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To unearth a brand’s future, look toward the past.

Don’t be afraid to look back before leaping forward. There’s wisdom in the rearview mirror.

When taking a fresh look at Merillat, the nation’s leading brand of cabinetry, we heard about innovation. ERP systems. Infrastructure. Lab tests. Logistics.

But we heard very little about purpose. Humanity. Soul. Clearly, though, the company was overflowing with all of the above. In our brand audit, we found a dusty autobiography written by company founder Orville Merillat. His words. His passion. His why. It unveiled a company founded in a spirit of doing anything it takes for the customer. Innovation that provides customer benefits. It was smaller. Simpler. And more pure. Yet it was entirely the same company as it was today. With the same purpose and passion. Just with fewer layers, and more certain purpose, and a bold leader who was articulate in his thoughts and language.

When taking a look at Diplomat Health, the nation’s largest independent specialty pharmacy, we stopped asking about the number of patients served, the number of disease states covered. We stopped caring about things like 24/7 access. Instead, we asked for authentic stories.

Stories of when it was a corner neighborhood drug store. Stories of going on foot to patients’ homes. Stories of understanding all dimensions of a patient to serve them better. Stories of team members who understood purpose. All of this was still happening, just at a massive scale. It was still their brand; it just got lost in the grander scheme of things.

When taking a look at the University of Michigan Athletics, we studied historical books. Biographies. Library archives. Quotes. Interviewed student-athletes and coaches from decades back. But we weren’t looking for answers.

Instead, we were looking for a string of narrative that tied it all together. Principles, purpose, and power that defined the Block M. The stories on and off the field. The elements of community that were true in the 19th, 20th, 21st centuries. And, therefore, will still be true centuries from now. It became the basis of a large-scale brand definition initiative. In all cases, we were able to guide their way forward by combining a future of innovation with a spirit and soul of the past — foundational elements that were always a part of the DNA. It’s something we always try and leverage when simplifying and harnessing the band experience. Why?


The past reveals energy.
Who obsessed, sacrificed, and forewent sleep and paychecks to make this company work?

The past reveals purity.
What customers were being helped regardless of P&L? What stories are indicative of choosing purpose over profits?

The past reveals power.
Looking at the things that never change despite technology, innovation, generation, etc. reveals the true DNA.

The past reveals differentiation.
The most common beginning to a company? The simple thought of “there’s got to be a better way.” What was that better way? Does it still exist?

The past reveals true purpose.
Searching for the why? Ask the founder. Dig up historical records. Understand what obsession looked and felt like. That’s purpose. It’s not some words on a wall. It’s a feeling that drove someone or a small group of someones to do the obsessive and irrational with the faith that it may actually work.


So don’t be afraid to look back before leaping forward. There’s wisdom in the rearview mirror.

Photo of Jim Hume.
Jim Hume

As the principal and founder of Phire Group, Jim works closely with clients to build brands that match an organization’s reason for being with their desire for solutions. Jim started the agency in 2004 with the philosophy of engaging a brand’s community to help shape and recognize its full potential. With more than 20 years in the industry, he’s worked with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to startups in consumer goods, healthcare, technology, education, business-to-business, the arts, and more.