By  on May 9, 2011

Class was in session in Miami.

James Curleigh aimed to impart a simple lesson to executives: Sidestep corporate trappings. In a lively session, the president and CEO of Keen light-heartedly urged attendees to “go back to school” and be “child-like” in how they approached business.

In particular, Curleigh said leaders needed to brush up on “their history, English and biochemistry.”

The reason? By studying history, corporate chiefs can gain a better understanding of the evolution of their brands and how they arrived to take on their current form, he said.

Similarly, Curleigh stressed that knowing a brand’s DNA is necessary to grow further. “It’s your mapping, your blueprint,” he said.

Additionally, Curleigh said the English language offered an opportunity for brands toexperiment. “We like to make up words at Keen.” Case in point: The company’s so-called Hybridlife concept, which is meant to encourage people to create, play and care.

Curleigh said most Americans work too much, play too little and are packing on the pounds. So Keen developed a campaign that tells people “recess is back,” to take a break and head outside. Of course, it also taps into childhood memories of being outdoors and helps connect adults with Keen products.

What’s more, core consumers relate to that message because “it’s part of our DNA,” Curleigh said.

Also part of Keen’s DNA is social outreach, which further engenders loyalty. When the Asian tsunami occurred several years ago, Keen ran an ad announcing it would no longer spend money on marketing. Instead, those funds went to help residents of the affected region. It was a bad business decision from a brand-building perspective, Curleigh said, but was “the right thing to do.”

Such a move helped cement Keen’s image with consumers and subsequently led to the company’s Hybridcare program.

“It’s OK to be polarizing,” Curleigh said. “It’s OK to have an opinion, a point of view, a real perspective.”

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