On Thursday I spoke at the Arts Marketing Association at the Baltic. The talk was on ‘the future of branding in the cultural sector’. I didn’t just want to speak about the practicalities of a brand (the tactile elements), I wanted to speak about how’ brand’ is changing, and how it’s now about much more than perfection (although consistency is still important). It’s about connection. Brands that thrive are the ones that connect through movements and experience. They are the ones that drive forward change and grow sustainably.

Organisations must recognise that brands are about experiences, and they are a work in progress. The world is constantly changing, and brands must too. Audiences have also changed, they are unpredictable. Organisations must learn to be comfortable with this, and the unexpected, and trust the process of trying new things, and creativity, to connect to audiences. They must start to be more human.

Connection is universal, and can start small. Connection builds audiences. Audiences remember things that make them feel valued, that enhance their life, and/or things they feel part of.

Credible organisations can still be human

Brands are no longer just about products, places or features, they are about audiences. I am going to use cultural brands as an example.


The V&A is a highly respected institution in the cultural sector. They have a certain quality of exhibits and collections, for a certain type of audience. However, they understand the world and culture is changing, and that museums (and culture) are no longer just about historical objects and stories. They also recognise (as we all are) that people are becoming increasingly passionate about global issues. To support this shift, they founded a gallery called the ‘Rapid Response Collectors Gallery’ which enables them to display objects of topical issues, and raise questions about the wider world. Practically, it means they can make quick decisions about bringing in relevant and informed collections quickly, instead of them been added to a waiting list and loosing current relevance.

A recent exhibit displayed material from Extinction Rebellion, and successfully reached new audiences. Through compassion and humility around topical issues, they brought relevance and meaning to viewers.

Human connection is the new currency

Brands are no longer just about being polished, consistent and perfect. Even the word Branding is becoming problematic. It’s shifting. Just like culture. Audiences are more savvy, accessible and diverse than ever before. We are no longer passive; we have an abundance of choice, of connection and of access to knowledge. What we do take notice in are organisations that are doing something different, that mean something to us, that are relatable and human.


Being human increases reputation, builds personality and makes people care. It has the potential to drive big impact, discover new insights, and reach extraordinary solutions. If you can get audiences behind your purpose (your REAL purpose for existing), you are building a movement; which in turn will lead to action-driven ambassadors for your organisation. You will also not loose direction internally and will have a basis for business decisions.

Connecting to audiences is about connections and mind maps, not linear solutions. It’s about being open to creative ideas and trying different things. It’s about long term impact and trust, not just one-off projects. It’s about conversation over presentations, and partnerships over projects.


Every project we work on starts with people, not product. Through conversation we positively challenge the norm, driven by the need of the audience; not the other way around. This is what we do best. Objectives are created during the process, with clear and informed decisions that drive strategy and forward thinking ideas. It adds value to the brands we partner with through audience growth, recognition, stronger positioning, consistency and clear values and purpose; all of which yield incredible results. It gives organisations authenticity and meaning; whilst achieving scalable and sustainable impact.


This is a radical strategy, and we’ve proved it works. To go through this process you have to be forward moving, ambitious and open to big ideas, and bold strategies outside the predictable expectations of business and culture. Those that are, join us, and always ask yourself and your team:


  • What can you do, as individuals, to make your organisation more human?
  • Who can you collaborate with?
  • How can you communicate your change?

Ask these questions frequently, start the conversation; and positively challenge your organisation.