and we have all of these biases that we're not aware of. But as far as the world of brands and our perception, we don't eat rotten fruit, and we have a good idea of like, "Hey, maybe we stay away from these kind of things."

Wade Thompson:

I'd love to talk to you all day about this. What's a brand? Let's work with this. Products help you do things. Brands help you feel things. Nike ad. Kid doesn't even have a pair of shoes. This is not even a product there. "Find your greatness." Oh, well, okay. I get it. I feel it. I want to be there.

Wade Thompson:

Some of our clients [inaudible 00:12:18] to say that it gives you permission to be radically yourself. To be fully and wholly who you are. And I'll talk about it too, as being more you and more different. When you know who you are, and you're more of you, and you're more different, the speed at which you can act at is insane. You can really fly. You don't have to have a consensus meeting or go to a committee to come up with an idea. When you know who you are, you're confident and able to do that. And it's articulated in some way, so that a large enterprise knows how to respond and act with agility. It's insane, the speed at which you can move and how close you can stay to customers and how quickly you can invent and do things that are constantly relevant, because it's a reflex. It's not a creative brief. It's just how you are, how you behave.

Wade Thompson:

This is a dog's breakfast of about 14 proposals. But just to show some stuff. If you live in Atlanta, you probably know what Midtown is, you've seen this, or you've been over here. We created a brand for Midtown a couple of years ago. So Midtown, it was literally like there's a downtown and a Buckhead and Midtown was whatever it was in the middle. You don't want to be in the middle. It was understood as a dangerous place where there was the perception of crime was greater than the actual crime. If you live north of Florida and south of Tennessee, you may claim Midtown.

Wade Thompson:

And then another thing is that for Atlanta, at least then, Midtown was the first urban operating system. First, you can park your car or take public transportation, and then you do a hundred things by foot. You don't drive your Lexus to the Petco and then drive it 10 feet over to the Target and 10 feet over to Smoothie King and 10 feet over to whatever nail salon.

Wade Thompson:

Just a quick overview. So the second and middle. Understood as dangerous, big as Texas. And it's this urban thing. So what we did is we got hyper-specific. How do you make Midtown Atlanta a place where it feels like an actual place and not a bunch of just glass skyscrapers? We show real things. Fox Theater and Music Midtown. We fill it with this language that feels friendly. It's got Rockwell. This is nice slabbed serif typeface. It feels super fun.

Wade Thompson:

Instead of being in the middle, we became the heart of it all. Super simple stuff. Just fun identity. It's really celebratory. It's big, like turning all the lights on. Super fun. And doing some really cool stuff. We actually didn't do this. Somebody liked the identity so much, they actually did this themselves. This isn't a big enterprise. This is easy. You walk down Peachtree Street, see people, you talk people and you help position the brand in such a way that it can do some pretty big things. It can attract more development dollars. It can attract more tenants from a commercial standpoint, businesses, retail, corporate headquarters. And it can also attract more, more residents. So all of a sudden, all this work. Hey, this looks neat. I showed you a couple banners. The work's really deep. It positions the entire district and in a really positive way so they get more of what they want.

Wade Thompson:

There's this place called Museum of Design Atlanta. It had a pretty outdated identity, but it also didn't have a point of view. We learned that a lot of museums talk about being experts, but expertise is kind of boring. Museums are scary for a lot of people. There's this thing called threshold anxiety, where folks are scared to go into a museum. There are museum folks and art kids and people like us that we like these different experiences. For a ton of people, it's an anxiety attack, walking into a museum.

Wade Thompson:

Designers are scariest. Designers are scary. We look like an Elvis impersonator, we wear all black. We have these funny glasses. We'll make fun of you if you use the wrong typeface. We're fascist and totalitarian when it comes to things like this. And then also there's this brand Museum Of. The MO is kind of useless. Like Museum of Chicken Wings, Museum of Banana Fields, Museum of Art. Every museum has the same thing. So what we did is we helped reposition MODA as this super fun place that's really casual. We introduced things like barbecues, that design shops couldn't do. We said, MO became Mo, like "I want Mo", can I have some Mo milkshakes and hot dogs and hamburgers? For a museum, this is... [inaudible 00:17:37] is rolling over in his and her grave.

