ChangeCreator: How to Build a Brand That Matters Today

Adam Force: What’s going on everybody? This is your host Adam Force. How we doing today? Hope everybody has been good since the last time you’ve chimed in on one of these episodes. We’re gonna be talking to a fascinating, fascinating brand expert. Her name is Mona Amodeo, and she is a Ph.D. and award-winning organization development and change expert. I was really excited to talk with Mona, because I’m a branding fanatic. I love design, branding, just how we convey a message, whether it’s contextual or image-based or video, even your customer service. It’s all branding, so you have to really get the fundamentals right, the foundation right, in order to knock it out of the park with everything when you execute.

So in this interview, we touch on a lot of different things about the evolution of branding, how it used to be, where it has evolved to, and what do you need to consider for your brand. There is this whole idea if you’re an established company – let’s say you’re making six or seven figures – there could be a culture shift that’s required, and that is not an easy thing to do. But if you’re in the seed rounds or early phases, you can really start shaping that culture and brand from the ground up, and it’s gonna be a great opportunity from that timing to do that. So we’re really gonna tap into a lot of these really interesting topics on branding. There’s different frameworks that she talks about in her book. So is the author of a book called Beyond Sizzle: The Next Evolution of Branding, and she gives these frameworks that can help people transform their organizations into brands that matter. And you know a change creator, that is what we love and what we’re all about, so we’re gonna be hammering this idea of telling your story, how you do your content, how you share and position what you say, ‘cause this is gonna help you rise above, reach your audience, so your branding and all of these elements are part of that storytelling process.

In other news, we had our latest release just come out. It is Jay Shetty. He is the storytelling guru master. We wanted to know how do you cut through the noise, because this guy, in just a matter of a year or so, he’s had billions of views on his videos on YouTube and throughout the social networks. He’s got millions of followers, and he’s just really been connecting with people. He speaks to that human connection, and he has it down to a science, so we had to reach out to him. We had to figure out how he’s doing it, and he breaks down the science behind what he does. He breaks down his process and the tools he uses, so you really wanna get into this. We’re bringing you that interview, because it is such an important component of successfully driving impact and scaling your business. That is issue 18. Get the app. You get unlimited access. It’s only a couple bucks. Invest in yourself. Take action. You’re gonna love that edition.

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All right, let’s jump into this conversation with Mona and hit the ground running on building a brand that matters.

Hey, Mona. Welcome to the Change Creator Podcast Show. How are you doing today?

Mona Amodeo: Wonderful, wonderful. Good to talk with you today.

Adam Force: Awesome. Well I love the work that you’re doing, and I’m a big branding freak, so there’s so many misconceptions around what is branding. There’s a verbal and visual story. There’s so much to it. There’s a depth, and I think people get stuck on the whole idea of logos and design, which is part of it, but I’m excited to talk with you today about really what is branding? How is it evolving, and why? Why is it evolving the way it is? So this is gonna focus on having a brand that matters and why that’s important today, but also how to do that. So if you could just give a little background about yourself, how did you get so involved with branding, and why is this an important part of your life? And just so people know, she wrote the book, Beyond Sizzle: The Next Evolution of Branding¸ so that’s what we’re gonna tap into.

Mona Amodeo: Great. Well thank you, Adam. I appreciate so much being here, and I think we are travelers on the same journey, which is ultimately how can we help organizations matter more? Matter more to the people who work with them, the communities they live, and ultimately the world, and I believe very much that organizations as brands can absolutely do that. And so my journey – I’ll try to give you the very, very condensed version of a very long story, but I started – actually I was an instructor at the University of West Florida. I taught journalism, and I was a documentary – I was part of an international documentary team. So in essence, our job there was to tell stories, to tell stories in a way that connected with people. And through various reasons, mainly having a young daughter and a decision that perhaps doing documentaries in Panama was not the best thing for mom to be doing, I thought, “Oh, what’s next?” and so I really started stepping back and saying, “If I can tell these stories, can I help organizations tell stories?” And so idgroup was literally launched with the last paycheck from the University of West Florida and some hopes, dreams, and some prayers, a lot of them, and we are still here today. That was in 1989.

