A Mindful Approach To Brand Development

by | Jan 15, 2016 | Brand Development, Mindfulness, Strategy

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”


Every branding and marketing firm has a process to walk clients through discovery, strategy and design. On average, it involves participating in exercises to uncover strengths, define differentiation and understand the audience. How they form insights to develop a strategy is what separates one firm from the next.

As a brand strategy consultant, I guide people on how best to develop and position their organization through the same process of discovery, strategy and design. However, by using principles of mindfulness and meditation, we develop deep insight into people, situations, and universal truths that a traditional approach may overlook.

Why bring a mindful approach to brand development?

Mindfulness, it seems, has gone mainstream. Corporations redesign office space to relieve stress and boost employee productivity. Elementary schools design programs to help students cope with today’s pressures. Companies even market average offerings as ‘mindful’ options. The word ‘mindful’ has been applied to eating, living, parenting, recovery, teaching and learning. While trends continue to put a wedge between mindfulness and it’s Buddhist roots, some argue it’s officially become a buzzword much like ‘organic’ or ‘green.’

However, two main reasons continue to be differentiating factors when I work with clients to uncover deeper connections and form strategies.

1: What we think we become

The mind is responsible for all of our perceptions and experiences; our thoughts become emotions. We make purchases based on emotion first and back it up with logic second. Marketers have known this for decades and continue to develop strategies based on the data.

It’s easy to get locked into methodologies of thinking and doing based on how we feel. Scientists have speculated we have roughly 60,000 or more thoughts per day. Of those, about 95 percent are the same as yesterday. Our approach to daily life becomes habitual with little aptitude to navigate change.

In his book, The Buddhist Path: A Practical Guide From The Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Khenchen Palden Sherab discusses how we can trace our present thoughts literally back to birth. He says, “thoughts continue from the previous minute, the previous hour, from today, yesterday and so on … our past thoughts influence our present thoughts.”

Picture your thoughts as a river in constant motion. The river can be traced back to a source with countless bends signaling a change in direction. When the marketplace fluctuates, decisions are made in an instant. Your river of thoughts fluctuate, moving faster, slower then with class three rapids.

Working with clients to develop and position their brand means navigating new waters each time. We both need to understand the depth, speed and landscape. The use of mindfulness principles when assessing challenges means we don’t get swept down river out of control.

2: Non-attachement

Just as our thoughts are in constant motion, so too is life. Navigating that river is part awareness and a part non-attachment.

Non-attachment means working toward a goal without attachment to a specific outcome. This doesn’t mean apathy. It’s the ability to flow with the river rather than fight it, saving valuable resources in the long run.

It also means judgment is not clouded by emotions as to what can be controlled and what can’t. Because thoughts become emotions, it’s easy to see how we can find ourselves paddling upstream trying to change the direction of the current. This is especially important when working with the brand team.

The brand team consists of key stakeholders from the CEO down to those on the front line of daily operations. When a group of diverse opinions and perceptions all get in one room, the dynamic can be challenging. This approach keeps everyone’s ego in check and allows for an open, authentic exchange of ideas.

How are they similar?

The similarities between mindfulness, meditation and branding are very close. At the core, they’re about awareness, discovery, focus and compassion.

The branding process, according to a few of the major global firms, is centered around words such as, “understanding,” “motives,” “feelings,” “behaviors,” “value,” “clarity,” “insight” and “direction.” These words signal an intention to connect through empathy and compassion whether to yourself or someone else.
Connecting with others is a primary motivating factor for everyone. We feel a sense of connection over the need and experience to feel happy, safe and loved.

All brands want to connect the one thing they do well with people who are open to receive it. Awareness of that one thing and how it makes the world a better place, or even elevating your company to that position, requires a depth of understanding.

The act of being mindful and having a meditation practice naturally lead you to deeper understanding and an awareness of the true self. The true self is where our power originates. As Deepak Chopra puts it, “the closer you are to your true self, the more power your core beliefs will have.”

Core beliefs are a key component in brand definition, as are character, values, personality and value proposition. All of which are part of developing authenticity. Without this understanding of authenticity, the ego looks to create worthiness through external means such as status and possessions. Similarly, a company operating from a level other than their core beliefs will make decisions based on external market pressure.

The fact Volkswagen thought they could cheat the EPA during laboratory emissions testing is a good example of losing touch with a brand’s core beliefs. The lapse in focus resulted in approximately 500,000 cars recalled and an estimated $18 billion in fines and criminal charges according to LawyersandSettlements.com.

How do I get it?

The idea of acquiring mindfulness as an asset is the same as thinking you can purchase a “Whole Foods branding package” and run a competing grocery store tomorrow. It doesn’t work that way.

Just like a person, a brand must be authentic. Everything a company needs to nurture growth is already resident within them. It must pull from it’s inherit capabilities and strengths to discover it’s own authenticity and differentiation. My role is simply to guide clients to unearth those answers.

Mindfulness works the same way. It guides you to answers that seem to exist outside yourself, but actually reside within.

According to Jon Kabat-Zin, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, “Mindfulness is an internal resource that all of us already have within us.” The ability to draw from that internal resource and build strength requires time.
Building a brand is a relationship. It also requires time along with consistent nurturing. Bringing a mindful approach to brand development means working towards a common goal while not being attached to a specific outcome.

What are the benefits?

Combining these principles dramatically helps navigate change.

Companies are made up of people. If we know people make purchases based on emotion first and back it up with logic second, why would anything else we do in our lives be different?

Corporations open and close their doors everyday because of people. We bring what we feel to work on a daily basis. The decisions we make, the information we choose to accept or ignore, who we promote and hire is all based on our feeling of love or fear.

Change is the biggest source of fear.

When change occurs it can be viewed as positive or negative. Within the Buddhist philosophy, every situation becomes a learning opportunity. For corporations, change is often viewed as survival rather than opportunity.

Let’s put this in the context of the brain.

According to New York University neuroscience and psychology professor, Joseph E. LeDoux Ph.D., he has been studying the amygdala and its affects for over 30 years. He says, “the feeling of ‘fear’ results when the outcome of these various processes (attention, perception, memory, arousal) coalesce in consciousness and compel one to feel ‘fear.’” He goes on to add, “’Fear’ is, in my view, better thought of as a cognitively assembled conscious experience that is related to threat processing …”

So the decisions made in the face of uncertainty are directly related to the shape of a CEO’s thoughts, attention, perceptions and memories. Meditation has shown to shrink the amygdala’s response to stress and thicken the pre-frontal cortex – responsible for awareness, concentration and decision-making.

When management better understands how their thoughts, feelings and actions affect their surroundings, the brand will benefit from a shift in their internal culture.

The benefit of brand development is increased focus, clarity, awareness, and connection. Because mindfulness and meditation bring similar benefits, combining the two is not only a natural fit but a powerful way to consciously develop your organization.

As a brand strategy consultant, Jason strongly believes in business as a force for good. Bringing a rare balance of strategic thinking and design thinking, he helps clients achieve business objectives through the discovery of purpose. Utilizing a mindful framework to develop a compelling ‘why,’ Jason confronts brand development at its deepest and most meaningful levels. His experience has taken him from industries such as magazine publishing, UX and product development, non-profit sector and startups.

When not working, Jason can be found hiking, camping, snowboarding, SUPing, or on the AT. For more info on how a mindful approach to brand strategy can help your startup, visit JGarvale.com, emailJason@JGarvale.com or call 941.504.4089

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