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There’s a moment in every hero’s journey that you know is coming. Two armies meet on a field of battle. One, a ragtag bunch and the other, an overwhelming force ready to crush the rebellion. This could be Star Wars, this could be Braveheart and this could be you.

Each scenario is slightly different but strikingly similar. It’s a singular moment that creates the turning of the tide. And everyone knows it.

The world’s most established brands face a grave challenge. They are being toppled faster and with more ferocity than in decades before. In a recent conference, a C-suite marketer at Facebook showed a slide revealing a dozen industries that were being outpaced, outflanked and outgunned by nimble startups no one heard of a few years ago. From mattresses to transportation to banking and beyond, the world’s most established brands are in the crosshairs of unseen snipers who are quietly waging a guerilla war on their market.

The world has changed and we must change with it.

This is a story about how to change brand culture, thoughts and behavior and to adapt to the nimbleness that has led to the rise of the startup world. The age in which we live is no longer about what you make, but rather, the purpose with which you make it; your reason for being — and finally your ability to tell stories that resonate with the hearts and souls of human beings.

Your brand exists for a reason. It has a purpose — or what we like to call — an onlyness. It’s the one thing in the universe that you can uniquely lay claim to. And it’s all yours. You just have to find it.

But to get to the heart of this message, we have to go back to the beginning of brands in the first place. We need to tell that story. Every brand has a beginning and so does the story of the brand itself.



Brands were born out of necessity. More people making things that looked exactly the same. My cattle, your cattle — you get the idea. A brand at its core is a distinctive identifier that sets it apart from other things that on first glance, may look exactly the same. Now in the 21st century, in what some call The Age of Brands, creating your own distinct mark on the world is even more important. The titans of industry like Amazon will out-price and unravel industries that have long been considered impervious. Price and product matter less than ever before. Belief systems — the higher purpose of why someone latches on to one product or another — is the new battlefield. We’ve all seen the disappointing moment when little Ralphie from A Christmas Story decodes the hidden message: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, the most innovative brands in the world (big and small) are building into their bottom line — into the brand DNA — a deeper purpose. I couldn’t help but notice an ad from Camelbak tagged with their mission: “to continuously reinvent and forever change the way people hydrate and perform.” If you want your global brand to rise above the fray, you have to be purpose-led. Some call it mission, vision values. We call it the manifesto.


A 2013 Gallup study concluded that disengaged employees cost $450B to the economy every year. Between Facebook, fantasy football drafts, streaming sports and job hunting for your next gig — the costs are massive. Beyond that, employees find themselves stuck with no ability to affect change within the organization they are working.


In many cases, the C-suite is too far removed from the front lines of the business to truly understand the challenges these employees face on a daily basis, their lack of empowerment and the blockades that often stands in the way of progress.

So how do you solve it? We’ve seen shows like Undercover Boss that help the C-suite feel empathy for employees and lead to either massive accolades or someone in the trenches getting fired for a job poorly done. Not every C-suite officer can go incognito into their organization. Or can they?


In some of our recent work with Intel, we deployed nimble teams across the system to get a pulse on employee sentiments. It wasn’t a scientific polling. It was merely a thoughtful outreach to our contacts at varying levels of a global organization. The approach was simple. Gain perspective that the C-suite never really could. Ensure that it was enough of a sample size to make it credible, but equally so: rely upon the anecdotal truths we uncovered to help illuminate a true state of the union.


And it did just that. We found out that employees at Intel were not as engaged as they once were. They were hungry for inspiration, poised to be reassured of a single, unified vision.


We conducted a similar exercise with Cisco. But the challenge was different. In this case, those charged with innovation throughout Cisco were trying to inspire the employee base to freely tackle the Innovation Challenge: a company-wide innovation-centered contest that challenged teams from across the company to work within lean startup pods to generate and ultimately scale new ideas. Our work within Cisco quickly revealed that the inhibitors to innovation were real. On the heels of an external campaign, “Never Been A Better Time” which proposed that Cisco’s never been in a better environment technologically, culturally, etc. to impact the world for good, the campaign didn’t entirely ring true inside the walls. Instead, discovery work revealed a culture of red tape and perceived hand-slapping for those few who would venture beyond the bounds of the unknown.