Wade Thompson:

We used four different typefaces for this. It's just absurd. We're not supposed to do these things. So we're able to break a lot of these rules, and it's been really helpful for the museum, because following all the rules just helps you fit in with everybody else. So MODA became that we want more, we want more Design Atlanta. So more Mo Design Atlanta. And so we broke all the design rules in order to do this, but we're able to connect with people in completely different ways than we had before. Think about new types of exhibits. If I want more equity in my design, if I want more black women in my design, if I want more, whatever that is, it helped Museum of Design take a deep look at all these different areas.

Wade Thompson:

So it's just super exciting. Legos? Legos are the antithesis of design. We're about authorship and control. Anybody can do Legos. So here we are inviting people who are wearing t-shirts and shorts, cargo shorts and Tevas and stuff like that into our realm of you're supposed to have all black t-shirt and pants and a pair of crisp Stan Smith's or some Jordans. Designers are supposed to look a certain way. We're inviting folks in flip-flops to participate in this and really think about design. So super cool.

Wade Thompson:

Etsy, a bigger company. We got to work with the CEO and the whole leadership team to position the brand and the business for consumers, for internal audiences, for stakeholders. Had to do values and a lot of big corporate strategy. But the original perception was this is where you go if you live in Portland and you knit funny little things, or you do felt knitting and needlepoint, or if you're my grandmother, or cat lady. It was only seen as the starter kit and for curiosities. So we actually worked with them to completely reposition the brand so it became a really powerful e-commerce site that helped its sellers and makers and buyers shop in totally different ways. So just through a lot of series of workshops and collaborations. It's helping a company wrap its head around who it is. Right. So for Etsy, liberating individual expression from the tyranny of the herd, there's a bunch of stuff that goes behind this that is proprietary, and I don't think I should share it, but it's a simple belief that we are better as human beings and our life is so beautiful, not because we're the same, but because of our unique differences.

Wade Thompson:

And so when you build a brand based on that, rather than a brand based on a transaction, everything changes. It enables new products and new services and new ways of marketing and new ways of promotion and new content to be generated. Helping an entire enterprise get grounded in something that's deeply human. That's powerful.

Wade Thompson:

Or we got to help Patagonia think through strategy, really simplify it and focus it, articulate it in a new way. And then also simplify their brand identity. They had more logos than there are states in the United States. If you wanted to approve something, you had to go ask the founder. And we had to give some structure for who they were. The radical, the wild, and the free. This is the first ever visual identity system that I've been able to create that has as part of the system a protest poster. This corporate protest poster as part of this. And so we were able to write this narrative for them to really help codify the brand. This is for retail employees. Like, "Hey, I've start here. What's a brand? What's our brand? What's all this stuff about?" We're deliberately and strategically and passionately anti-conventional. We know the road to hell is paved with planned obsolescence, mass marketing, fashion weeks, and corporate greenwashing.

Wade Thompson:

And so it's a brand that really gets to call out the BS that's going on in the world. But at the same time, we needed really, really rigorous standards for this brand as it's growing throughout the world. If you're opening up the new shop in Kyoto, you don't need to go back to Ventura, California to get your 27 questions answered to just produce the sign for the front of your store. So I had to create a brand identity that can do all this kind of stuff, from social, to online, e-commerce, to publishing, and show up in all the different ways that we need brands to show up so that they can build this stuff with speed and scale.

Wade Thompson:

Complete non-sequitur. If you're building a brand right now, you got a couple of things that you have access to. You have the access to the internet. Let's say we're making an insurance brand. These are a bunch of insurance companies, and a lot of these are more digital focused insurance companies, or new digital emerging technology firms that somehow make our life a little bit easier. So we can start to look at this and say, well, "Hmm, what kind of type do they use? What do they look like? How do they behave? What do they say?" You can look at the colors. Cool. All right. Well, I think blue is probably out if we're going to start our new insurance company. Maybe we think about a few different colors. Then we get to look at some of the stuff. Well, how are they talking? What are they saying?