And I think, Adam, the evolution of idgroup is kind of the evolution of me. While I started as wanting to tell stories, I became very interested in connecting people with stories, and there’s a difference. And so through the years became very interested in the power of organizations to be a force in the world in a positive way, became very interested in the concept of corporate responsibility, the power of corporate responsibility, not as an add-on, but as something core to who an organization is and what it stands for, and started studying some of the early pioneers, and like Ben and Jerry’s, some of the work from Anita Roddick from Body Shop, and those people who really got it very, very early. And from there, that led me to a doctoral studies in change management and to a company by the name of Interface, a global carpet manufacturer in Atlanta, Georgia, where I did my doctoral studies and became very, very connected with that company who is really one of the great exemplars of sustainable manufacturing and its leader, Ray Anderson, who was my mentor until his death several years ago and who the book – one of the people the book is dedicated to, a person who was dedicated to making money but also making a difference in the world. So that’s kind of the short and sweet of how I got here.

Adam Force: That’s awesome. Yeah. Got a lot of background, a lot of experience, so makes me even more interested to hear what you have to say right now. So let’s just talk about it. You talked about some of the early pioneers – Body Shop, Ben and Jerry – and I guess I wanna talk to you and understand right now your perspective of how is branding changing? How has it historically been perceived, and then how is it changing now? Is there a simple answer to that, or you tell me?

Mona Amodeo: I don’t know if there’s a simple answer. I’ll give you my answer. So I think the idea of branding, if we can, Adam, just start with that idea, ‘cause I think you alluded to it in your opening remarks. Everybody has a different idea of what branding is, and so just for purposes of our conversation and getting your listeners on the same page with me, brand for me is very simply the associations people make when they hear your name. It’s about meaning and the meaning people associate with that. And so whether you’re a person, whether you’re a product, service, company, state, city, whatever, everyone has a brand. What’s interesting, I think, is the evolution of how that meaning has – what’s important to people relative to that meaning and also how we create meaning.

So branding is the intentional process of creating meaning, and in the old days, so to speak, back in the fifties when branding really came into – its roots are in the fifties, when manufacturing made all products pretty much the same and the guys on Madison Avenue were looking for a way of how to differentiate one product from the other and literally were inspired by the work of Edward Bernays, whose uncle happened to be Sigmund Freud, and therefore we understand the concept of branding is really very rooted in the concept of psychology and this idea of identification. What do we wanna be associated with? Our whole lives we spend trying to figure out who are we, what do we do, where do we fit in the world, and in many ways, those early, early, early pioneers and people who used the work of Bernays and really what was then known as propaganda really figured out how to tap into that need to belong, that need to be a part of something.

And so branding’s roots are there. Back in the days they used the ideas to sell cigarettes and washing machines. I believe we can use this idea of wanting to belong, wanting to be a part of something to engage people in a different way of living, and using those ideas to connect people to things that matter to them and to things that are going to leave the world a little bit better than we found them. So my view of branding is not so much that it’s – the underlying principles are very similar to – or are the same as the principles used by those Mad Men of Madison Avenue, but what we do with them, how we use them, and what the world is looking for today is very, very different, I believe, than what people were looking for back in the fifties and sixties.

Adam Force: I agree with you. There is a major external condition driving this type of evolution, and it’s creating people like you to pop up and say, “Hey, this is where things are going,” and it’s consumer demand. I would say that there – I’ve read – I can’t remember. I saw the data point, but especially the younger generations, they believe that these companies have a moral obligation to stop destructive habits or to have a real cause built into it, and I like how you said it. You said make it core, versus an add-on, because sure, people have been donating to a charity with a small percent of their earnings, which is good. We need that. But it’s not part of the business model that is the core, so I think that’s a good word for it. So it’s really interesting, and I just see it as this is what people are looking for, and there’s a lot of reasons, I guess, why people are feeling that way thanks to the internet and transparency, so that as evolves, then – so, if you were talking to an entrepreneur, which we’re talking to a bunch of them right now as we speak, what are some of the considerations? I guess what’s the first step in understanding, “Well, is my brand, is it saying the right thing to people? Is it attracting the right people?” What are the, I guess, preliminary or early stepping stones and thoughts around branding that need to be considered for somebody?

