Marketing & Design Driven

Years ago, we were working with a chief marketing officer who managed to repeat the same phrase in every single meeting we attended. She would always incorporate the phrase “marketing-driven solution”, often in the form of a question. Was our creative proposal a marketing driven solution? What about the headline? It got to be a joke around the office. Does this color look marketing-driven? This paper stock? This Instagram post? And what about that typeface?

Today, design-driven companies are the topics of conversation. The Design Management Institute analyzed the performance of U.S. companies committed to design as an integral part of their business strategy. The study included companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Starbucks, Target and Walt Disney. The dmi: Design Value Index tracked the value of these publicly held companies and monitored the impact of their investments in design on stock value over a ten-year period. The result shows a 211% return over the S&P 500.

Coca-Cola’s Vice-President for Design, David Butler, avoids using the word “design” as much as possible. Though he has written up a 30-page manifesto laying out a design strategy for the company, when he is meeting with manufacturing people, he’ll say, “How can we make the can feel colder, longer?” Or “How can we make the cup easier to hold?” He talks about the benefits of smart design in a language that those he’s talking to can relate.
Mohamed Samah, a design socio-psychologist said, “The design discipline itself is expanding beyond ‘form and look’ to include processes and business strategy in general. Organizations are using design as a tool to stimulate creativity and to foster innovation in the market”. Company leaders use brand strategy and design thinking to research, iterate and ask questions that have little to do with “creating things”, which is the more typical end result of designing.

Because designers typically approach problem-solving somewhat differently. They’re more intuitive and emotional, and less logical and analytical. Instead of going A > B > C > D, designers may start at Q > D > K and end up at P. The bottom line? Starting at Q, D, or K might be necessary to get live feedback, roll out marketing strategies, understand the market and customer motivations. McKinsey offers a framework of questions for the design journey of transforming your company from only a market driven company to one that also uses design as a driver of change.

  1. Do you have a senior design leader with real authority?
    Ensure design factors are part of the business strategy.
  2. Are you continuously reviewing your metrics?
    Go beyond reviewing design metrics and key performance indicators regularly to reviewing them in real time, testing them, and changing your actions in a constant test-and-learn cycle.
  3. Do you really understand what motivates your customers?
    Create a map of the customer journey and use human-centered-design research techniques to interact with customers and uncover pain points and opportunities to delight.

Despite our former client’s binary separation of the idea, I don’t think there is any doubt that successful design-driven companies are also market-driven. There’s no need to separate the two and in fact, successful companies don’t.

Highly Effective Brands

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed on the Silicon Slopes Live Podcast, and one of the questions I was asked was “What are the best brands out there in your opinion, and why?” Although my answer was brief, the question made me think more in-depth about what makes a highly effective brand and if our point of view at modern8 aligns when taking a closer look.

In my interview, I defined branding as an emotional response to design that lives in the mind of your customers—reiterating that your brand is not in your logo, your website, your marketing materials, and your catchy headlines (as quippy as they might be). These are merely tools that identify your brand. Our belief and point of view is that you DO have the ability to influence and control the emotional responses of your customer through the design and communication of the strategic pillars that define who you are. Here are those pillars paired with case studies of some of the most highly effective brands in the world, IMO. 

Position– We define this as the ONLY ONLY. What is the only thing that you offer that no one else offers. Do your customers identify you as being the only one? In journalism, the primary facts that need to be understood are WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, and HOW. The technique tells the reader whether the rest of the story is worth reading. The same approach tells your customer whether they should be interested in your products or services. Here’s how brand strategist Marty Neumeir describes the process for Harley-Davidson:

Who: Harley-Davidson
What: The only motorcycle manufacturer
How: That makes big, loud motorcycles
Who: For macho guys (and macho “wannabes”)
Where: Mostly in the United States
Why: Who want to join a gang of cowboys
When: In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

Your Only, Only statement becomes the litmus test for future brand decisions that will keep you on target while ensuring you maintain your difference from the competition.

Promise– We define this as the pledge you make to your customers when they do business with you. Every brand should have a promise—a takeaway. This might be expressed as a tagline or as the brand message on the homepage of your website, and it is always understood as a promise delivered to the customer from the brand owner. Starbucks promises that as a brand they will “Inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” Starbucks views themselves as a company that brings more to the world than a great cup of coffee. It views itself as a lifestyle brand to consumers with a promise to affirm that. 

Perspective- We define this as the way your brand sees the world or reacts to specific situations. It defines why “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek, who coined the phrase, uses Apple as the best example of a company that leads with a clear and differentiated point of view, which is arguably the reason Apple is the most recognizable and effective brand in the world because “With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently.” As customers, we like to align ourselves with companies and brands with similar values and beliefs to our own. We often buy to feel like we belong. 