Wade Thompson:

I love looking at... I don't know if you're familiar with Oscar. We had nothing to do with this, but I think it was really great. They had these funny little doodles when they first started. The doctor will see you now. But just sharing all these awkward little moments about, geez, I wish I had another way to share information with my doctor faster, easier, and more confidential.

Wade Thompson:

But we can quickly see where every other company is, and understand how can we be different. Boom. So here's the, I don't know if it's weird stuff, or... If you want to know a strategy for aligning a blockbuster movie with a carbonated beverage and a kid's cereal and a value meal at Burger King, I'm not your person for that strategy. If you want to figure out how come no one wants to come back to work after COVID? How come we can't recruit the best talent? How come people are leaving us? How come we're getting more downward pressure on our prices, or there's less love for our brand, or people are not willing to pay a premium. How come our culture feels flat and ineffective? Then ding ding ding, let me join you. I'm good for that. Here's what we dig into.

Wade Thompson:

So I'm talking from hypothetical brands, here's how we build this stuff. I'm giving you the Wade Thompson starter pack. So if we talk again later, you can figure out which of these 20 things you want to talk about. So if some of you might like something, some of you don't, so hopefully there's a smorgasbord. You can take what you like, and I'm happy to follow up with you, talk with you about this stuff.

Wade Thompson:

We call this our Truth Mandala. It was a kind of a square egg. But basically is this your brand. This little yellow thing or whatever, the space that you operate in. There are four areas that if you're thinking about building brands, even in school, what should I be thinking about?

Wade Thompson:

So you want to understand the enterprise. Whatever company you're working for, how do you understand that thing? Let's say it's a bottled water. Well, how do they show up? Where do they show up? Are they refrigerated? Or are they at ambient temperature? Are they sold individually? Or are they sold in 36 packs. Sold via subscription? How do you understand the business? How is it capitalized? Is it actually making money, or is it just selling for low in a startup phase? Who are the investors? Who are the board members? What kind of strengths do they have? What regions are they operating in? You really want to understand every single thing you can about a business. What are the stories it tells? What are its big hero moments?

Wade Thompson:

And then it's great to understand humankind. Those humans are thirsty people, and you've got this water brand that you're going to sell. So let's understand people and what's going on with them in really, really, really deep ways. I think one of the things that we've benefited from in some work we got to do with Sonos was Sonos just gave their speakers to, I don't know, maybe they kitted out 100 to 500 houses, homes, from folks living in Kuala Lumpur or New York or San Francisco, Atlanta, Topeka, wherever. And said like, "Hey, take this questionnaire every so often." And they found out that when you have music in your house, you feel happier. You do more activities together. Dishes aren't so bad. They found out that households where couples listen to music, they were more romantic. All sorts of things were happening. They would have more impromptu dance parties, all sorts of fun stuff. Looking at what's going on in the lives of humans and how are they responding to, as it relates to whatever your business is, or your brand. Really understanding people.

Wade Thompson:

And so, again for water, cool. What are the moments we drink water? How do we feel about things a huge stack of plastic bottles by the waste bin? Do we feel guilty about these things? Talking to individuals, do we have a preference for tap water, for filtered water, for bottled water. Whatever that is. But we want to go talk to people and find out and watch them, too. What are they doing? When did they buy it? How did they buy it? Do they feel guilty about it? Whatever.

Wade Thompson:

And then culture. So so many big culture moments. For culture, I'd say that this is technology, this is science, this is politics. One of the biggest cultural moments, that you're going to school and you're enrolled in school, but you're not totally in school or I'm at work, but I'm not actually at work. We're learning so much with COVID and the way that we are living our lives, where we spend time, how we spend time. All these things are super big.

