Brands of the future

Madlen Popignatova 17
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
Brands of the future

What if a family starting a fair trade lemonade factory had as much access to branding knowledge as a company like Coca-Cola?


This is the question that has guided Anne Miltenburg's work for the past four and a half years. Her education company, The Brandling, helps social impact organizations build stronger brands: "Fortunately, there are a lot of great ideas for change out there, but unfortunately, there's not a lot of focus on how to sell those ideas really well."


This is especially important when you think about competition on a global scale combined with the advance of technology; branding is going to address a more refined level of behavior and experience, instead of merely slapping a logo on a product.


The Brandling combines three pillars to support changemakers in building the brand they deserve: Tools, including a book called "Brand the Change," which serves as a branding guide for social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and corporate troublemakers. Training, offering workshops for startups and entrepreneurs to build their branding skills and develop their own brand strategies. Tribe, an offline and online community of changemakers and brand experts, and a network of independent trainers worldwide, who come together for events and meetups to solve problems, collaborate, and share knowledge.

brands of the future
In the future, branding is going to address a more refined level of behavior and experience, instead of merely slapping a logo on a product. #branding #futureofbranding #technology Click To Tweet

Reframing branding assumptions

Anne’s teenage years and early twenties were mostly spent thinking of ways to fight the establishment. Yet, her work today revolves around a different, more productive question: “How can you use some of the most powerful concepts in the world, like branding, to promote ideas for social and environmental change, instead of always fighting against ‘the man’?”

Anne Miltenburg
Anne Miltenburg
The Brandling
"In the THNK curriculum, there are some really great moments where you're asked to dig deep into your childhood, to think about your talents and ideals, and to imagine what you would like the world to look like. At the time I joined THNK, I was looking for more meaning in my work. I always thought that meaning and purpose were not reconcilable with branding, and THNK really pushed me to rethink that assumption."

The exercises at THNK helped Anne to define her creative question: How can you create an ecology where an entrepreneur in a market with a lot of challenges has access to an abundance of information?

In the nonprofit and public sectors, especially, brand thinking has not always been given the attention it deserves. The kind of brand thinking that exists in companies like Apple and Airbnb is not always found in companies that sell products like veggie burgers or in scientists working to advance climate change policies. To Anne, this presented a huge missed opportunity: “Thinking like a brand strategist is a really overlooked skill when it comes to social enterprise. There are so many tricks in my trade that if people know about them, they could apply them to sell change much more effectively.”

brands of the future
Thinking like a brand strategist is a really overlooked skill when it comes to social enterprise. #branding #socialenterprise #socialimpact #UNSDGs #strategy #brandstrategy Click To Tweet

The anatomy of a strong brand

According to Anne, purpose is the new frontier of branding – and has been for a few years now.

She says, “Everyone is shifting to finding meaning. Companies that have been doing that for a long time are thriving, like Patagonia or Triodos Bank. Companies like Nike are also jumping on the bandwagon, but merely applying it to advertising, not to their supply chain or labor force.”

However, the rise of purpose has a downside. Anne calls this “the dawn of polarizing brands: using purpose to stand out with a controversial statement, getting a boost of attention without walking the talk.”

Meanwhile, it is the smaller players that are working to make a real difference but who often do not get the attention they deserve.

And time waits for no one.

Brands of the future 1
Purpose is the new frontier of branding. #branding #purpose #passion #socialimpact Click To Tweet

It will become increasingly important to train social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, activists, and other changemakers to think like brand strategists and to understand how to apply that thinking to all aspects of what they do. Branding must influence everything from the design of your product or service to your HR policy.

“The advance of tech doesn’t mean things will get less personal,” Anne explains. “People will expect services and products to be more personal and brands to be more human – this means a much more defined set of values and a much more dynamic type of behavior. Gone will be the days that you could put a few values on your wall and train a sales team in effective and polite sales conversations.”

Luckily, people’s understanding of branding has become less one-dimensional over the past few years. “A lot of startups that I’ve visited have a better idea of what makes the anatomy of a strong brand,” Anne says. “They understand it’s driven by a strong vision for what they want to achieve. They understand that if they can’t define a good mission then it’s really hard to get their team aligned and get a good product out – so they understand it’s not just a logo on a business card.”

“It will be quite a leap to go from a better understanding of branding to training people to define and design brand personality and behavior into the DNA of an entire organization, but you have to make a start. At THNK, the thought was sparked. Post-THNK, you work to get it done.”

To build a strong brand that stands the test of time, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.