Brand Authenticity: You’ll know it when you see it

With a work trip on the horizon, and stops slated for Colorado, Minnesota, and Iowa, I wasn’t sure what I was heading into. Our task was clear: Bring the voice of our client’s biggest asset – its people – to the forefront through video interviews. But, how could we easily accomplish this? Who were we working with – and how could we authentically bring these people – highly intellectual subject matter experts – to life? 

Turns out the answer has to do with a tree.

Like many clients before, we heard emphatically from the client: “our people set us apart from the competition.” While that sounds great, it’s one of the biggest challenges we face as an agency that works with a diverse set of clients. How do you showcase your people, without being self-serving or simply blending in with the competition?

This is where the idea of the tree takes root. During my time at IBM, I had the incredible opportunity to work for Jon Iwata, former Chief Brand Officer, whom I consider to be the ultimate expert in brand authenticity.

Jon would often reference the Abraham Lincoln quote above. This has always stuck with me and has become the filter through which I look at the brands we work with.

Too often, there’s a disconnect between the tree and what a company wants the shadow to look like. It’s only a matter of time until the true brand identity, culture, and shadow are revealed.

Stepping into this project, we were looking for opportunities to identify people who represent the brand and its unique attributes and interview them on a range of topics to understand who they are and what it means to be a scientist at Cambrex.  It sounds like a straightforward project but there’s a twist. 

From the very start, the client (Jennifer Therrien, a former colleague at IBM) was clear about the company’s vision and hers. She has shared example after example of what she doesn’t want. Doing the ‘ordinary’ wouldn’t just be a missed opportunity but an actual misrepresentation of what Cambrex truly looks like, sounds like, thinks like, performs like, is…. (another IBM reference).

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After months of planning, our team set out with our clients at Cambrex, a leading contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO), to visit several sites and meet leading scientists from around the world. 

From the outside, the first Cambrex site in Longmont, CO, looked like a typical office building – and I had that “here we go again” feeling. 

When we stepped through the doors, everything changed. From Derek Koops, the site leader who greeted us at reception to the scientists we were disturbing as we shuffled through the laboratory hallways with our equipment, there was a general feeling that we were their guests, not an annoyance. 

After shooting some b-roll and setting up the lights and camera, we were ready to interview our first scientist. Until this moment, we had reviewed resumes and LinkedIn and learned as much as we could about the individual.

Going into the interviews, I had mentally ranked the scientists by which ones I thought would have the most interesting stories, the most articulate, and the wild cards we might have to wrangle in and stay on track. In the end, I was completely off. The people I expected to struggle were among the best, and every person we interviewed offered some unique point of view.

We were two or three interviews in when I had this realization. What we had been hearing about Cambrex wasn’t just talk. These scientists were special on various levels, and one was more humble than the next. 

Many of them have patents, publications and have contributed to developing life-saving medications. They truly enjoy working and learning from one another. We didn’t put any words in their mouths, we just let them keep talking. It was authentic – their words, body language, and the way the Cambrex team operates as a whole.

Without giving too much away, we now have the privilege of taking hours of raw content, insights, and personal stories to show what truly sets Cambrex apart. We all left the final location confident that we have all of the ingredients to create something very special. 

This project doesn’t require any “spin” or smoke and mirrors. We want to show the scientists, hear their insights, and see their emotions. This project is about tending to the tree and watching it grow alongside its shadow.

Thanks to the Cambrex team for giving us access to the people and places that truly make it a special company. Now I understand.

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