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Purpose, community-driven, tech, narrative-based key pillars of an iconic brand, says Jonathan Mildenhall

Jonathan Mildenhall, Co-founder and Chairman of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, shares his views about what it takes to build an influential and iconic brand in the 21st century

Jonathan Mildenhall

On Day 3 of Cannes Lions, Jonathan Mildenhall, Co-founder and Chairman of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, spoke about the road to building a successful brand.

According to Mildenhall, there are four key pillars in building an influential brand in the 21st century—purpose-led, community-driven, tech-enabled and narrative-based.


This year, we have seen some great purpose-driven campaigns led by the biggest companies of the world, reaching out to the audience for a common good.

However, Mildenhall said, the purpose needs to transcend the business plan as well. He said brands must make sure the purpose does not get disconnected from the business plan.


“I am very confident in saying, the more money we make and the greater purpose we can have, the greater impact our purpose can have on the world. I have low tolerance for people inside organisations where there is a debate in terms of purpose and profit. Profit has to come before purpose so that the company has an opportunity to scale the purpose.”

Speaking on the importance of being community-driven, he said brands need to move away from speaking to the audience and letting them decide. Brands should instead focus on mutual value creation. Citing an example he said, “Glossier, the US-based cosmetics company, engages with its rampant community across pretty much every aspect of business, from product development, product design, marketing, narrative, social media. Everything that Glossier does is driven by its community, which is a complete antithesis of something that would happen from L'Oreal, which still has famous women telling everybody that they are worth it, using expensive advertising to connect with its audiences.”


“Look at the growth rate of Glossier and its acquisition costs versus the growth rate of L’Oreal. It's a great example of where being community-driven can create much more efficiency in the company, if you engage with the community, across all aspects of the company.”

Mildenhall said instead of focusing on audiences, brands must focus on their communities as a whole. He shared an example where Sprite went on to partner with Converse in Brazil and told the community creators that they are looking for Sprite fans to design a Converse, which would be picked up by the brand and put on sale. “There wasn't a graphic designer in Brazil who didn't think that it was a great opportunity for that creativity.”


“What you ask of the community versus what you ask of an audience, are different things and you only need 5% of your community to get engaged. Then, as a brand you curate, present to the management their ideas, their output, to create a virtuous framework of the majority of the community, engaging them in what is going on,” he said.

Brands should make sure the invitation is surprising and celebrates their creativity. He said brands must put media dollars behind them so the broader community can understand what's going on and where the federal recognition comes from.

According to Mildenhall, the third pillar is to be tech-enabled no matter how small a brand is. He said brands have the responsibility to use technology, to engage with customers to develop effective plans and to extend that brand experience to make it feel human and empathetic.

The final pillar is all about being narrative-based so that every aspect involved with the company feels included. It is important to have a meta-narrative in the company so that every single stakeholder can see themselves in it and as a result of that, the understanding of this company's reason for being in the equitable approach to each stakeholder is apparently clear, he said.

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