This schism between external communication and internal truth is something we call The Culture Gap. It’s a nearly quantifiable gray area of confusion, misalignment and at times, malcontent, that rests within the employee base — and it costs America’s companies billions.


In answer to that massive loss of manpower, productivity and alignment, some companies are employing the use of a rallying cry. And it comes in many forms.

So what is a rallying cry? At its core a rallying cry is a unified, articulated and declarative message designed to catalyze key stakeholders toward a unified vision.

A rallying cry serves the organizations with three primary functions: one, it creates an indisputable focus that transcends divisions, verticals and business units. Two: it unites those disparate parts of the company with a purpose that is rooted in something both higher and deeper. Three: it catalyzes those companies — and the humans within — to work together in pursuit of a singular business vision. It also taps deeply into what motivates human beings at our core: feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.


Some forward thinking global companies are tapping into this phenomenon and unleashing both budgets and resources against solving these internal alignment tasks. As the C-suite officers begin to communicate more (CMO and CEO, CIO and CMO, etc.) they are discovering that a unified approach to internal and external communications is necessary. And agencies are responding in kind — some with new hybrid offerings that connect the business metrics of B to B marketing with the sexiness of B to C marketing. In some cases, it’s been proposed that there is no more B to C marketing, but rather B to B to C. One simple, new model that more aptly reflects the majority of communication: the need to win your stakeholders, rally them around a single idea and leverage their evangelism to sell it to the world.


No one has more to gain or lose from this potential rally cry (or lack thereof) than global companies. These brands, while often possessing a centralized headquarters, usually have a decentralized and dispersed employee base. More and more employees are working from home and according to Forbes, by 2020, nearly half of the work force will be contractors. Whether your work force is employed or contracted, you still need to tap into their hearts and minds for motivation. With the decentralization in work force, the language barrier (and considerations around translated employee comms. campaigns) global companies face the challenge of misalignment more than any other. Often employees are endeared to their groups — even their manager, but that’s where their loyalty often ends. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you about major swaps of talent between Google, Intel and Cisco, for instance. These global companies, more than regional or national players need the rallying cry to unite their disparate work force. And if you can get it right, it has the potential to create massive impact.


In 2015, we had the opportunity to work with Intel on a global employee-first campaign that emerged from deep within. They were on the cusp of an external campaign, making the shift from an ingredient brand to the author of amazing experiences. Working with a mix of key stakeholders from employee communications to HR, innovation and beyond, Intel undertook a massive endeavor to reach out to it’s 100,000 plus global employee base. And we were at the helm.


Such a massive shift in business would require Intel to not only inform its employees about the shift, but to engage them as part of it. It was about unlocking from within a deep and inherent brand truth that would truly resonate. On the onset we faced skepticism of former internal campaigns that were deemed cheesy, unrealistic or far-fetched. To get under hood of culture, our conversation started with one guy: Andy. Andy was an engineer working in a skunkworks group. The insights he elevated became the lynchpin for the entire campaign. Out of this interview over beers, we developed a series of tenants that were discovered to be unilaterally true across Intel with “managers as gatekeepers” as one of the most fundamental truths of all. Beyond simply campaigning, we had to deeply engage and build into the rallying cry structure, an opportunity to involve managers as the gatekeepers for this message.

Step two was the manifesto itself. With a handful of anecdotal conversations, we wrote a manifesto that represented the unified voice of Intel employees. The first draft wasn’t far from the final. Most of all, it was amazing to watch the room of Intel higher-ups light up at the truth that had been uncovered from within. “Finally, someone who gets us.” Yes, this was our articulation, but the ideas contained within weren’t ours. They belonged to every one of Intel’s employees. We had taken the time to uncover top to bottom a truth that existed at every level—and articulate it. This Intel Manifesto became the jumping off point for a nearly two-year campaign to unite the global Intel work force toward a singular vision. What was next? Activating it.


In PART 2 of this article, I’ll share more about activating the Manifesto and how to do it: stories of Intel and other forward-thinking companies that are leveraging employee-first campaigns that emerge not from a product or service communication, but from a truth deep within. The application of such truth is applied in reverse to the typical process:

Surface truth, apply that truth to everything you do (products, services, human workforce) and then on-board employees and then the world with a unified message. Backed by the power of Big Data, there’s more opportunity than ever to reimagine what brand campaigns look like — starting from the inside out.