As an interpreter of clues in the world of branding, I often feel like a forensic anthropologist. There’s this uncanny habit I have of scanning the new brand landscape and spotting the bright sparks that are showing up, staking out their territory and making a difference. It’s easy to spot the bright power sparks. Here’s a clue: There is absolute clarity around these brands because they are setting a higher standard, and then, living by it.

Want to try looking at your brand (and/or your favorite brands) through a forensic lens? See if you can spot the brands that are setting a higher standard, and then living by it?

Let’s play with the idea first that your brand is, in fact, an act of social engagement. You bet, your brand is having an ongoing two-way conversation with your world 24/7. It’s engaging your audience, and interacting with them across multiple platforms – all the time. (Are you exhausted yet? Yes/No?)

An act of social engagement

Think about this. If you understand your brand is an act of social engagement with your world, then that suggests you are also operating within the parameters of social responsibility. This is perhaps the most powerful and essential piece of understanding entrepreneurs and future business leaders need to grasp. After all, when you act responsibly and stand up for something meaningful, you set different patterns into motion. Important things that matter start to happen – and almost like a ripple effect – you get the ball rolling and the word travels far and wide.

Take a look at these two inspiring examples.


With Wall Street’s reputation plummeting, more than half of last year’s Harvard Business School graduates decided to take a stand on greed: They volunteered to take a new student-authored MBA Oath which promises that Harvard MBAs will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their own narrow ambitions. In other words, they were collectively making a stand: greed is not good! Now, hundreds of universities around the world are following their lead, creating their own MBA Oath programs. Go to their site, you’ll be inspired, for sure.


David Droga,* an award-winning, global creative visionary, innovator and brand storyteller, opened his agency in New York City in 2006 because he was inspired by the idea that it was time for agencies to do something different. The agency believes in creative ideas that live beyond media budgets, and so in 2007, he approached UNICEF with the Tap Project. The goal? To raise awareness of the global water crisis and donations for UNICEF’s water programs.

NOTE: David Droga* is Founder & Creative Chairman of Droga5, the fastest growing independent agency in America.

And so the UNICEF Tap Project was born in New York City. It’s based on this simple concept. Restaurants would ask their patrons to donate $1 or more for the tap water they usually enjoy for free, and all funds raised would support UNICEF’s efforts to bring clean and accessible water to millions of children around the world.

FYI: Next year, during World Water Week, March 20-26, 2011, the UNICEF Tap Project will once again raise awareness of the world water crisis and vital funds to help the millions of children it impacts daily. All funds raised support UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs, and the effort to bring clean and accessible water to millions of children around the world.

So what can you do? Think about what matters to you. What issues are you passionate about and ready, keen and willing to stand up for? Craft a powerful message or plan about the impact your brand or business is having right now – or could have – and how it will continue to act and engage responsibly in your world. Then, live by it.

OK. What’s the prognosis of your brand’s standards?


Mary van de Wiel is best known for her global expertise when it comes to coaxing out the real power in brands to dramatically increase sales. Van is founder and Creative Director of She is the author of soon-to-be-published Dead Brand Walking: A Brand Therapist’s Viewpoint. Follow her on Twitter.