Brand Story, Episode 14

Kelly O' Keefe & Matt Williams

Brand Commitment vs. Conviction

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Episode Summary

Kelly O’Keefe and Matt Williams from the Brand Federation talk with our president, Steve Gilman, about the relationship between brand and culture in this episode of Brand Story.

It all comes back to Brand. We talk about how Brand is culture and culture is your competitive advantage, as long as what’s stated externally is genuinely embraced internally. We also discuss that the brands with strong, authentic convictions are the ones that aren’t just going to win more business, but are going to win more A+ talent, too.

Brands can be a positive catalyst for change and a redemptive force in society. But, it’s going to take more than what brands have historically done to step up, commit, and lead the way.

Quickfire Q&A

Steve: What’s a must-read, must-watch or must-listen to about brand or brands? What do you wish clients would read?

Kelly: “You know, there’s a lot of books that talk about brand that are not really brand books, as much as business books. Old ones like The Discipline of Market Leaders remains a good one though, being very dated, even built to last. But one of my favorites is one that is called A New Brand World by Scott Bedbury. I used to give it to clients because it really does speak to the power of branding as a construct for organizational behavior.”

Matt: “I actually have assigned a class this last semester to read a couple of chapters of Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan, which is an amazing glimpse into the mind of a creator. It’s a blast to read. And then I always answer a question like this with The New Yorker. It’s the best, most provocatively written publication I know. And if you want to be a great writer and you want to see people who are incredibly skilled at capturing complicated thoughts in language, just go subscribe to it.”

Steve: How do you think your role or your experience has changed the most over the last 18 months?

Kelly: “I think the biggest thing that has changed in my role and in some of the work we’re doing is we’re very, very mindful that our whole world is going through some incredible stresses right now. And COVID is only one of them. We saw last year, the murder of George Floyd. We’ve seen an increase in violence against people of color by police. In many cases we see inequities that inconceivably continue to be part of our society. Even when we know they’re wrong.

I think what we believe is that we have a responsibility… We can change people’s minds. We can give voice to confidence. We can help organizations own up to their responsibilities. All of us, anyone listening to this who’s in the world of marketing. You have incredible power to do some of those things.

And, to me, the past 18 months have all been about understanding the responsibility to think larger and to try and push back on some of the challenges that we’re facing right now.”

Matt: “We have a bigger part to play as we’re living in a world that’s maybe more immediately broken than we’ve seen in a long time. And, when the world is broken as it is now, it’s more immediately apparent to surround myself with (the fact that) everybody’s dealing with challenges in their personal life, and they’re difficult.

And the question becomes, how can we as leaders, as managers of a community that’s disguised as a company, how can we be part of the solution and not part of the problem? Because, you know what, we’ve been way too big a part of the problem, and the business community has to change.”

About Kelly O' Keefe

Kelly O'Keefe


Founding Partner and CEO, Brand Federation

Career Story

Kelly O’Keefe is a respected brand strategist, professor and chair of the creative brand management program at the VCU Brandcenter — a master's program for advertising, branding and creative problem-solving at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business. He’s an inductee in the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, a former Richmond Ad Person of the Year, as well as Virginia Entrepreneur of the Year.

About Matt Williams

Matt Williams


Managing Partner and Chief Growth Officer, Brand Federation

Career Story

Prior to joining Brand Federation in 2019, Matt was CEO of The Martin Agency, one of the world’s most creatively recognized advertising agencies. Over his 26-year career at Martin, he helped the agency become the 25th-largest in the US and managed brand strategy development for world-class brands like GEICO, OREO, UPS, Discover Financial, Walmart, and Benjamin Moore.

About Steve

Steve Gilman

As the President of Gravity Group, Steve is passionate about helping brands reach their goals through honest, creative marketing and powerful brand stories.

Beer & Brands

Kelly and Matt’s conversations and insights don’t stop with the most recent episode of Brand Story. In fact, the two host their own conversations about brands, their presence in our lives and their influence — in and around the backdrop of Richmond, VA’s best breweries with Beer & Brands.

“Let's find a way, an interesting way to at least put some thinking out into the world and see what happens and start some conversations. So, what better way to start a conversation than with beer in your hand."

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