Simple Truth partners Susan Bennett, Mark Drozd and Rhonda Kokot have been working together since 2000 — they represent 80+ combined years of industry experience.
In 2008, they became minority partners of the agency, which was at the time called SGDP. After helping to launch the new name — Simple Truth — in 2009, they took ownership of the business in 2010. This year they’re excited to launch a fresh new website and share news of an office remodel and expansion.
We asked them to reflect on six years of living and leading the Simple Truth brand. What emerged were some interesting learnings about the realities of brand evolution that we’d like to share.
Reality 1: The right name is liberating
Renaming the agency took about a year. It was grueling but so worth it because “Simple Truth” really liberated us. We were an agency without a strong brand for people to rally around — it wasn’t clear enough what our vision was.
As soon as Simple Truth surfaced as a name, it was clear we had been this all along. We could see a story come out of it. We could see how it really reflects what we do. And that gave us the spark to formalize a brand. There was no pressure, but a real desire.
If anything, the name alleviated pressure. We were trying to be both “real clear” and “real smart” for clients, and it was driving us crazy. Because which would you rather be? Then along comes a name like Simple Truth and the aha moment was, “We can just be who we are and build from there.” Because we have always been about truth. In terms of transparency and straight, honest business conversations. And the simple part was something akin to being clear while being compelling. And we were always about helping clients strike that balance.
Since launching the new name, we have become, more and more, Simple Truth. And as we evolve, we keep doing the work of crystallizing our attributes, behaviors and achievements in a way that strengthens how we talk about ourselves. And we continue to uncover new ways to live some ideals that Arnie Goodwin (SGDP’s co-founder) always had. We’ve distilled them down to something we can articulate and build organized ways of being around.
Reality 2: Your brand is a living thing, so live it
We’re living up to the idea we put out there seven years ago, and that idea has become a culture.
Central to our brand process, Simple Truth is a way of thinking — it’s what we call the heart of a brand. But we don’t create simple truths for clients. We uncover them. Our work is always to reveal ideas that are already there.
All the brand work we do is about helping clients connect their brand and their communities. We dust off cultures. We help rethink or redefine or re-acknowledge how magnificent something or somebody is. It’s important to do these things even as you build commerce. Especially these days, when people are looking for more meaning and purpose in businesses.
Central to our own business and the place we’re creating for our people, Simple Truth has become an attitude. An attitude about communicating, connecting and relating. It ultimately leads to a sense of community, which to us is the holy grail of everything. That’s the vision point — community. Building, fostering, maintaining and sustaining it. Whether for a client or ourselves.
Reality 3: Your community expresses your brand when they own it
Before we had a brand with such strong character and personality, it was hard for employees to see how their individual creative or strategic contributions could fit in. No one really wanted to be put on an internal project. Now we see ideas come to life that the three of us hardly touch. In fact, we probably couldn’t have pulled them off if we’d been in charge. We have teams now just running with it, and the ideas are awesome.
Putting people in a position to have fun and feel ownership in what’s being created is how we keep getting better. We three don’t have all the answers.
Reality 4: Your website reflects what’s between the lines of your brand
We invested a lot of energy into our new site because we needed to demonstrate more fully what we mean by Simple Truth. We needed it to catch up to how we talk about ourselves.
So much of what we do is hard to convey with just words — we needed a really good way to show it. And now we have that. A good website exemplifies how what you do emanates from who you are. In our case, the site we have now is a far better expression and demo of what we can be for somebody than anything we say. That’s why it’s important and why we’re thrilled it’s live. It also exemplifies the Simple Truth community that we’ve cultivated over time.
Reality 5: Space reflects brand, like it or not
This is an exciting time to be us. The thinking and work we do is not space-dependent. But we’re looking forward to having a space that’s more reflective of the expansiveness of our thinking. When the opportunity came up for us to double our floor size, we had to ask ourselves, “What is our philosophy about space? How do we create a space that’s reflective of who we are?” We realized we share an inherent sense of democracy. For example, in the new west-facing space, we’ll have windows like we’ve never had before and our immediate question was, “How do we ensure that as many people as possible enjoy the windows?” We also believe deeply in collaboration. So we’ll have team project bays that can be a creative mess all day. And a huge table in the kitchen that we can all sit at and eat at together.
Growing our space is about pushing limits and challenging ourselves to keep evolving. It has nothing to do with “getting bigger.” It’s about opening up possibility. Our current space limits the conversation to “how many people can we fit in here?” That’s not how people want to work. So we’re expanding the conversation to continue our “yes, and…” spirit rather than “no, because…” And isn’t that the conversation we wish for our clients?
Reality 6: Building your brand is about chasing the future
We love the way the work we’re doing to build Simple Truth parallels the work we do for our clients. We’re brand builders, and at the same time we’re building our own brand every day. Thinking consistently about how we do things, what we project in our space, how we present our work and ourselves — all of that is part of it and we’re very conscious of that. We’re never done, and that’s really motivating.
Way back when, we all wanted what we have now: a reputable, creative, hard-problem-solving kind of place where we would all want to work ourselves. A place where people feel engaged, find joy in creativity and show up every day with care. The thing is, brands age and change — you can capture the lightning for a while, but then it shifts again. And as more people get involved in creating and living a brand, it morphs. So there were unforeseen turns along the way, but we got here because, as a trio, we always sought — and continue to seek — knottier projects. Our goal has never been to get bigger. But to get stronger. To strengthen our ability to take on hefty projects. And then give our people the space and support to do them.
Reality 7: Brands never stop asking “What’s next?”
When we envision what’s next, we envision a community. One where the way we do business, the growth we enable our clients to achieve and our own creative clarity are interrelated. Where what we care about outside Simple Truth is allowed to trickle in. And where, by sharing what we value, we enrich the whole structure.
The way we’ve always approached things is to look at every touchpoint a person has with a brand. We aim to bring a sense of purpose to all of those touchpoints — it’s what we help clients do and it’s what we want to be known for. As we think about what’s next, we envision using the strength of our own brand to make it easier to achieve this vision for clients.
The future is ours. And the company is rallying behind the Simple Truth brand in a way that it couldn’t (or wouldn’t) before. It’s amazing how far the business has come, and we’re so proud of it — this thing that we’ve created that is much bigger than us. And, no, we’re not perfect. We have a ton of growing to do. And we’re ready to do it.