Wade Thompson:

Maybe because I can look at a 10,000 TikTok videos in two minutes, all of a sudden I'm hyper aware that I'm overweight, I'm not cool, I'm not funny, and I'm going to do all these exercise classes and weight loss classes and learn how to be a better social human being or whatever it is. But what effect does social media or whatever emerging technologies, what does that have on us? What does it mean if I don't have to drive anymore or be in traffic, because I'm not commuting anymore? All these things would influence, if I'm a water brand, when and how I can sell water, because if I only sell water outside or at the gas station or convenience station, and I'm no longer driving to the convenience station, we need to think of new ways to sell water.

Wade Thompson:

And then in terms of the marketplace, who else is there? Who are your competitors? How are they showing up to market? What are their price points? What are their propositions? How are they offering this? But I think there's so many different things to get curious about, and you can pose your own questions, but these are four huge jumping off points that can help you think about how your brand needs to operate in the world.

Wade Thompson:

Here's the flower. This is a fun trick. If you're waiting on someone at the bar and you have a pen and a napkin, just draw these two lines. It's two continuums. One from Me to We, one from Explore to Control.

Wade Thompson:

So me right now, I'm just talking about myself. But there are times in our lives where we want to be known as different from other people. I want to be the one who ran faster, or I want to be the one who won this project or did this slam dunk or whatever it is that I did. I wanted to find myself as an individual against the group. There are other times where I want to be part of our community. I want to be part of this community that we're in together as students of design. When the Hawks are doing great, I want to be part of that community too. When Atlanta is doing cool stuff, I want to be part of that. When I identify as an Atlantan, however that goes.

Wade Thompson:

Then in terms of this other continuum, I want to think about how we exist in the world. Whether we want to control our environment or whether we want to go explore. So go back to caveman days. We're sitting in a cave, it's a little damp. It's kind of chilly, smells funny. But at least you know there's nothing else with sharp teeth in that cave. So we can hang out in here and be safe. Or we hear the beat of some cavepeople drums a few mountains away, and all of a sudden, we think maybe we want to go explore. What's going on over there. Is that a party? Are they having a cave rave, or are they about to do some cannibalism stuff? Not really sure, but I'm open for it. I want to go explore.

Wade Thompson:

This is I'm going to stay at home and stream some shows, or I'm going to go out to the club or out to the party or out to dinner with friends and go for something new. And all through the day we have these experiences. Sometimes we want something familiar, sometimes we want something new, but from a brand world, it helps us get these different realms that we can tap into. So this realm of mastery and it's about me and controlling my environment. Maybe this is one of those stock trading companies that positions itself... I think it's called Scottrade. Take that, for example. 99% of the you go be your own day trader and do a bunch of stock tricks, right? It's in this idea of you control your own destiny.

Wade Thompson:

But perhaps somebody like Robin Hood could position themselves in this realm of participation. It's like, no, it's actually about exploring new financial opportunities. And we're doing this, we together as a community, and together, we can figure this out. We're breaking new boundaries and inviting you to this place that you didn't have ability to participate in before. You get Nike in here, it's realm of journey. It's about me and exploring. Marlboro Man's somewhere way off the page over here on the Me side, riding a horse in the sunset.

Wade Thompson:

And this realm of authenticity about caring and control. Brands like Johnson and Johnson, brands like Volvo. So you can chop up these different core emotional attributes. So as you're thinking about branding or building something, that's a cool way to do it. Is it about me as an individual? Am I going to be a brand that's about we together, or a brand about exploring something or controlling something? Think about it with car brands. BMW, the ultimate driving machine, right? Master the road. All sorts of different propositions you can break down.

