Your story is your brand


By Mike Gugat

On the second Friday of December, we welcomed our son into the world.  Everyone said it would be a life-altering event. When I heard them say that, it didn’t really resonate with me until I heard him cry for the first time as the nurses swept him away to NICU and my wife was sedated to stop her bleeding. It's not that I hadn't thought of being a father, it's just that you cannot describe the gravity of the emotions you feel, emotions that were compounded by the medical risk faced by the woman I couldn't live without. My wife lost a significant amount of blood during her C-section, which then made it difficult for our son to regulate his breathing.

As my wife recovered faster than the doctors expected, our son took an extra day in special care to adjust to his new surroundings. Like his Mother, he was he was unbelievably resilient and defied the doctors’ expectations.  By Saturday evening, we were informed he’d be joining us in our hospital room Sunday afternoon if all his tests came back okay. That gave us less than 24 hours to name him.  We had quite a few names picked out but wanted to meet this little person before we settled on one.

After visiting him nearly every hour on the hour in special care and getting reports from the nurses, we felt like we knew him well enough to give him a name.  We landed on a first name meaning gracious and kind, which we agreed was our reminder as parents the gravity of our responsibility.  We wanted his middle name to be a north star, so we named him after a historical figure who sought to unite his people rather than divide them. (Spoiler, he’s not named George or Walker.) This middle name we chose is also meant to encourage creativity.  Within seconds of settling on his full name, we got a knock on the door and Baby Boy Lemon-Gugat (Hospital’s name for him) was wheeled into our room.  He was, at that moment, officially ours.

By now you must be asking yourself, “Is he suggesting we brand our children?” No, but I’m sharing where I find my inspiration for the branding work I do. Often as individuals, as well as organizations, our stories can remind us of our purpose and excite those around us to do things not thought possible. If you’re not excited by your story, there’s no reason you can’t reinvent it or tell it differently.

Recently, I was approached by a successful retailer and a foot and ankle doctor for a Major League Baseball team. They were wanting to realize an idea for an infant/toddler footwear product.  They were inspired by their newly born grandchildren. It was serendipitous given our son was about to be born. Having ideated for several hours with these gentlemen, we realized there was no other product on the market like the one they were proposing. A product promoting the positive development of babies’ feet.  The product solves a multitude of problems for both babies and parents by giving babies the best possible footing.

The Gü-GAT Collective helped design the concepts, build a business plan, and do the initial branding for this footwear start-up. These grandfathers generously invited this new father to be a co-founder and equal partner in the exciting new venture. We’re currently seeking a manufacturing partner and plan to go to market by year’s end.

Apparently, there’s no time like the present (fatherhood, consulting, etc.) to tackle a secret goal. I’m now hosting a podcast. The Sport & Style podcast was born out of regular zoom video conferences with my great friends from the sporting goods industry, Neil Schwartz and John Peters. Neil is head of consumer insights at Sports One Source and John is head of business development at the Sports Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).  Neil’s the “boomer” whose seen it all.  John is the “don’t label me millennial” with a fresh perspective.  And I’m the Gen X’er sitting on the fence of “old” and “new.” We will regularly break down industry news stories that catch our eye, analyze sales data for trends, and interview a guest influencing the sport & style trade. Our pilot podcast will be up on iTunes and Stitcher in May. 

Anyway, thanks for letting me tell you some more of my story.  If I can help you tell yours, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at



Has the shine come off the Republican and Democratic brands?



By Mike Gugat

Let me preface this by saying it’s not my intention to be argumentative by trying to tackle this question.  My belief is that we’re ripe for a third party that could create a platform seeking to govern by “country over party,” a slogan championed by ABC’s Matthew Dowd, a former George W. Bush aide. 

In this last election, a lifelong Democrat from New York City, more so aligned with Howard Stern than Howard Dean, beat out a dozen loyal GOP contenders for the Republican nomination. On the left, a socialist and lifelong thorn in the side of the Democratic Party, nearly won the Democratic nomination. 

What gives?

Both candidates ran for something, which has proven more successful than running against something. The Howard Stern Democrat was for building a border wall, restoring lost manufacturing and coal mining jobs, and cutting corporate tax rates to “Make America Great Again.” The self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” was for tuition-free college, single-payer healthcare, and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.  Neither had plans that were validated by serious economists, but the electorate was desperate for change and willing to cast a Hail Mary vote.

Personally, neither brand is speaking to me these days. I’ve decided to register as an independent.  I’m inspired to do so by a letter my Grandfather wrote me when I turned 18, just before voting in my first presidential election.  The retired Rear Admiral said he was a registered Republican (New England Republican, who retired in progressive Santa Cruz), but had voted for Democrats over the years.  The wisdom he imparted in that letter was to put personal values above party, study the candidates and especially the party platforms, and vote for the candidate whose platform best represents your values.  As a progressive, I don’t just want to resist, but want to stand for and with those using their heads to innovate in both the public and private sectors.  I want to be inspired by thought leaders.

I believe ideas will again win the day, especially those that genuinely set out to solve problems, not just profit from them. This brings me back to brands.  Brands – whether in tech, fashion, entertainment, or sports – are also at a crossroads. They’re now expected to be problem solvers or able to relieve societal tension.  As consumers gain greater control over retail, how they divvy up their wallet share will be motivated by more than just price. According to Engage for Good, 33% of consumers buy from brands doing social and/or environmental good.  Seventy-five percent of those born after 1980, who prefer not to be labeled (which I respect), would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.