Mona Amodeo: Well I think if we think in terms of – if we just kind of put – if you could imagine three circles, interconnected circles, and those circles being first your business plan. What is it you’re trying to do? What are your goals? What are your dreams? What are your hopes? The second – and that’s kind of your intentions. The second circle comes to this idea of brand, which really defines why you matter. Every organization has to answer this question. Who are you, and why should I care? And ultimately your success or failure will depend on your ability to do that, and branding helps you shape that story, that sense of, “This is who we are. This is what we do. This is what we believe, and, most importantly, this is what we can do for you in a way that’s different, unique that other people.” So that second piece, branding is that middle piece between your intentions of your business plan and your actual building the tribe – I call it – of people who really wanna be connected to you.

Now ultimately though, Adam, what we’re really trying to do here is we’re trying to use branding as a vehicle for creating a reputation, because that is ultimately your greatest asset. When we think in terms of business value, your reputation is the greatest asset of any organization, and I think when we think about branding from the core, which is what we talk about in the book, Beyond Sizzle, what we’re doing is we’re saying that branding is the vehicle for building meaning and for connecting people – your most valuable resource, we say – your most valuable resource of people to create your most valuable asset, your reputation. So it’s how all those three pieces fit together, so branding is not about, “Let’s create a new ad campaign,” or, “Oh, we need to change our name,” or, “We need to change our logo.” No. That’s all part of it. That’s part of the storytelling. But ultimately, what we have to do is align this sense of what we wanna do, our vision for this organization – we must align that with this sense of the stories we tell, but also the story we deliver.

And all of that is connected by connecting people with a sense of identification, a sense of identity, creating the tribe that says, “Yes, I wanna be a part of this because this stands for something I believe in, but also they have great products. They have great services.” You can’t separate any of this. So as if I’m – and I am one of those entrepreneurs, and so I can say when I’m working with our clients, what we do – the first thing we do is sit down with our leadership team, and we talk about this. Not how do we tell our story, but what is our story? And we spend time on the idea of, “What are our values? What are our real beliefs? What difference do we wanna make in the world?” Because that’s what people wanna be a part of.

Frankly, products, services, there’s just such – there’s just such parity, very little real difference in products and services, so companies that wanna be successful, yes, products and services are important, so I wanna be really clear on that. Quality is important. But people want to follow and be a part of things that they identify with, that reflects positively on their sense of who they are, what they believe in. And so that’s our opportunity. What if we can promote the ideas of purpose and responsibility, both environmentally and socially? What if those businesses understand that’s not now add-on, that’s foundational? The people who get this are going to move forward in a lot different way than the people who don’t get it. In fact, I would say the people who don’t get this are gonna find themselves sitting at the bus stop, because the world’s moving, and this mechanism view of systems, processes, and that’s all that matters or product differentiation, no. No. Both employees and customers wanna do business and be a part of something that they believe connects with and reinforces who they are.

Adam Force: Yeah. I love that, and I think it’s very true, and I think in our media kit we have a statistic. If I remember correctly, 86 percent of Americans will support a brand that advocates for a cause they believe in.

Mona Amodeo: Yeah, because what does that say? Let’s go back to just the whole idea of what a brand is. It says – it’s meaning. And so if brand is meaning, then I wanna connect to things that reinforce my sense of who I am and what I believe in. And so there’s your opportunity. If you wanna look at it from a pure marketing standpoint, a positioning standpoint, a market-share position, you need to identify your people, the people who you believe reflect and connect with what you believe in and what you stand for. And the other thing, Adam, I think is people are kind of shy sometimes about talking about this. I think it’s changing. When I started studying this 15 years ago, it was like I’d go in and talk to people about concepts of sustainability, and they would just kind of listen very nicely and I’m sure when I walked out rolled their eyes, because it just wasn’t a topic of clarity. I say that this idea of purpose and purpose-driven businesses and social-environmental responsibility has kind of moved from the margins of the Birkenstock group to the mainstream with the corner office and CEOs. Everyone’s talking about it. Now doing it is another thing, and that’s a whole other conversation of how do you really connect and engage people inside your organization to walk the talk of purpose and values, and that’s a different – everybody talks about it, but my hope is and my work is how do we really do that?