Wade Thompson:

I'm going to zip around a little bit here. What's really fun with brands... I just want to share a few probably lesser known brands. Sarah has two salons. She has a salon that has no mirrors. So I think what's really cool with brands is when you understand what is essential to you, you can then reject category norms. So the norm is, any salon you go to, you sit in front of a mirror, you look at yourself with your hair wet down, combed straight over the face. You look like a wet rat. And you stare at yourself in a smock with your hair looking as horrible as it's ever looked for an hour or whatever. And then at the very end, you don't feel like a wet rat, and you look pretty. So her entire salons, no mirrors. You look at it later. But you're just talking to her and having an awesome, friendly haircut. The psychic hair hotline. All this super fun stuff. It's a small business, but there are two of them, and it's really successful, and it means a lot to people. People love this place.

Wade Thompson:

This is a fun group. This is a PC grad who put this together. It's called [inaudible 00:36:55]. It's like golf without granddad. What if we had a golf brand that's like all the skate brands. Does golf have to be stuffy? Does golf have to be boring? Does golf have to look like you're the world's most boring lawyer? No. Super successful brand.

Wade Thompson:

This dude has an iron company. He loves making stuff out of iron, and he's this crazy dude who wears a kilt all the time. But I guess if you're only one person, you kind of get to do whatever you want to. I think if you extrapolate this... So what if you built a whole brand with someone who just wears hockey jerseys and kilts, then you get a pretty cool brand for an iron worker. Everybody knows this dude, his trucks are like rolling thunder. He looks like a maniac. But he's rejected what he's supposed to look like, what he's supposed to wear? He's supposed to be wearing a pair of what, Dickies overalls and welders gloves and a pair of Timberland boots or Redwing boots. But he's not really doing that.

Wade Thompson:

I wanted to take a little bit of time to apologize for all the picture sharing, but I want to give some examples and point to a couple of things so you get an idea of some of this stuff, but I guess what I'd love for you to think about... What do brands do and what are their roles? I think at an enterprise level, which is probably where a lot of you will be working and thinking about brands, you have a lot of different layers of brands, but at some of the highest layers, I think brands can give permission to companies to be amazing and do really bold things. I don't mean this in a Hallmark Channel way. I mean that when you're developing a brand, there's this permission that you get. It's like bringing a child into the world. And we say, what do we want for this child? It's not, we want what everybody else has. It's like, no, no, no. We want this thing to be this beautiful thriving creature that flourishes, that grows, that's competent, that can go out in the world and do all sorts of amazing things. That's what we want.

Wade Thompson:

You get that same permission when you're launching a brand. You're creating that brand. So you get to bake into it a lot of the characteristics that you love. And the way I think about it, again, getting in the weird stuff, is how do you define... What is, maybe it's a Pantheon of gods. What are the attributes, what are the positive human attributes that we want to bake into this? Do we want to be the super kind caring brand?

Wade Thompson:

What's really cool about this is once you agree to this, "As a brand, we're going to do this." So with Etsy, we are going to be all for this group of people and we are going to be all about celebrating these differences. Well, then all of a sudden you get to say, "Well, how is that being played out in our diversity and hiring? Are we celebrating differences or not? Are we different?" Oops. A brand can be in some ways a trap, where you say, "Hey, aren't these all good things, don't we all agree to them?" "Yes. These are great." Okay. Now that we've agreed to them, how do you bend the entire organization in order to deliver these things? We said we believe these, how do we start to enforce these?

Wade Thompson:

And not in ways that are pure discipline and a penal way, but ways that really invite everybody in the company to believe in the company and to do something big. It goes way beyond marketing, at least for me. If we do it right long-term, a brand can build guaranteed future sales and it can build in higher margins, which means I'm willing to pay a premium for this pink marker over this pink marker, because this is a special brand. So I'm willing to pay more for this and I'm more likely to continue to buy it. So the future viability of my company rest in this brand.

Wade Thompson:

As we do this, I would say, be human. Be human as hell. Just think about what are the sacred things that make you real, that make you love your friends, and how do you get so real in a brand and avoid... It's so easy to get in this world of corporate BS, but how do you create a brand for a world that is broken or hurting or completely transforming in front of us. How do you create a brand that some cosmic dialysis for whatever the stuff is that we're all going through? There's real ability, I think, to do this in ways that help companies matter, because if companies don't do this, they start to become commodities.

