The Alt Summit, Sherwin-Williams and my new-found interest in Brand Activations

It can sometimes feel as if the marketing world is packed with a variety of ‘buzz words’. This may be somewhat true, but for the most part these words do have a meaning, it just isn’t always very clear. One of these phrases is ‘brand activation’. It isn’t necessarily one that you may hear being used, however, it’s an important process for brands to master.

My experience with the Sherwin-Williams Brand at Alt Summit

The Alt Summit is a four day creative conference and an experience that can’t easily be encapsulated in a blog post, but I’m going to try my best! I attended my first Alt Summit in February this year. I had no idea what to expect, but from the minute I was invited to sit at a manicure station next to the registration table, I’ve done little else but think about all the connections I made there and everything I learned.

On the first day, we visited the courtyard which was garnished with booths (Joann, Sharable, Spanx, Mixbook, etc). I’m so familiar with formal conference booths, with their relentlessly corporate black or blue backgrounds, that I was stunned by the use of bright colors in every set up. The Sherwin-Williams booth won my heart.

                                                                                   Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

                                                                                   Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

                                                                                   Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

                                                                                   Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

As you can see, this was no ordinary booth. Emmily Jones  from Gatherist created a warm and inviting atelier where visitors were able to find out more about the company and its programs and also to play with different colors and create their own unique color palette. The wall displaying many paint swatches is what I will remember the most. Through these color choices, I understood that we all have different personalities and preferences and we should celebrate that. It is perfectly ok to pick our own colors (or path) and we should not be afraid to be different and have our own aesthetic.

                                                                                  Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

                                                                                  Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

In the evening we signed up for dinner with a brand. Because of my chosen line of work as a designer, I wanted to find out more about Sherwin-Williams.

The dinner was delightful and a great complement to the tone and theme set by the booth. The décor established an intimate setting using the Sherwin-Williams Color of the year, and each diner guest was gifted a personalized paint brush. We shared pizza family style and I was lucky enough to get to know fellow conference attendees from all over the country. I made some real connections that evening, incredible people that I plan to stay in touch with.

As a result of this experience, I became deeply interested in the Sherwin-Williams brand, what it stands for, the company's technologies and offerings.


When a company has been around for more than a century, it is clear they are doing something right. What if they have been around for over 150 years? This is the impressive feat achieved by Sherwin-Williams.

The company was founded in 1866 by Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams when the world was an entirely different place. There were no electric lights, no storage batteries, no steam turbines and no cars. Rather than settle for their current reality, Henry and Edward decided to make a change, particularly, to change attitudes to the American industrial economy. These founders were a driving force behind discovery and invention which would change plenty of lives around them, even if the changes were subtle.

What does Sherwin-Williams sell?

There are Sherwin-Williams stores across the USA which means, no matter where you live, you are likely to have come across one of them. Sherwin-Williams is a creator of paint. Not just any old pots of paint, but paint that is special and incredibly useful. They design, create and manufacture paint and coatings that are targeted towards more than just your walls.  

Their paint and coatings can be used on buildings, on structures, even on cars and other vehicles. Over the 150 years that the company has been developing itself, it has not only brought out newer  and more innovative products, but the company has also been able to create thousands of jobs and further many careers.

                                                                                   Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

                                                                                   Photo by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth

Changing communities

Because Sherwin-Williams is widely spread over many different states, it’s inevitable that the company has transformed a number of communities, by bringing them jobs as well as improving their economy. The brand is also dedicated to charitable work and ensures that it gives back.

The future

Whilst the past of Sherwin-Williams is impressive, that does not mean that they are willing to rest on their laurels. Instead, they want to move forward as an essential part of the industry as a whole. To do this, they need to grow, to develop, to change.

This leads to my key point: I am certain that my reaction to Sherwin-Williams and new appreciation for this brand is a result of what I know now to be called brand activation.

What is brand activation?

If you drill down to the bedrock of this concept, brand activation refers to the process of making a brand visible and known. Every organization wants to increase awareness and engagement with their brand. Brand activation is possibly the most important element during the early days of a business, because if no-one knows about it, then how can it expect to make sales?

That said, it isn’t just new businesses that need to have a grasp on their brand activation, established ones do too. Particularly if they are planning on rebranding and want to make sure that clients, customers and target audience are aware of those changes.

Brand marketing and brand activation are similar; however, as the name suggests brand activation isn’t as open-ended as brand marketing, which is when businesses try to promote and market their brands in the long term.

How to activate a brand

The great thing about brand activation is that there is a variety of ways to approach it. One of the simplest has to be with experiential marketing. This is when a company gets it brand out there by allowing people to experience it firsthand. Some companies do this by creating marketing or advertising campaigns which allow the public to experience what the service or product can offer. Experiential Marketing is a very interesting movement which I will explore in a subsequent post.

Some companies take a more straightforward approach and decide to hand out free samples of their product. Both of these are great ways to get noticed and get people talking.

Companies can also activate a brand in-store, if they own or are sold in a store, of course. This gives interactivity and an almost personal feel to the brand’s potential customers and helps them to engage more with whatever the company is trying to promote. We’ve all seen big name brands opting for this approach, particularly around Christmas and other special occasions when they take the opportunity to generate interest in a new product by having an in-store feature or event.

For any brand activation, the key is to make sure the business is using the other channels available to it. Social media is the most powerful one. It can take a business from no followers to many thousands in no time at all, simply because social media encourages sharing, which expands brand reach.

Once a brand is activated and people know about it, then comes the hard part of making sure that the level of brand awareness stays high and that people remain interested in what the brand has to offer.

Funnily enough, one thing I realized when typing up this post is how similar wedding event management is to brand activation - both require a clear identity to be communicated to the audience, both involve creating an unforgettable experience and both need to expand on that experience to continue with a lifetime of development and engagement - it’s just that on one hand it’s a couple who is setting out on a life together and on the other it’s a brand that is establishing itself as a vital part of consumer consciousness.

 This is what I've learned from Alt Summit and I can’t wait to return next year.