The Ideaction Blog

Meet the Corps:  Matthew Brett, Substance

Posted by Kelly O'Brien on December 9, 2013

Ideaction Corps is a collaborative of accomplished professionals working together for the common good. An inspiring group of people, we thought you might like to meet them. Each week we'll profile a member of the Corps, and chat with them about their perspectives on social and collective impact.

Tell us a little bit about your company and what services you provide.

My company is Substance. We develop strategic visual communication for both corporate and not for profit clients. This can be everything from a message strategy to a complete branding and identity development, including name, logo, web and print collateral development. We have also built several ad awareness and direct mail campaigns.

Why are social impact initiatives important for for-profit companies to embrace? How do you and your company get involved in making our community a little better?

Clients and customers are increasingly concerned about corporate social responsibility. We typically define branding as the place you occupy in the mind of your customer or client. Part of that perception needs to be the knowledge that you as a corporation are concerned about being part of the community and giving back to it. It’s not just the right thing to do; in terms of long-term strategy it also makes good business.

Why do you think it is important for companies to find ways to make their community better?  Do you have any advice for businesses that are implementing social impact initiatives for companies and individuals?

Clients need to determine what makes them unique and how what they offer sets them apart, in a way that is true to their values and behaviors. One of the first initiatives in any branding review is defining the corporate value proposition. This should apply to their value proposition to the community. It can take the form of donations, volunteering or advocacy. But it needs to be a natural extension of who the client is. You can’t fake it just for PR purposes.

What is it that your company does best?  How can you help companies who want to make a difference? 

I’m always astonished that so many designers and visual communicators are appalling writers. Messaging and copywriting has always been a natural adjunct to our creative efforts. This pertains to coming up with the “big idea” as well as actual writing. We partner and hire writers all the time, but more often then not, the high level message comes from us. I’ve never seen that as being separate from the visual strategy. I suppose there’s a bit of the proverbial frustrated English major in me.

What inspires you most about collective impact in the consulting space?

While I think we excel at a lot of things, I’m the first to concede we can’t do everything. It’s exciting to collaborate with partners who bring an additional skill set to the table. It pushes us to do our best work and we learn something new each time.

How do you see the consulting industry changing in the next 5-10 years?

Good God, it would be incredibly arrogant and presumptuous to pretend to have an answer to that. Let’s just say evolution favors those who can adapt to changing and uncertain circumstances.

What causes are you most passionate about?

I have a weakness for the underdog, so areas, populations and communities that are underserved always resonate with me. We have done a ton of work with AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry and Thresholds. Hearing stories from individuals who have benefitted from the services of these organizations is incredibly humbling and inspiring.

Could you tell us a bit about an Ideaction project you are working on now/ or a past Ideaction project you've had the opportunity to work on?  

We have partnered with Educare/Ounce of Prevention as well as the aforementioned Thresholds.

What are your favorite type of projects to work on?

The reason I named my company Substance is that I wanted to develop ideas that mattered, that told a meaningful story that would compel people to action. Projects and clients that facilitate these goals generate the greatest passion and empower us to do our best work.

What did I not ask you that you really want people to know? Life advice? Business tip? Words of wisdom?

Be able to create space between what happens and your reaction to it. If you’re in business long enough, there is always going to be a speed bump or conflict that needs to be resolved. Your ability to deal with it constructively and not take it personally goes a long way toward ensuring your longevity. How we deal with a challenge says more about us than how we deliver a success.


Substance was founded by Matthew Brett in 2005. Matthew began his professional graphic design career in 1992 producing corporate branding programs, print collateral, and interactive design. He has developed visual identity solutions for clients such as Eli Lilly, Target, the University of Chicago, Caterpillar, Deloitte and AIDS Foundation of Chicago.  His work has been recognized by such publications as Communication Arts, Print Regional Design Annual, Creativity, Graphic Design:USA, UnderConsideration and The One Show. The website he developed for UMB Bank was cited by CIO Magazine as one of the 50 Best Sites of the Year.




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