Personality– This is defined by modern8 as a collection of human based adjectives that describe your company’s characteristics, culture, voice, and qualities. Customers don’t buy experiences and products rationally. They are highly influenced by the way they feel and relate to your brand. Disney exemplifies their brand consistently through every detail and experience, and utilizes key adjectives that are integrated into their language to communicate their personality, like magical, friendly, and happy. You’d be hard pressed to find someone, despite their age, who wouldn’t feel those emotions and use those adjectives when stepping into one of Disney’s parks. The personality of Disney is how they win the hearts and minds of their guests. And this is what creates brand loyalty. 

Highly effective brands use design to communicate and connect to their brand pillars. Typically, the initial point of entry is visual, for instance, the Disney scripted logo centered upon a castle, a Harley-Davidson whizzing by, and a beautiful Apple computer being used in your neighborhood Starbucks. We are now living in a design and brand centric world. Design is where the “rubber meets the road.” Without great design based on a strategic foundation, there is no emotional connection and no lasting value.

Branding in a Pandemic

A few weeks ago, I was pretty nervous about talking live over Instagram to 1,300 strangers. I know a lot about branding, but branding in a pandemic isn’t as simple. I had to put more research and reflection into my preparation.

What we can all agree on is that the current climate of consumer spending is unstable. As consumers, we are all rethinking how we spend our money and the effects of the crisis may not be realized for yet another six to ten months. Discretionary spending will be squeezed from all ends, and we will ALL be more cost conscious, if we aren’t already. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a new brand can’t launch during this crisis, but it must answer the obvious question—does it address a current need?

Does your product or service make communicating, buying, traveling, working from home easier or more accessible? We are all experiencing a mindset shift since being forced to work, learn, and homeschool within our four walls. modern8 would have never considered running a service business virtually, but, by being forced into a new way of thinking about and leveraging technology, we are making it work and may never go back. During the last recession, several businesses used this shift in mindset to launch, and they still continue to thrive—Groupon found a way to bring coupon clipping to our inboxes, Slack helped us stay in touch with our work teams, Venmo eliminated the need to carry a checkbook, WhatsApp gave us a vehicle to communicate no matter where we are in the world, and Rent the Runway made fashion accessible and affordable.

The second consideration is an evaluation of your value proposition and competitive advantage—is it different and distinct enough to stand out in a crowded market? The current market is highlighting disparities in value from product to product and service to service. If you are a challenger brand, and not the first to market in your space, then now is an opportunity to prove your value against the bigger, slower leaders in your competitive landscape. Messaging that targets your audience and relates to WHY your product is needed above the others can cut through and get noticed. There is an opportunity to leverage the current circumstances to provide more value to your current and potential customers, to make your offering more accessible, and to analyze and balance the current needs of your market. This doesn’t mean giving more for less, but it might mean reevaluating the customer experience, creating helpful content, marketing with empathy, giving gratitude and donations, or providing a sense of place and belonging for your audience. Make your brand invaluable to your customers.

We are currently working with a direct-to-consumer brand called Wave Coffee, which is set to launch in the next month. We debated pressing pause and waiting to launch the product after the pandemic, but Wave addresses a current need—get coffee delivered regularly without the risk of going out and picking it up. There’s also the fact that the target market for Wave has already been defined, the aesthetics have already been designed to resonate within its market space, and the messaging has been crafted to speak to those preferences and motivations. Though Wave is not going to be the first to market in the coffee subscription space, it can still provide simple access to a product that promotes shared experiences, even during these times of uncertainty, can be purchased at a justifiable price point, and will take advantage of the shift in mindset while getting noticed for its value.

A brand is a promise of value to be received. A brand is the totality of perceptions that you see, hear, read, know, feel, and think about and have been embodied in a product or service. A pandemic could be the right time to establish or pivot your brand to reestablish a distinctive position in a potential customer’s mind based on their past experiences, current associations, and future expectations.

A brand is a shortcut for gaining and expressing beliefs and values for consumers. These promises of specific beliefs and values will also differentiate your brand while simplifying the decision making process for your consumers. There is always a means to exceed industry and market expectations, and create surprise for an audience that never knew, in their mind, what they were missing.

