How to leverage your corporate brand to improve the state of the world

laurel dault
Article by: Laurel Dault
How to leverage your corporate brand to improve the state of the world

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer loves her job. As Chief Marketing Officer at the Dutch department store HEMA, she oversees 130 people and a portfolio that covers everything from brand to innovation management.


But when Adriana joined THNK’s Executive Leadership Program in the Fall of 2015 seeking skills and tools for innovation, she felt frustrated for much of the journey.


Looking around the room at her classmates– entrepreneurs and social innovators devoted to initiatives which improve the state of the world– Adriana suddenly felt unfulfilled.


“I felt a lot of self-frustration. Coming from a corporate environment, I kept thinking, ‘I need to do something for the world!’ I struggled with that because I love my job and I wasn't willing to give it up in order to start something new.”


By the end of the program, after much coaching, reflection, and testing ideas, Adriana had a revelation. “It suddenly clicked that there is no point in feeling miserable that I'm not a social entrepreneur because I already love what I do. I realized that I could make it my mission to save the world by being in a corporate environment.”


Less than three years after starting her journey with THNK, her mission is well underway. From gender neutral products, to sustainable design, to launching the HEMA Foundation, Adriana has helped her company to design a more inclusive society.


Here’s how she drove innovation with a social purpose at HEMA:

Build a culture of trust

Working with coaches and sourcing ideas from her fellow THNKer Mark Beekman, Adriana developed a program with her team based on leadership lessons she took from THNK.

The program was built around deep self-discovery, building trust, and giving feedback. It was such a success that they adopted the same program for the board and now for the entire company.

With a focus on connectivity, HEMA has built a culture where feedback is treated as a gift. Their new culture has helped the organization to shift from silos to virtual teams, creating a cross-functional organization that fosters innovation. “The reason why staff are now able to work cross-functionally is not because of processes but because we built that layer of trust and that layer of commitment,” reveals Adriana.

Once they established trust and expanded their awareness, employees became more conscious of opportunities to stand up for a cause and more empowered to voice their ideas.

How to leverage your corporate brand to improve the state of the world 1
Want to make a positive societal #impact with your #corporate brand? Build up trust in your staff and communicate your vision. They'll start to look for chances to stand up for a cause and feel empowered to voice their ideas. #leadership Click To Tweet

Touch a sociocultural nerve

In order for a brand to be strong and enduring, it must be relevant to society. “Simply selling products isn’t enough,” observes Adriana. “Relevancy is at a sociocultural level and that sociocultural nerve needs to be ignited.”

With the mission “HEMA is for everyone,” it felt natural to advance inclusion as the company’s cause. Adriana urged her marketing team to use HEMA strong brand to be more vocal about their beliefs around equality.

But her team thought it was too risky, fearing pushback on what could be a polarizing public issue. Finally, after months of prompting, the team rushed to Adriana and declared, “We have it!”

In celebration of Gay Pride, HEMA sold t-shirts with a print of its two most iconic products: the smoked sausage and the tompouce.

Profits were donated to COC, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights, and HEMA’s quirky display of its catchphrase “HEMA is for everyone” was a rousing success. They were able to make a statement for equality and received only applause.

With the public on board, HEMA could leverage its brand and connections to do even more.

How to leverage your corporate brand to improve the state of the world 2
In order for a brand to be strong and enduring, it must be relevant to society. Simply selling products isn’t enough– a sociocultural nerve needs to be ignited. #brand #impact Click To Tweet

Recognize your influence

One of Adriana’s fundamental insights was recognizing that corporates have enormous power to do good and be agents of change. “If you’re able to mobilize that power you can create a lot of positive impact for society.”

For instance, HEMA has an incredible network. If they invite someone to collaborate, everyone says yes.

In the summer of 2018, Adriana and her fellow Board members launched the HEMA Foundation. With multiple partners across disciplines, including even Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, HEMA is shaping an agenda to advance inclusion, starting with illiteracy. HEMA is also using its brand to shift the retail industry, engaging designers and producers to be more sustainable.

With a connected company culture and the successful launch of multiple pro-social initiatives, Adriana has discovered that leveraging brand to improve society is one powerful way to save the world.

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer
Adriana Hoppenbrouwer
The Fabricant
"The magic of THNK comes in how they design a community that incorporates start-up entrepreneurs, corporates, the creative community, and social entrepreneurs. I would never have met such a bunch of amazing people if I hadn't gone to THNK."

To learn skills and mindsets to leverage your corporate brand to improve the state of the world, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.