Adam Force: Yeah, and that’s not easy. I did speak to somebody who was telling me it could take anywhere between six and eight years if you’re actually trying to change a company culture, obviously starting from ground up. So hey, entrepreneurs out there, if you’re still at your seed round or early phase, boot-strapping, you’re building your team, you’re in a good place to create the culture, but if you’re in a company that has an established culture and you’re trying to create this impact model and shift how people think, you’re going from a power model to this new service-based model, and it does take time. It is not easy.

Mona Amodeo: That was the work I did with Interface and I do with clients on a regular basis, is how do we build this and how do we shift culture? And culture’s one of those really another – brand and culture are two words that everybody has a different perspective about, but ultimately I like to think of culture like the operating system of a company. It is the glue. It is the thing that holds everything together, and if that operating system is not correct, then there is nothing that will hold the system together. Most of my work, Adam, has been actually – the research I did with Interface and subsequent research I’ve done has been on how do we change a culture? Like I told you, I’ve done a lot of work with studying people like the Ben and Jerry’s and Stonyfield Farms and the Seventh Generation, the really early pioneers in this idea of purpose-driven or sustainability-based values, and that was all really interesting to me, but I because extremely intrigued with, “So, what if you weren’t born with this? How do you change this?”

And that was the great opportunity I had at Interface, was to go in and really look at how that company, over – and I will tell you, Adam, it was probably about a four-year process for Interface from moving from a company who was very much your traditional take, make, waste manufacturing firm, global in nature, publicly-traded, and how did they move from that take, make, waste to really becoming the exemplar in sustainable manufacturing and continuing today to be one of the thought leaders in sustainable manufacturing? And what I found there – and maybe your listeners, this could be helpful to them – is what we understand about creating or changing culture is this. It begins inside the organization with what we call an identity narrative. And that identity narrative is what the organization says to itself. It is both actually as well as inspirational. And what’s really important for leaders to understand is that that can’t be something that is forced down upon people. That rather is created through dialogue and conversation. What we call core dialogues with organizations is based in sitting down and asking these questions from the very beginning. What are our values? What does that mean in terms of our behavior? What is our real – what really makes us different? What makes us unique? Our personality, how do we wanna present ourselves to the world? What is our position relative to the competition? So those are all conversations, Adam, that are not – they don’t live on a sheet of paper. They live in the hearts of the people in your organization.

So those initial dialogues with people about what we call identity is extremely important, and that identity narrative, which I differentiate between identity narrative and a brand story in that a narrative is what the organization intends to be. It is about their hopes, their dreams, about their sense of self. Brand story is a co-creation. You cannot control your brand story, because it is – you influence it. You can’t control it, because it is a co-creation of what you say to the world but also what the world says about you. And so the way you influence it is through your storytelling, but equally through your actions. So as I’m talking to leaders, I’m saying, okay, here is what you have to do. You’ve gotta be clear of where you wanna go. You have to create this narrative inside your organizations that clearly defines this sense of who we are and what difference we’re making in the world. Then you’ve gotta translate that to the story, to the marketplace, tell a great story that is important to those people, and this is the piece where people have to kind of connect it, and then you have to live it. You have to create a performance culture that reflects that sense of that narrative. So it is that alignment between the vision, the identity, the culture, and the image that, over time, creates the reputation that is so valuable, so that’s what I mean about branding being a vehicle to create reputation. That’s what we’re looking for.