Buying in a Design Centric World


I’ve never considered myself to be a beauty junkie—I only spend the minimum amount needed to keep my aging skin at bay. I’m mostly influenced by my attraction to a brand’s aesthetics and, occasionally, by a friend’s testimonial. A couple of years ago, I was introduced, via Instagram to a direct-to-consumer beauty brand with IMO great design. Over the last two years, I’ve slowly been swapping out all of my existing beauty products not because I believe them to be better or work better, but because I am visually attracted to the design of the product, the packaging, and the fact that I really love pink.

There was a time when you simply came up with a product or service the world needed, then offered it for sale. But no longer. The world has changed in many ways, largely due to social media. We are now living in a “design centric world” and are more visually oriented than ever before. We upload and share a staggering 1.8 billion photos each day on social media in hopes that we catch the attention of existing and potential customers. For a business to be successful in a design-centric world, needs must be contextualized for the visual environment. When we respond to almost anything, the initial point of entry is visual. 

Another relevant example happened a few months ago when I was invited to attend a chocolate tasting. I am by no means a chocolate connoisseur, but the exercise proved to be very educational and enlightening. We started the tasting with a Dove Chocolate bar and noted what we tasted and our overall impressions. As we went on, the chocolate got more exotic, more bitter, and less sweet. One of the bars we sampled was a Ritual Chocolate bar. After we all sampled the bar, the package was passed around for reference. Several of the group members were not familiar with my association to Ritual and I overheard a few conversations—all of which included comments on the beauty of the packaging. I also heard a few people say they had purchased the chocolate from the shelves of Caputo’s and Harmons, a decision not made from having sampled the chocolate but rather due to the beautiful packaging and design, and they wanted to share it as an unwrapped gift.

Apple, the most valuable company in the world, changed the business world when Steve Jobs came back in 1997. His intense focus on the design of products, the user interface, and even the components sealed inside the computer marked the beginning of a corporate recognition of design as a value proposition. Clients come into our office all the time to say they want clean and simple design, like Apple.

Successful companies recognize that offering a product or service that the world needs is not enough. Why? Because our feelings and perception of a company are largely formed by design. That perception can change people’s behavior. And changed behavior drives the performance of your business. This phenomenon is what compels us to pay $12 for a Ritual chocolate bar, $5 for a latte at Starbucks, and spend hundreds more for an Apple versus a Dell laptop, or travel 20 miles farther to stay at an Ace Hotel.

The value of design is recognized in the business world and is evidenced constantly in business publications. But it isn’t just about aesthetics. Rather, it is a far more serious matter of problem-solving and experience shaping. The principles of design can be used to change how people work, to better understand customer needs, and to reframe complex problems. These efforts lead to insights that constitute strategic competitive advantages.

As a brand design firm, we have long understood and fought for the value of good design. A late 2018 study by McKinsey and Company can finally put those advantages to real numbers based on their survey and analysis on over 300 different companies. McKinsey claims the report contains “the most extensive and rigorous research undertaken anywhere” to map the business impact of design. It concludes that firms who embrace design generated 32 percentage points higher revenue growth as well as 56 percentage points more total returns to shareholders compared to their rivals during a five-year period.

“While design was once largely thought of as a way of making products more attractive, it is now a way of thinking: a creative process driven by the desire to better understand and meet consumer needs,” said McKinsey. Those advantages show up as real numbers, and “Good Design is Good for Business”.

Over the last 10 years, design-led companies (such as Coca-Cola, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Nike, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, and Walt Disney) have maintained a significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211%.

Design is where the rubber meets the road. That’s where we make the emotional connection and generate an “I gotta have it” (at any cost) mentality on the part of customers. To be successful in a design-centric world, companies need to embrace design culture and allow design values and philosophies to guide the way people work, interact, and present themselves to the world.

What’s Your Brand’s Archetype?


Last week my family and I visited Disney World. I knew my kids would feel the excitement and awe of the park, but I was surprised that I too got caught up in the nostalgia of Mickey and his friends. Every detail and experience was created to drive a specific emotion and feeling—magic.

Customers don’t buy experiences and products rationally. They are highly influenced by emotional stories connected with their choices. Throughout history, many of the same stories and characters appear in literature, religion, folklore, and mythology. These are the stories of the magician, the creator, the caregiver—stories that have been told around the campfire since the beginning of time.

Carl Jung developed an understanding of archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that he found appearing consistently from stories told around the world. More recently, archetypes have been applied to organizations and groups of people who are part of a culture and share a common purpose. Disney’s purpose is to bring happiness to its customers and employees through every detail, even the mundane. 

For years, we have used images and adjectives as part of our Brand Design d5 Process to define and differentiate our clients’ brands. It is helpful to visualize your brand as a picture since most of us think in images, not words. Images are emotional quick reads, and that’s why they are more powerful. They penetrate our decision-making center before a rational argument ever sets in.

