Building a Brand Beyond Transactions

Created 1 years 224 days ago
by RitaP

Categories: categoryMarketing Works
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by Jeremy Nulik

From his point-of-view in the kitchen, Frank McGinty saw the looks on peoples’ faces around the table. And from that moment on, he was hooked.

What he saw was unadulterated joy and genuine conviviality. The meal he had concocted for the diners had been a catalyst for shaping a community and a meaningful experience. That feeling he had decades ago has not left him. It is the essence that drives his present-day decisions.

Frank is now the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kaldi’s coffee. And he has taken the fundamental experience that he saw from his days in the kitchen to a larger question of the role of a coffee company in the lives of the humans that interact with the company. The cuisine he deals in today is largely abstract, but the basic principles still remain.

Because at the center of success in marketing a concept like Kaldi’s Coffee is a fundamental challenge: How can a company that sells a relatively cheap commodity create a deep, meaningful connection to its audiences in a way that generates growth in sales and influence?

The answer may surprise you. But the wisdom in figuring it out is ancient. It comes from Marcus Aurelius: “This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material?”

If you replace “thing” with your company’s name or your idea, you will see the challenge. Any leader wishing to embark upon a worthwhile endeavor must have a way in which they can get to the heart or the substance of their thing. That is truly what can help to overcome commoditization.

This concept, “getting to substance,” is at the center of brand. For years, brand has been relegated to a marketing function. However, leaders who understand that a brand is substance, create a powerful platform upon which they can grow and influence their market.

While Aurelius’ thoughts are hardly an innovation, the notion behind his words has become popularized as of late with Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.” That notion is a useful way into the concept. But ask anyone who has attempted to find their why, and you may get eyerolls or accounts of painful experiences. Finding a why is hard.

But, fear not, there is a way in which you can begin the process of uncovering some of the elements of your essence without much pain. And it has to do with taking a hint from McGinty. Again, Kaldi’s sells coffee. Coffee is available at gas stations. So if you were to only deal in the realm of what is obvious and visible, the task of branding coffee would rely heavily on generating hip words and images. And if that is your tack, then a heavy amount of cash would be necessary to leverage time on televisions, billboards, and Google to get attention.

But this is the wrong place to begin.

Instead, McGinty, in shaping the way that the brand of Kaldi’s is understood, began with experience. His ideas about what he is truly selling and what people are buying are best captured by that moment he had in the kitchen and the looks on the diner’s faces. There was togetherness, pleasure and excitement. And with his scaffolding of a brand concept, McGinty is working to create that same experience, something that is transcendental, to the exchange of money for coffee. And he wants that experience to be the animating reason people trust in the brand.

In working to make your idea or company more effective, ask yourself: What are the experiences that I have created for people touched by my company, idea, or brand? How were people transformed? The images and words that come to mind will help to shape a brand purpose that builds trust beyond transactions.

The message you send when you leverage the power of foresight is that this plan is a shared experience. It is something that can be co-created. Also, if you want a Quickstart Guide to a foresight game like this one, visit

Jeremy Nulik ( is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a design futures agency, in St. Louis, Mo.