Wade Thompson:

So why would I work at Company A versus Company B. What do they stand for? What do they believe in? Why would I buy Company A's product over Company B? The truth is, I don't know that the Patagonia shorts are better than the Columbia shorts or that they're better than whatever brand Target just came up with to sell me cheap athletic shorts. But I believe in the Patagonia brand, I believe in what they're doing, and I'm going to end up doing those. Not just from a badge purchase because people see me wear a product that I think is cool and that they'll like me for that, but from a deep motivation. So with all the brands that we're doing, how do we create brands that, that help young talent like you want to work there, to recruit the best talent from around the country, around the world?

Wade Thompson:

This is what we're doing with a brand, is we're creating a soul of a workplace and a workforce and a business. And once that soul permeates through the entire culture, the business moves so much faster. So if everybody gets it, has this Eureka experience and know this is what my company's about, this is what I'm doing. I know how to innovate. I know how to create new products. I know how to optimize customer service, because no more is customer service about being the most efficient, or spending the least possible. Customer service becomes about how do you create some maniac fan who loves us so much. Or whatever it is. But it's to be, what are we going to be hell bent on to do totally different?

Wade Thompson:

I've got a hard stop just right before 5:00. I probably need just a minute to hop on my next thing, but I'd love to hear some thoughts or talk with y'all a little bit.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, Wade, actually, I have a question. How do you see the brands moving forward since COVID started happening, and how you see all these corporate BS, moving away of the branding actually, or the marketing department of brands, or you see they are moving to a more real open world? I don't know.

Wade Thompson:

I hope the COVID experience has taught us that we need each other as a species. We like other humans and we need each other and that we're so interconnected. I hope we learn from that in the long-term, we go for these more robust, vibrant brands. I think right now, what we're seeing is things more product-focused or transaction-focused rather than it's this big experience. We're timid about ushering in a big, new idea at a time when we don't feel any great certainty. There's some financial uncertainty, some health uncertainty, overall economic certainty, still some clouds of political uncertainty. But in terms of brands, what do we see? I would say some agencies and companies are subverting some of the core aspects that maybe brands had assumed.

Wade Thompson:

One idea was longevity or permanence. Hey, we're building this forever, this is going to be around for decades. And so we'll have to see if this is going to be successful, or if it's a misstep, but you see certain brands in the tech world or product world go to places that feel very right now. So it's more of a brand as promotion instead of brand as soul or brand as this longterm essence. So a rebranding is almost just like an advertising campaign. And you could question some of the durability of some pop brands that you may see in the marketplace.

Wade Thompson:

So I think one of the things that we're seeing and that agencies are testing, and I think it's bright and we need to, I don't know how it's going to work out, is do brands need to be forever? Do brands need to be consistent? Go through your textbook from whatever [inaudible 00:47:22] just told you, or whatever you read, and say, "Well, what if that's not true? What if brands don't have to be forever? What if brands don't have to be consistent? What if brands can be super fluid?" Just testing those. But right now, I hope we get back there, but I think that a lot of industries have reduced that kind of spending and thinking. They're getting back to it, very much so right now, but I think we've had about a year and a half of suffocation.

Wade Thompson:

Thank you then.

Hank Richardson:

Thank you.

Speaker 4:

I guess I have a question, it kind of piggy backs on it. From my understanding a brand should strive to be authentic, because when you're authentic, then that way the consumer can connect with you and have some sort of understanding, and there's trust. What else should a brand aspire to be other than authentic?

Wade Thompson:

Yeah, I think that's that's right. And by authenticity, we can mean a few things. Part of that is the courage. It's not just what we do as marketeers, but there's so many levels. Will we launch this product? Will we invest R and D towards this? So I would look at it in terms of fidelity or continuity. Are all the parts of the business operating like this? Or does the marketing department say one thing, and then the supply chain is still not diversifying or moving towards more sustainable partnerships, whatever it is. The business has to move collectively towards this. So by the authenticity, it's not just saying authentic things, it's making sure that actions and words align.

