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Brand Leaders, It’s Time to Bring Back the Fun
When did marketing leaders get so serious?

When did marketing leaders get so serious? Didn’t we get into this industry because it’s fun? If I wanted serious, I would have taken that job as a brain surgeon a while back. Well, not exactly…but you get my point.

What is going on here? Why do so many marketing executives look like they have lost their joy and the spring in their step? I know, I know – you might argue that today’s brand leader is under so much more pressure and is expected to perform on so many more levels than ever before.

And you’re right. Last year, Cult’s Senior Strategist, Rob Howard, wrote a post about the changing role of the CMO. Rob aptly pointed out that, “In conjunction with creative thinking and understanding the pulse of its consumer base, CMO’s must be adept at strategy, metrics and analytics.”

But I argue that while measurement has its place, cultivating a company culture that values fun, not just keeping the nose to the grindstone, pays off in multiple ways.

First of all, it literally pays off. In an analysis of 225 academic studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener found that happy employees have 31% higher productivity. Their sales are 37% higher, and their creativity is three times higher.

My point is that it’s not just fun to have fun. It also makes real, bottom line sense.

So how do you break free from your brand leader chains and get reacquainted with your fun(ny) bone and not just your spreadsheets? 

1. Bring back playtime

google-office-designAs a new dad I’ve seen the benefits of playtime with my little girl. Children need free playtime to develop critical skills they will use over a lifetime, and evidence suggests that free play is also important for adults. Allowing employees to engage in something they want to do (that is playful), will create better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.

Remember Google’s groundbreaking policy that once required employees to spend 20% of their workday on a “passion project?” Innovations like Gmail, AdSense and Google Maps came out of these sessions and inspired a host of other powerhouse companies, including LinkedIn and Apple, to prioritize employee side-projects.

2. Change your relationship with stress

The opposite of a fun culture is a serious one. Or worse… a stress-filled one! Stress happens. I get that. But once it becomes a constant presence within your company, the fun withers and dies and your culture will need an intervention.

I found myself heading down the rabbit hole of stress earlier this year. Cult had recently moved to a bigger office. We lost some business. I felt highly responsible for supporting many people’s livelihoods. We were also ramping up for our massive annual global marketing summit called The Gathering, which had to be world class for our attendees. On top of this my wife and I also recently had our first baby, so you could argue that I was just suffering from sleep deprivation, but I think more than lack of sleep was to blame. I fell into the habit of seeing the negative before the positive in any given situation. I was under massive amounts of stress and had lost the fun and happiness.


Thankfully, a recent trip to the South-Eastern United States helped snap me out of my negative zone. Cult recently began working with The Home Depot, and I was lucky enough to visit its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia back in May. The halls are filled with the best and brightest minds, but one overarching feeling you get when there is that these overachievers are having a ton of fun and more importantly brimming with optimism. And they made me feel like I wanted to have fun, and it was a great reminder that seriously good work can be accomplished when people feel good versus stressed. I made a decision that day and kicked my own ass. I got back to a good place and I know my staff could sense it.

3. Celebrate employees that bring the fun

Employees that spread happiness are the glue in your company culture. They enjoy what they do and help elevate your organization’s positivity levels.

Project Smile

We have a guy at Cult named Joel. It is apparent that he loves his work. He truly embodies “fun,” and his attitude is contagious. To honour Joel, we asked him to lead our company culture team and took him along on our annual Project Smile trip (a trip he helped create 9 years ago) to Mazatlán, Mexico where we volunteer to build infrastructure in underserved areas, and most of all go there to make them “SMILE”. Joel’s positive attitude is infectious and helped keep our team working together, even during grueling days in the scorching Mazatlán sun. He not only does that in Mexico, he does that everyday around our agency. We are lucky to have a guy like Joel at Cult.

4. It starts from within

Happiness is not a quality some are born with and others not. Genetics and environment influence our sense of well being, but we have more control over stress and our outlook on work than we think.

Try to be happy and upbeat. Your team watches you. If their leader isn’t having fun, it will be tough for staff to follow. I hope Joel would say that as the leader of this agency, I first and foremost exude enthusiasm and passion for what we get to do on a daily basis. I love my industry, and I want my employees to feel the same passion. Business doesn’t have to feel boring and uninspired.

I always say that leadership boils down to one word. INFLUENCE. So, as a leader, you have the power to instill good vibes in the office, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune in bonuses or extravagant team building retreats. Turns out, a little fun can be injected into an ordinary day in authentic and impactful ways if you just take a little time to prioritize it.

We all know what it feels like to be around people who are having fun. Their enthusiasm gives everyone a boost, and it encourages others to believe in their philosophy and abilities – Essential qualities if you are in a leadership position.

You want an engaged team to push the ethos of your brand forward, so bring the fun. Invest in it.

You want an engaged team to push the ethos of your brand forward, so bring the fun. Invest in it. If I walked around your marketing department and asked your team how much fun they were having at work, what score would they give out of 10? If it’s less than 7, I think you’re in trouble.

The challenge…

I love a challenge, so here are a few for you. Following through on any one of these suggestions will help get your organization back on the fun train/wagon/track.

  1. I challenge you to take a different employee out for one-on-one coffee everyday, for the next two weeks. And not the ones you already know well. Get to know the quieter, shyer people, and show them that they are valued. You might just encourage people to come out of their shells and produce even bolder, better work.
  2. I challenge you to solicit real, honest feedback on your leadership performance from employees. Anonymously or not. It may be painful to hear what they have to say, but knowing the truth will only help your organization in the long run.
  3. I challenge you to intentionally and authentically bring the fun and laughs into the halls and offices of your workplace for 30 days.  Be creative in how you do that but commit to it.  Watch it transform the vibe and pay off in so many ways.

I honestly think most brand leaders already innately understand the benefits of a positive work environment – consider this post your friendly reminder. The fun starts today. 1-2-3 Go!

Further Reading
The CULT of Customer Experience
FIX: A new prescription to cure disengaged customers, prospects or staff
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