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The Dream Factory Spotlight: How to Build Your Brand Authentically

June 13, 2024

How do you build an authentic brand? 

For Andrew Kussy, Executive Director at The Dream Factory (TDF), the Winnipeg charity making dreams come true for Manitoban kids battling life-threatening illness, it starts with rescuing Spider-Man. 

In 2021, three-year-old Dream Kid Ethan arrived on-scene at The Fort Garry Hotel among a swath of Winnipeg Police squad cars and local media vans. One officer broke from the crowd and escorted Ethan to an armored vehicle where police filled him in on the unfolding crisis.  

Ethan’s favourite superhero Spider-Man was being held hostage inside the hotel, the officers explained, by local villain Billy Badguy. They showed Ethan a video of Spider-Man cuffed to a chair, crying out for Ethan’s help. 

Without hesitation, Ethan leapt into action. 

He donned a custom cape and mask and, along with his parents, searched through The Fort Garry Hotel. He marched floor to floor, finding clue after clue until he burst into a room to find the captive crusader. 

Ethan quickly un-cuffed Spider-Man. The two heroes exchanged hellos and high-fives before making chase after Billy Badguy. Dashing from room to room, they finally stopped. 

Billy had run through a curtain into a grand ballroom. Now, all that stood between the villain and our heroes was a veil of crushed velvet. Ethan and Spider-Man each grabbed a side of curtain.  

Spidey looked at Ethan and counted one… two… three! 

Flinging open the curtain, the dynamic duo was greeted by cheers from a crowd of police, Ethan’s family, and onlookers filling the room, with Badguy trapped between them.  

Ethan stood guard while officers cuffed Badguy. The crowd thanked Ethan for his bravery and honoured him with a certificate from the city. 

Four years later, Andrew Kussy says there’s one moment of this dream his organization helped bring to life that he’ll never forget. 

“At the end of the night, I looked at Ethan and asked him how his big day was,” said Kussy. “He looked at me so serious and said, smiling…  

‘I saved Spider-Man.’” 

Dream Kid Ethan poses with Spider-Man on his big day.

A few months later, Ethan lost his battle with cancer. The Dream Factory is deeply grateful to have played a small part in supporting his family throughout his journey. And it’s journeys like Ethan’s that drive Andrew and his team to continue their work.  

To carry on the dream. 

So, how do you translate this into an authentic, social-media friendly, successful brand? 

Define your mission 

The Dream Factory was founded in 1983 to be a source of joy, laughter, and hope for kids and families in our province going through the most difficult experiences imaginable.  

This difficulty doesn’t disappear after a dream comes true. This meant TDF needed to build their brand around an idea greater than a day at Disney World or buying tickets to Billie Eilish. 

In 2023 alone, TDF distributed $160,000 in financial support to help Manitoban families in their day-to-day treatment, help parents take time off work, secure childcare or hospital parking.  

They hosted 270 families at events across our province, bringing out dream parents, guardians, kids and siblings to ride race cars, go to art workshops, visit the zoo, and see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, all in addition to the big, fantastic dreams. 

They’ve built a community of support that keeps each Dream Family engaged for an average of not just five days, but five years, in the hopes that a sick kid gets to not feel scared, sad or alone for as long as The Dream Factory’s doors remain open. 

Dream Kid Chad and his family.

And it doesn’t stop there.  

Andrew knows, whether you’re 14 or 40, the first thing people do when they hear the name of a new organization is Google it. So keeping the dream alive meant bringing it online.  

Not just by posting dream stories and sponsor thank yous – which they have.  

But the next step to building your brand authentically means bringing everyone – your employees, and your supporters, to the table and equipping them with the tools to run with your mission. 

Bring Your Entire Audience to the Table

And it doesn’t have to break the bank. All it takes is a little creativity. 

Right now, you can visit The Dream Factory’s Instagram at @thedreamfactory and you’ll see smiling families holding the cinnamon buns TDF sends every year and impact stories of how much this community means to them. 

But you’ll also see an invitation to take a tour of The Dream Factory.  