Wade Thompson:

So I think there's a radical coordination across the entire enterprise is really important. And I think too, that, hey, just being able to say... I don't know, let's go back to our water brand. Let's say, Hey, I got this cool water brand, but guys, I'm really sorry because this packaging sucks and I'm really dissatisfied with it. I want to get to a place where we have this super breakthrough, sustainable packaging, but I'm not there yet. I think honesty and just being able to be vulnerable is, is going to be a good part of it. But yeah. Anyway, I guess you're right. I added more context to how you're right, and how it's important. But yeah, good point. Good question.

Wade Thompson:

I'll do one more question.

Speaker 5:

I guess I have a question. Have you ever had to work on a brand that you didn't believe in, or do you think that like any brand can be salvaged?

Wade Thompson:

So some of my projects I love the most are... Let's be honest. If you work with Nike, you have a pretty good idea of what your project is going to look like at the end of it. It's probably got to have Futura bold condensed, and one of eight approved photographs, things like that. I think some of the most enriching projects for us are those where you help a client have that eureka experience and where you can really help them travel. So it's cool to put up a logo of, Hey, we all heard of this brand. It's great. Great. I got to work there. It's like a certificate or a diploma. A seal of approval. Well, how much did I move them? I don't know. I really hope we contributed in meaningful ways, and some of our work does so more than others, but if it's from a pure visual standpoint, how do you do it?

Wade Thompson:

So let me say this. I believe that people who are a lot different from me or think differently from me still have some... I think that the people who stormed the capital have some values and some feelings that need to be honored in some way, or that they have some motivation that is expressed in some horrible egregious way. But I really believe that I can sit down and talk with anyone and get to some eternal truths. That's what my work has shown me. That one of the reasons we've been successful is that we've been able to take teams that, maybe five agencies were hired before us, but they couldn't take it to the finish line, because they couldn't get everybody there. And so one of the things that we do is, I think there's something remarkable about any organization, any organization that exists or has been around for a while or is at this point and says, "We want to make a big change."

Wade Thompson:

So typically this would be mid cap organizations that are looking to make big strategic shifts so that they can capture growth. Yeah. How can we help them find what's remarkable in their organization and focus on that, and help them accelerate? Even with things like, oh gosh, this is going to be so tough. These aren't design people, they're engineering people, they're different, they don't get it. It's not about that. It's about, they're the ones that you can help have this eureka. And I promise if there's something there when someone started that company, when they founded it, there's some glint of hope there. Because it's hard for companies to stay in business, and if it has been staying in business, how do you find that, get real about those values, or what are the cultural characteristics that allowed it to live and thrive? And we can do it.

Wade Thompson:

Man. Hey, y'all, I would love to keep talking with y'all. And I've got a big presentation that starts about a couple seconds ago, and I know that you're going to be joined and talk a little bit about AIGA Atlanta and the student group. I think Anna was going to talk about that. AIGA is just a great place, especially as a student, to have access to. Not that like we're people that are hard to get to, but just from time-wise and scheduling, you get to get go peek in and be with people that just know you have a lot of professional folks who are out there in the world, doing things, who want to spend time with you and hear what you're doing and meet you and need people like you to help them push their business forward.

Wade Thompson:

I think AIGA is something that's really fun to get involved in, not just at the Atlanta level, but it's so easy to tap into the national level. Anyway. So I'm glad y'all are having that, but y'all, thanks so much for letting me ramble. It's just so good to see y'all's faces and talk. Hank, if you want to share email or whatever, happy to follow up with any of y'all, if there are any groups or classes that are curious about more of this stuff, I'm more than willing to dive in in more depth, but just want to say thanks. And I really appreciate it.

Hank Richardson:

Thanks Wade, for stopping by. We appreciate it.

Wade Thompson:

Thanks y'all.

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