Neil Barrie takes on global CEO role at TwentyFirstCenturyBrand

The co-founder and former managing partner will assume operational responsibilities of the company, as co-founder and CEO Jonathan Mildenhall steps into chairman role.

Brand and marketing consultancy TwentyFirstCenturyBrand said Tuesday that co-founder Neil Barrie will become global CEO.

Barrie, who was formerly managing partner, co-founded the consultancy with former Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall in 2018. Mildenhall, previously CEO at TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, will move into a chairman role while also serving as CMO of fintech startup Dave and on the board of DTC clothing brand Everlane.

Under Barrie’s leadership, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, which has offices in San Francisco and London, wants to become a “proper global force,” he said.

“There will be 50 to 100 brands that help shape the way people live,” he said. “We want to work with as many of them as possible.”

Barrie and Mildenhall started TwentyFirstCenturyBrand after working together on the Airbnb business from 2014 to 2018, as the brand grew from “an accommodation platform with a funny logo to being this massive power brand,” Barrie said. 

As chief strategy officer at TBWA/Chiat/Day in LA at the time, Barrie realized that like Airbnb, the most powerful brands of the 21st century would be founder-driven, rooted in strong technology and somewhat suspicious of old-school marketing tactics.

“It should be about taking all the BS and jargon out of it and using the brand to solve problems,” Barrie said. 

With clients including Bumble, Pinterest, Headspace and Peloton, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand lives up to its name. Typical services include helping companies define upstream brand strategy, category and segmentation, and translating that to align with the employee and user experience. 

“These companies are built on product, recommendation, performance marketing and PR, but what are they as a brand?” Barrie said. “We’re bringing design, product and policy teams together around a brand strategy to collaborate on ideas they can ship throughout the year.”

TwentyFirstCenturyBrand helped Pinterest, for example, define its brand purpose around inspiration. That extended beyond communications to actual product design, such as adding a “daily inspiration” tab in the app.

“A lot of their growth is because they are super clear about who they are and their mission to bring inspiration to people,” Barrie said. 

More recently, the company has begun working with large established companies, including Conde Nast, Mars and Unilever, that need to not just revamp their brands but realign internally to keep up with consumer and employee demands.  

“We’re using the lessons we've learned from the chaotic tech companies and applying those to older businesses at scale,” Barrie said. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand has been focused on helping brands navigate the crisis. The firm commissioned research and has held multiple forums for brands that have resulted in new client work, Barrie said. 

Part of that strategy is delivering generosity to consumers while also building business. TwentyFirstCentryBrand helped meditation app Headspace, for example, develop a commitment to deliver its app for free to unemployed Americans. 

“It was a huge investment and risk, but it's paid back hugely for them in terms of downloads and awareness,” Barrie said. 

Barrie will measure his success as CEO based on how clients are able to drive impact in their business, for their employees, in their communities and in culture at large. “It's simple things like revenues and share price, but also share of voice and sentiment.” he said. 

Internally, Barrie, who described himself as “the only white man at the company,” will commit to values of fostering diversity and inclusion. The consultancy is writing a book on Black and Brown excellence in business, which it is distributing to schools in London and San Francisco. 

TwentyFirstCenturyBrand also partners with social advocacy groups, including London-based Color in Tech and volunteer platform Deed Social as part of a “Rebel Alliance” of experts it can bring in for diverse perspectives on different issues. 

“A big success for me will be big bets on our values have impact on the world beyond just our clients,” he said.

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