It shouldn’t come as news that consumers don’t want to be marketed to, but want to feel a part of the brand’s process.  The same can be said of voters who hunger for ideas that fix, unify, and innovate rather than insult, divide, and regress. These voters are the same consumers expecting more from ALL brands. 

Purpose Your Pain

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By Mike Gugat

Like anything in life, the pain that comes from the loss of a loved one or a life threatening medical diagnosis reminds us that our time on earth isn’t infinite. Lately I’ve witnessed and have been inspired by friends using personal pain to motivate their purpose. Better yet, these friends are using the art of filmmaking to impart onto others a sense purpose.

One of those inspirations is my friend Vidal Marsh, whom I credit for the expression “purpose your pain.”  I was introduced to Vidal when our Retail Politics project failed to launch (I will come back to Retail Politics in a subsequent blog post, as we haven’t given up on trying to elevate the discourse in our country).  Vidal is a producer who recently produced the truly innovative podcast called “The Human Kind Podcast.”  HKP brings together folks of different backgrounds, races, and religions to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversation topics.  You should check it out on iTunes.  

In one of our first conversations, Vidal mentioned that he was inspired by his Aunt Almetris Marsh Duren, who, after losing the love of her life, dedicated the remainder of her life to bringing people together.  Ms. Duren is responsible for having integrated African American students into the University of Texas in the racially turbulent times of the late 1950’s.  This was no small feat for the 4’11” Ms. Duren, as the University didn’t offer housing for students of color.  Ms. Duren would establish co-op housing for these students. In 2007, the University dedicated the Almetris Marsh Duren Residence Hall on campus. Come October of this year, Vidal will begin production on a documentary examining Marsh Duren’s contributions to the University of Texas and beyond.

Also in October, the short film BARE directed by my wife, Kerith Lemon, will premier in LA, NYC, and DC during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  BARE is the true story of our friend Rebecca Hall’s breast cancer diagnosis at age 25. The film was inspired by a short story Rebecca wrote about processing the diagnosis in the company of her closest friends.  Rebecca is a professional medical writer who co-wrote the script for BARE.

I first met Rebecca back in February while in our hometown of Santa Cruz.  Rebecca and Kerith were collaborating on BARE at the time, and I was so impressed by this young woman throwing herself into a creative venture having just had a tumor removed from her brain. 

I got better acquainted with Rebecca on the set of BARE.  With everything going on, she took an interest in my Mother who had just gone through a double Mastectomy and was experiencing swelling from Lymphedema.  Rebecca was familiar with the compression garments needed to ease the symptoms of Lymphedema, knowing that they aren’t cheap and, in most cases, are unattractive.  She took it upon herself to share a gift certificate, allowing my Mother to pick from a stylish collection of compression garments. It was a true act of kindness.

Today Rebecca is living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Her pain is purposed by teaching yoga to others living with cancer, while also working tirelessly to support organizations like METAvivor, a non-profit that dedicates 100% of donations to stage 4 breast cancer research.  She’s proof that all stories are worth telling.  Be sure to read her blog, Cancer, you can suck it!

We’d appreciate hearing from you.  How are you purposing your pain?

Realizing My Unexpected


By Mike Gugat

I guess I’m proof that it’s never too late to realize your unexpected value.  I spent the first 20 years of my professional life working my way up the proverbial ladder in the athletic and outdoor industry.  The more I sold, the more I made, and the more doors were opened for new opportunities. Unfortunately, I was very unsatisfied. 

This last year has been spent traveling, consulting for others, and a tremendous amount of time self-reflecting.  The major discovery was that I was killing my inner-creative.  I’m convinced that creativity requires conditioning like that of a performance athlete.  If an athlete isn’t training, their muscle will atrophy.

I began letting my creative muscle atrophy in college when I succumbed to the notion that if I didn’t get a degree in business, I’d never get ahead in life.  I gave up on a double major in art and psychology, ultimately killing my desire of becoming an art therapist for children.  I’d spend two years taking finance, accounting, and general business courses never fully appreciating what was being taught. Ultimately, I’d get a degree in International Studies as I didn’t have the attention span for the business school.

Fortunately for me, I needed a full-time job to assist my parents in paying for my college education.  I would learn more about business working in that retail store than in all the classes I took.  My strong business acumen was developed working in sales and marketing roles for and with globally recognized brands.  The lack of a business degree didn’t prevent me from becoming an executive. I’m convinced I made up for that business degree by reading hundreds of books applicable to business, leadership, and critical thinking. I often joke that my subscription to The Harvard Business Review was the equivalent of an MBA and my devotion to and sponsorship of NPR was a cheaper substitute to an advance degree in the humanities.

I genuinely believe that relationships matter. I often found myself networking outside my profession with media professionals, artists, creatives, and even political operatives.  To this day, I seek out people smarter than me and persuade them to be mentors.  These mentors have inspired me to realize that my unexpected value is the ability to bring people together around a purpose and inspire them to do the unexpected.

This brings me to this intersection in my life where I’m again conditioning my creative muscle with The GÜ-GAT Collective.  We’re a full service agency, backed by a collective of top creatives.  I'm hoping you will join us.