Large-scale Branding

The dealer marketing manager at global furniture designer MillerKnoll shares how to brand with consistency across your enterprise.


At 5 by 5 Design we believe it’s possible to change the world by posing the right questions, listening to the honest answers, and following the path that emerges from the dialogue. Today’s discussion focuses on organization-wide branding and offers tips on how your organization can keep its identity consistent.

Andrea Barlow works as dealer marketing manager for MillerKnoll, a global furniture design and manufacturing company; prior to that she worked as VP of marketing at Henriksen/Butler, a large MillerKnoll dealer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Andrea has over 20 years of experience as a marketing and communications professional. She is an avid volunteer and currently serves as board chair for the YMCA of Northern Utah. We’ve asked Andrea a series of questions about large-scale branding. Here’s what she had to say.  

1. How do you define enterprise branding?

In the early days of my career in marketing, a company’s brand was essentially the elements on an annual report—the logo, a system font, and a single color. Fortunately for me, about 15 years ago I was invited on as a board member for AIGA, the professional association for design. Here I was introduced to brand greats like Debbie Millman, Alina Wheeler, and Marty Neumeier, as well as my local design community. This exposure expanded my vision of a brand’s influence exponentially and enlivened my passion for this field. Today we understand brands as complex networks of images, words, experiences, values, people, and commitments. A successful brand can harness micro moments into a desired collective outcome.

2. Why is consistent branding important for a large corporation like MillerKnoll?

Most of my career has been spent working for small and mid-sized organizations. Coming to MillerKnoll with nearly 8,000 employees, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that I can have an impact, that my work is an important piece of the overall puzzle. By working within the framework of a clear brand identity, I am able to operate as an individual while still contributing to an authentic and purposeful outcome. Things like our Better World initiative, our commitment to great design, our consistent voice, and unique visual character, these make up an almost tangible foundation that connects and compels all its myriad of stakeholders. 

3. How do you engage your various, independent MillerKnoll dealerships in your overall brand strategy?

Fortunately, our MillerKnoll dealers are already brand champions. The employees and customers of our dealerships have visited the Design Yard in Holland, MI, our Knoll offices in East Greenville, PA, the showrooms at Fulton Market in Chicago, and throughout North America, and they have fallen in love with the brand, its heritage, beauty, values, and commitments. Our dealers recognize that we are stronger together and trust MillerKnoll to put forth a compelling and winning strategy. In a synergistic relationship we share co-branding best practices, and our dealers implement these alongside their own authentic brands at the local level. It’s an ongoing and ever-evolving process of communication, relationship building, technology implementation, and measurement.

4. What branding challenges did you face during your recent merger?

Bringing together two powerful brands with wholly separate identities, both having competed in the same space for decades, was a challenge. We had to break down barriers and build a shared framework and vision for success. A team of brand champions had to work to develop an identity that was both visionary and authentic. That work could not be rushed, even when it might have been easier to jump quickly to market. The end result was a system that could be understood and embraced by the many stakeholders it impacted. The fact is, the work of integrating two brands and building a wholly new identity is ongoing, and we are working daily to refine, define, improve, and progress. It’s an exciting process to witness and participate in.

5. Are there any best practices, tools, or techniques organizations should consider when developing an enterprise brand strategy?

First, it’s important to partner together with many individuals throughout (and adjacent to) the organization when developing a brand strategy. Diverse voices at the table will ensure a more authentic and successful outcome. The marketing teams at MillerKnoll are interested in reviewing many data sources to determine what is working and what could be improved. We are monitoring our social feeds, website performance, campaign response rates, engagement, participation, survey results, open rates, win rates, and more. Like most organizations, we base our work on ROI, but we also value the human quotient; we know that some things that play an important role in our long-term success can’t be measured.

And second, trust the process. I remember years ago working with an agency on what we thought would be a small brand refresh. They came to our first creative meeting with an updated logo design. We were a little shocked, not having considered that in our scope. Their sage brand designer gave me some advice about moving forward that I’ll never forget, “It may not feel easy, but it will almost always be the right thing to do!”

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