Where Method Meets Magic: Brand Lessons from Hip Hop Dancers

Musings & Advice
Artful Problem Solving with Richmond Urban Dance
By 
Catherine Goodson
April 19, 2024
Musings & Advice
Artful Problem Solving with Richmond Urban Dance
By 
Catherine Goodson
April 19, 2024

At Joe Smith, we relish any opportunity to learn about Artful Problem Solving from brilliant minds outside our bubble of brand. That’s why we took ourselves on a field trip to a hidden gem in our hometown of Richmond, VA – The House, the gathering place for Richmond Urban Dance.  

And if the image of seven brand consultants, who mainly work with PowerPoints for a living, trying to bust a move in a dance studio makes you chuckle (or break into a cold sweat) believe us...that was our reaction too.

But just beyond the collective embarrassment, there were many lessons to be learned both from the physical experience of getting outside our comfort zones and the experience of talking with the dance instructors and leaders of this fascinating organization.  

So, what did we learn from these dancers? And how has it impacted our work? Let’s connect some dots.

STRATEGIC RIGOR

Strategic rigor, the first tenet of Artful Problem Solving, is all about seeking the root of the problem, not the symptom. But how do you go about doing that? Do you set a goal and work backwards – or stumble upon a “red thread” and keep following it?  

It turns out choreography is no different. Sometimes there are certain moves you know in advance you want to have and build around them. Sometimes you stumble upon a move that sparks some magic and it changes the whole dance.  

In our work, we need to allow for equal parts method and magic to get to a strategy that really works to address the root of the problem. A 4-step “strategic process” is never the answer…it’s just a starting point. Allowing space for more freeform thinking is critical to getting to an artful result.  

HUMAN TOUCH

Our next tenet of Artful Problem Solving is human touch, which is all about forging more meaningful connections – be it between employees, customers, leaders, or collaborators.  

It’s easy to see this one’s connection to dance. Dance is expressive, ephemeral, and speaks to our emotions without a single word. But it doesn’t happen by accident. The choreographer has designed every move with an understanding of how they want you to feel. And in some cases, the dancer improvises based on how you’re reacting in real time.    

In brand work, we can sometimes get too caught up in the words on the page or images on a screen—losing sight of how the brand will live and breathe in the real world. To deliver brands that touch the humans who will interact with them, we need to act more like choreographers, who understand their craft first and foremost as a living artform.  

BEAUTIFUL UTILITY

The third tenet of our work is Beautiful Utility, which is all about marrying form and function to move hearts and minds. And while we had never really pondered the “utility” of dance, once we began to, our thoughts ran wild.  

Dance can serve many purposes (or functions) – entertainment, celebration, even exercise. But what ultimately moves you about it is less about its function and more about the form it takes – or the beauty of it.  

Brand does the same for businesses. While the utility of any business is largely replicable, it’s the way a business tells its story, and the way it makes its stakeholders feel that elevates it above the category.  

RIPPLE EFFECTS

Our last tenet of Artful Problem Solving is about solutions that transcend and transform cultures and communities for the better. And Richmond Urban Dance is a textbook example.  

It was founded in 2015 by Mandy Helmlinger as a way to feed the hunger for hip hop dance that she saw bubbling up around her. At the time, hip hop didn’t have a home in Richmond – so she gave it one. And, while the first ripples of interest came from kids and tweens, the wave has spread to adults, senior citizens and dance enthusiasts from across the state, fostering confidence and closeness in the community.  

The strongest brands are built from a similar starting point. We observe what unmet customer needs are bubbling to the surface and anchor the brand on meeting those needs. The result is a brand that is symbiotically connected with its customers – growing and evolving with the community, rather than being a bystander to it.  

IN SUMMARY

Artful Problem Solving is what makes the brand work we do at Joe Smith special – and we love finding it “in the wild.” Thank you to Richmond Urban Dance for giving us so much to think about!

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Got an identity problem?
Got a recruiting problem?
Got a messaging problem?
Got an all-of-the-above problem?

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