Tap the link and you’ll be greeted by an Instagram grid that took countless hours and remarkable creativity to execute, featuring friendly drawings, local landmarks and supporters. 

The Dream Factory’s Tour Instagram grid.

You’ll see a series of Stories leading you through an explanation that whether you’re being brave enough to look for help, or kind enough to offer support, you’re going to experience something truly meaningful from the moment you arrive and long after your dream comes true.  

Now, the one piece missing at The Dream Factory is the factory itself. 

In 2023, they received more than 70 referrals for dream families. That’s more than a dream per week, for a staff of seven people working in a space a little bigger than a two-bedroom apartment, with no core funding from any level of government or agency. 

If you visit The Dream Factory office and walk past the baby-blue walls lined with pictures of smiling families in leis or superhero costumes and step over the toys yet to be gift-wrapped, you can turn right into a space of about 20-square feet that’s been converted into a kids area with more toys, stuffed animals, and flowers. 

It’s not exactly… dreamy.  

“We regularly have kids show up here that are apprehensive or nervous – even scared,” said Andrew. “They’ve just navigated an office lobby, a claustrophobic elevator, they think they’re back at the doctor’s office.” 

But that’s all about to change.  

During our visit, Andrew was able to share a very special surprise update – the groundbreaking next step in his dream. 

Build Your Dream… Space

“We’re building a child-centric dream factory,” said Andrew. “We show up for families in all these ways for years, but we need to build a space that makes people believe it.” 

Conceptual renderings of what the new The Dream Factory space could look like.

Every organization needs a headquarters. Whether it’s your storefront, your social platform, or your community space, you need a central location for your team, stakeholders and audience to connect through your mission.

The plan for the new and improved Dream Factory is a 3000-square foot heritage warehouse, exposed brick, and lofty ceilings – with a dedicated parking lot – a six-minute drive from the children’s hospital.  

“A child will know the minute they get out of their vehicle they’re not at a doctor’s office. For families from out of town, or new Canadians not as comfortable navigating Downtown, we’ll have three big exterior windows wrapped with The Dream Factory branding.” 

“Take 10 big steps from the main entrance and you’re in our space, a 250-square-foot greeting room designed to get families feeling comfortable – and a claw machine rigged so the kid wins every time,” smiles Andrew. 

Conceptual image of what The Dream Factory kitchen could look like.

“The kitchen is the heart of any space, and we’ll have a community-based kitchen fridge for kids, coffee and tea for mom and dad — something homey and familiar.” 

“Once they’re ready, they’ll move through to a new 900-square foot dream room where, if you’re a Potter-head, we call our Room of Requirement. This can change to appeal to the interests of a 4-year-old boy who loves dinosaurs in the morning or a 17-year-old girl who loves hockey in the afternoon.”  

But at the centre of it all, is The Dream Machine. 

In the Dream Room, when the child is ready, they put their dream in a capsule into the machine and press the Big Red Button.  

Conceptual rendering of what The Dream Machine could look like.

Their dream shoots through a series of exposed tubes extending throughout the entire dream factory space with checkpoints along the way where gears turn and switches flip, each step bringing their dream a little closer to reality.  

Finally, it comes back to the central machine where their written dream has been replaced by a token to represent it, could be Mickey Mouse ears or a Jets hockey puck or a plane ticket. 

“The goal with this is to create a moment of celebration for a family regardless of their illness or where they’re at in their journey. 

Dream Kid Jaydan and his family at his dream gaming birthday party.

“We’re working really hard to bring an identity to the space to say the dream factory isn’t just an idea or a feeling – it’s a real place.” 

“Every dollar that we raise is because someone in Manitoba believes that this is important, and there’s a real responsibility for us there, in making sure we get it right.” 

If you want to build an authentic brand, you need to save Spider-Man for real.  

You need to loosen your grip on your color pallet and key messaging. You need to define and act out your mission in every aspect of your operation. You need to make your mission accessible to your employees and supporters, empowering them to work toward a shared vision.  

You need to build your dream. 

Learn more about The Dream Factory and how you can support their new community space by visiting www.thedreamfactory.ca 

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