‘Throwing the rule book out the window’, in conversation with Gillian Horan, CEO & Founder of The Pudding

In conversation with

Gillian Horan, CEO and Founder of The Pudding.

‘Throwing the rule book out the window’, a conversation on imposter syndrome, doing things differently and purpose-washing. 

With a research Masters in Branding and an altMBA, Gillian Horan first worked in the fields of academia and education before launching The Pudding in 2014. Today, the brand consultancy spans the industries of tech, med and pharma, with clients at home in Ireland and internationally. 

Here, we catch up with Gillian to get some insight on how her passion for branding was ignited, the brands who are doing it right, and the advice she wishes she could have told herself ten years ago. 

Can you tell me your first memory of observing,

experiencing or interacting with branding? 

Clothes and the communities they build always had a significant impact on me. I remember buying my first Levi’s jacket, I knew then I was part of the Levi’s tribe. 

From a more commercial perspective, it was my mum’s business – a children’s creche – that first drew my awareness to the concept of authentically building a brand. Seeing how she grew such a strong reputation and put so much love and effort into the experience for the children, parents and staff, all had an immense impact on me. It helped that I worked there from such a young age! 

If you were to sum up the three keys to success

from a branding perspective, what would they be?

People are critical to any business. No brand exists without people, and people drive the brand; they drive what the brand is for, who it is for, and that leads to the second key ingredient: purpose.

When you have a purpose, you should lead with purposeful decisions. Your purpose should live in everything you do. It is absolutely critical that purpose is not used for PR reasons. Purpose washing is not an option. You must activate your purpose and live it from the core of your culture right through to how your customers and clients experience it. 

The third key element is communication. You may have great people and a strong purpose, but you must clearly and consistently communicate your brand to your target audiences. Communicating these concepts are both visual and verbal. And remember, every single piece of communication needs to be purposeful and thought out. 

For young brands, what is the one key piece of

advice you would give them to unlock the

potential of their creative success? 

Communicating who you are and truly embracing creativity is vital. One crucial thing to remember is if you are a young company starting out, think big and purposefully – build your brand from day one. You can creatively express who you are by thinking about the words you use, the visuals, photography, or music. These visual cues let people know who you are as a brand and why they should connect with you, invest in you or buy from you. There is a science behind creativity. There’s an art to it. 

Aside from The Pudding’s clients, what standout brands

do you feel embody the essential aspects that make a

great brand in today’s market?

There are lots of brands doing amazing things right now. Examples of big brands leading with purpose include Patagonia; they embody purpose to the highest order. Recently they announced they were going to remove their logo from all their clothing apparel. This speaks volumes. Unilever is also focusing intently on their purpose and are releasing regular data on how impactful their purpose-driven brands are performing. It is also worth checking out L’Oreal. They have consistently built one of the strongest employer brands. Other brands that have stood out to me are An Post and the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point; they both made critical business decisions based on their purpose and values during lockdown.  

Another key success factor is agility. Companies have had to react quickly in the last 18 months, and those who have are seeing the benefits ten-fold. If you can recognise that the market is changing and learn to be agile while staying true to who you are, your brand will succeed.  

The past year has seen a significant shift in what

consumers and employees need from brands; what

are the key takeaways brands must consider and adapt to?

I think throwing the rule book out the window is one of the biggest takeaways from the pandemic. A lot is changing in the world around how we work and how we live. 

Brands need to lead with communication. The key is understanding what your people need and what they want – be it where they work or how they work. It is about listening, being flexible, and adapting. Innovation and fresh thinking, openness, and responsibility in the decisions you’re making as a leader, are all critical.

If you could go back in time, what words of wisdom

would you have told yourself ten years ago? 

Do not let imposter syndrome take over your life. If I could go back ten years, I’d tell myself to trust myself and have more confidence in doing things differently. 

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