It’s a true gift to work with friends. Ellen Kresky and I have been friends since she was the creative director at Celestial Seasonings almost two decades ago. There, we worked on brand and product fit charts, re-energizing the retail store, and leveraging brand purpose throughout all touchpoints. When she became the global creative director at Ben & Jerry’s, we got to do it all over again. These two brands are some of America’s most beloved comfort foods. They’re also brilliant models for any company wanting to stand out from the pack and capture customers’ attention in overly crowded retail spaces — and have fun doing it!
Ellen and I chatted recently during the November edition of the Women in Retail and Total Retail’s Virtual Exchange about leadership in these trying times and how navigating these waters sometimes takes an extra pint or two of comfort, creativity and humanity. Here’s a few more chunks from that conversation:
As global creative director, Ellen’s full-time job is making sure all the multitudes of Ben & Jerry’s brand touchpoints — from grocery stores and airport kiosks to full franchisee offerings to the website to product packaging to signage to content — are on brand. She does this with a continually updated brand playbook chock-full of visual and copy dos and don’ts.
“Our goal is to make it easy for all our colleagues to use and abide by our brand guidelines,” Kresky said. “When the pandemic arrived, we really had to nuance some of our messaging. We didn’t want to play up the pandemic in any way by even implying that this was a good time to eat more ice cream. We know many of our fans — what we fondly call our customers — are going through very tough times right now. We never want to encourage binging, but we do want them to enjoy our ice cream. Who doesn’t find joy in ice cream?”
Comforter-in-chief was another role Ellen found herself in as her creative team shifted to remote work. “Working from home wasn’t exactly fun for everyone on my team, but I choose to take a one-on-one approach and really try to meet my team’s individual needs while still collectively producing hundreds of pieces of new collateral materials in a very fast turnaround. Each personality handled the pandemic workload — and mental load — in their own way, but it was my job to pull it all together. I’m grateful for my team’s passion, persistence and productivity each and every day.”
“At Ben & Jerry’s, we try not to take ourselves too seriously,” Kresky shared, “but navigating our brand value of humor took some nuanced creativity. We modified our tone while staying true to our brand spirit. This is a serious time and we don’t want to make light of it any way.
“Part of not taking ourselves too seriously is acknowledging and celebrating our failures. Not everything we try works, and that’s OK. Actually, we don’t hide those failures, we display them in our ‘Flavor Graveyard.’”
I expand on this important practice in my book, “BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants.”
One new flavor that already is a hit with Ben & Jerry’s fans is Netflix & Chilll’d™, a blissful combination of peanut butter ice cream with sweet and salty pretzel swirls and fudge brownies.
“This was already in the works pre-pandemic, so our timing was serendipitous,” said Kresky. “The whole world has ended up watching Netflix and chilling these months.”
In one of our early pandemic chats, Ellen said to me, “Some days it’s easier to be than others, right?” and that has certainly proved true. Being a leader in these times has taken courage, vulnerability and tenacity. And it’s often the little things that mean the most — a soulful phone conversation with a colleague, a pause to go deeper, a laugh in the midst of tribulation.
At Ben & Jerry’s, Ellen shared that the company’s internal JOY GANG specializes in adding smiles to their employees’ days in small but impactful ways. On one snowy day in Vermont, the employees were gifted with gallons of very practical windshield wiper fluid. On another, a gift of cozy Bombas socks for working from home days. (This is in addition to all the free ice cream that’s always available.)
“You just wouldn’t believe the impact that these small gestures have on morale,” noted Kresky.
Therefore, as we all find our way through these remaining pandemic days, let’s remember that a few extra pints of comfort, creativity and humanity — however you choose to express them — can go a long way.