Adam Force: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense, and there’s definitely a lot of depth and moving parts to it, so to your point, it really translates the story. It goes into your copy. It goes into what the mindsets of the culture and the people are and of course, then, the visual representation, and it all has to make sense. You get so many people, in my experience, who would come to the table saying, “Well, we gotta use these colors, ‘cause of the psychology behind them,” and all this kind of thing, and oh my god. I’m like, “The only thing you need to do from a visual standpoint is make sure that it actually makes sense when someone sees it, that your brand that kind of visual makes sense together.”

Mona Amodeo: Yeah, and that it’s reflective. I think it’s one of these things where yeah, I don’t wanna throw all that we know about the psychological of colors or symbols. All of that’s important. I don’t wanna say that that’s not important, but here’s what we know. That’s where we’ve lived for the last 60-70 years, and branding is more this external focus, storytelling. I call it convincing versus connecting. Where we have moved now is not convincing. We’ve gotta connect. And why? Because in the old days, when the brand – the brand manager was in charge of all this. There was this wall between internal and external. Today, that wall has crumbled, and now what exists is a matrix that is connect through the technology, through the internet, and so what you do, what you say, everything is shared in a second. So the authenticity of your story that you’re telling to the marketplace is crucial – crucial – to the long-term success of your organization. So that then leads us to how do you create authenticity? You create authenticity by first engaging people inside your organization in this narrative and not trying to command and control through some kind of script, but by truly connecting them to this sense of purpose and why we’re all here. I talk in the book a little bit – and very early I talk about this idea of collective purpose. It creates a level of performance that cannot be forged by some surface-level attempt to motivate people. Don’t you love that? We’ve gotta motivate. We’ve gotta motivate people. We’ve gotta motivate them. I said, “Okay. What does that mean?” Is that like a cow prod?

Adam Force: Here’s a cash reward.

Mona Amodeo: I don’t know what it is. But when you tap into the inner sense of people’s desire to do something that matters to them, to have an impact, not only in the moment but beyond the moment, to tomorrow and to the next generations, gosh, that’s a whole different level, and that, what we know from research and from the work I know that you’ve probably done, I’ve done, when you kind of tap into that and you present people with challenges, boy, they come up with really cool ideas called innovation. So it’s kind of the world is just not this mechanistic assembly line, pieces and parts kind of place. We’re in a whole different world than we were I would even say ten years ago, and I think what great opportunity we have. Isn’t this cool? I just think it’s so cool that organizations can be these places and be reimagined as these places where people can feel like they matter, because they’re contributing to something that matters to the world, that they have a chance to bring their values to work, that they – people get excited because they have an opportunity to really come up with new ways and new ideas. It’s just a cool time I believe in business, and it’s a great time. It’s a great opportunity. And I believe, contrary to what some people believe about branding, branding has a tremendous power to create these connects, like nothing ever, because branding is about connecting with people’s sense of selves, and what we’re wanting to do in organizations is have people bring that sense of self to work every day. That’s when, I believe, we can create great businesses, businesses that prosper, but also businesses that are making powerful, powerful differences in the world.

Adam Force: Yep. I love that. And you touched on authenticity and how do we great authenticity with what we’re doing, and I heard someone talk about how great leaders at one point are very charismatic, and it led me to think about what makes them charismatic? And I think it’s when you are authentic about something, you’re probably very passionate about it, and so you become charismatic because you really believe in it. So it becomes natural to you to be charismatic, then to become the actual, authentic person and have that reflected, to your point, I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s about doing something that really matters to you. If you can tap into those values and maybe something you really wanna make a difference doing and it’s important to you, the authenticity is not something you fabricate. It just happens.

Mona Amodeo: Well yeah. That’s how – people always ask me, “Well how do you engage people?” You engage them. “How do you create authenticity?” You’re real. We overcomplicate these things. It’s like…well, how about we just be good people? How about we just be good citizens? How about we go back to the idea of doing unto others as we would have them do to us? Even when I started idgroup, it was like I started a whole company with one simple idea. I wanted to – I couldn’t find any place I really wanted to work. After you leave a university, you’re like, “What do you do?” And I was doing great stuff and having a great time, and I was like I couldn’t find any place where I really felt like I fit, and so I just started a company. And the main reason I did that was I wanted to create an environment where I wanted to work, and fortunately for the last almost 30 years now, we’ve been able to do that, so I think the world of work has changed.

I think what people are looking for from work has changed, and again, I’ve been in this for a long time, and I think this is one of the most exciting periods of potential there is in the world today or has ever been, and as we look at – I know you do a lot of work around social entrepreneurship and a passion of mind, and man, all the challenges that are out there in the world today, I believe business can be a tremendous force in solving these problems and turning those problems into real solutions. There’s nothing that a group of people really connected with a desire to make something change, with an intense purpose, there is nothing that will get in the way of people who have a real purpose and an intention, and I think that is where I get excited, and this idea of – I was listening to one of your podcasts with Seth Godin, who’s an amazing thinker, and I love a lot of his work, and I was particularly interested in and kind of went, “Amen and hallelujah,” when he started talking about the – I am from the South, you know. So when he started talking about the difference between leadership and management, he just nails it. He nails it. Leadership is about creating something big enough that people wanna join you in making it happen.

And I think with all of the challenges we have in our world today, where the divisions and the frustrations and the 24/7 news is telling us the world’s going to hell in a hand basket, all of that has weighed upon us, and I believe the human spirit rejects that. I believe it looks for not what’s wrong, but with what’s right, and our psyche can only take so much of getting beaten up. So when we really look at what’s going on here, I think we’re tired of saying what’s wrong, and I think we’re looking for what’s right and how we can create that. So when Seth was talking about this idea of leadership and management, I thought yes, yes. He articulated it so well in saying that you’ve gotta create over there and give people a big enough reason to go over there with you. And so going back to your idea of these charismatic leaders and that, I think yeah, I think you’re right. I think charisma or this kind of psychic energy, whatever you wanna call it, emits from people who are just determined to do something that is beyond them, beyond the money, beyond the moment, and I think when I look at the people I respect in the world, I think those are the people who just stayed the course and who’ve made a difference. And of course, one of my mentors, Ray Anderson, I was telling you, it’s just amazing, amazing what he did in his life, and certainly a huge impact on me and a lot of other people.

Adam Force: Yeah. Absolutely. So let’s do – we’re gonna close out here. This is a great conversation, and I think some of the takeaways are very, very powerful, so if you’re listening closely there’s a lot for you to absorb here, so you probably wanna listen again, but there’s a lot that goes behind branding, and I think to Mona’s points, really understanding why you’re doing this, what’s important to you as a person what kind of difference you wanna make, all of this starts really shaping the brand, and that has to be threaded throughout the culture and the identity, so verbally and visually. So there’s just a lot to consider there, but there’s definitely some nice steps, and that’s what Mona is an expert in, so you can check out her book. Mona, where can people learn more about what you do? I know you do some speaking if people want her to come to their company, stuff like that. So can you just give yourself a little shout-out?

Mona Amodeo: Well isn’t that nice? Thank you, Adam. Yeah, so a couple of things. If you look at Beyond Sizzle: The Next Evolution of Branding, like you said Adam, it really has two parts to it. The first is a lot of the philosophy you and I have talked about here. The second part is actually called a playbook for creating brands that matter to customers, employees, and the world. And so in that I talk about branding form the core, which is a process that entrepreneurs, leaders can use to help create what you and are talking about, companies that are both profitable but also purposeful. So you can find the book at, and you can connect with me at, where we have some blogs and something we call Flipchart Fridays, where they’re little five-minute segments that really go a lot more into some of the how-to’s of what you and I talked about from a philosophical standpoint here today.

Adam Force: Excellent. Excellent. All right, Mona. Thank you so much for being on the show and sharing all your awesome insights. You know how to reach us, and we’ll be in touch.

Mona Amodeo: Thank you so much, Adam, and thank you for what you’re doing to move business in the right direction.

Adam Force: You’re welcome. I love it. Thank you. Buh-bye.

Mona Amodeo: Buh-bye.

Mona AmodeoComment