But images alone can be too abstract. Adjectives help to reveal our client’s archetype. As Fritz Grutzner says in the journal of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, “Archetypes prove to be very powerful tools to align a brand around a key emotional need in a way that both the client and the consumer can readily grasp. This approach has worked successfully for some of the largest consumer brands in the country as well as for small non-profits and even business-to-business companies.”

We give our clients a list of adjectives and ask them to choose those that best reflect their company’s brand. These choices reveal their archetype. Jung identified seven different archetypes, but Pearson and Mark expanded on his thinking to identify twelve specific archetypes and how they can be used in brand strategy. The twelve, which appear consistently in brand strategy literature, are: Saint, Explorer, Sage, Hero, Outlaw, Magician, Average Joe, Lover, Jester, Caregiver, Creator, and Ruler. Here are some well-known consumer brands that we might associate with each of these specific archetypes:

The Saint: Ivory

The Explorer: Starbucks

The Sage: Oprah

The Hero: Nike

The Outlaw: Apple

The Magician: Disney

The Average Joe: Target

The Lover: Godiva

The Jester: Ben & Jerry’s

The Caregiver: Campbell’s Soup

The Creator: Martha Stewart

The Ruler: American Express

For an established brand, the job is to discover and clarify its core archetypal story. Often, it goes back to why the company was founded in the first place.  Ask yourself, besides making money, why does your company exist? For new brands, the task is to identify an archetypal story and simply go with it. Doing so will be beneficial in establishing the underlying emotional basis and the guidelines for how the brand tells its story. Much of the value of archetype identification is internal. All employees become brand ambassadors and sing from the same songbook.

Make sure the brand story is authentic. Your external actions must align with your internal culture. As brand guru Marty Neumeier says, “If a brand looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck and swims like a duck—then it must be a duck. But if it swims like a dog, however, people start to wonder.”

According to Grutzner, iconic brands like Disney are fanatical about the consistency with which they tell their own story, but they keep it relevant by retelling it over and over again in fresh, magical ways.

So Fresh and So Clean

If you have ever been a medicine cabinet snooper, you know that what’s on the other side of that door says a lot about you. As designers, we can’t ignore how something looks, but now you can have a “stink-free guarantee” and two new bottles you won’t be embarrassed for those snoopers to see. After launching a redesign of their foot spray, Sprayzee came back to us to design three additional bottles to add to their line—a travel size, air freshener, and a toilet deodorizer—complete with custom illustrations and an expanded color palette as fresh as their ingredients.

And it doesn’t stop there! We are creating assets for the Sprayzee website and their social media, including “how it works” and “what’s inside” infographics for the website, along with custom lifestyle photography that shows off the versatility, personality, and all-natural ingredients of the sprays and brand.



Have you ever had a friend that kept changing their name? No? Well, international healthcare analytics company, Cotiviti—previously known as Verscend, and before that, Verisk, and the time before that, HCI (we wrote them down so we can’t forget)—approached us after their newest merger and subsequent brand update about creating a detailed brand book to clarify the look and feel of their new identity. Unlike the brand design to brand book process we usually do, Cotiviti already had the brand, but it was up to us to refine and outline exactly what fit within this non-m8 designed brand system (challenge accepted!). After many weeks of toil, testing, and transformation, we handed them thirty slides to guide their brand for the foreseeable future.

Brand Book

Marae Events


Pulling off a successful event can be extraordinarily difficult, whether personal or corporate. It all comes down to details. Paying attention to the minutiae of event planning and execution is exactly how modern8 and the founders of Marae approached the creation of their new brand identity. We crafted new letterforms in an elegant thick and thin typeface without serifs, but not a san serif in the conventional understanding. The layout of their business card echoes the layout of elements at an event—exquisite but understated, clean yet rich. We love their services and their identity.

Swim, Don’t Dive

Consistency in Branding & Design

I was talking with a friend recently who wanted to know my thoughts on their company’s current brand look and feel and messaging. They asked, “How can I improve my current brand?” It is a good question. Too often we think of re-branding when, in fact, more often what is needed is an advancement of the current brand you’ve got.

I said, “Consistency will improve your brand.” Consistency is a design principle that dramatically affects usability and learning in all systems, including branding and identity. It helps us transfer knowledge to new contexts, focus attention, and learn more quickly. There are four types of consistency: aesthetic, functional, internal, and external.

Aesthetic consistency is the type most obvious in branding. A logo whose style and appearance is the same, no matter where it appears (color, typography, graphic), sets emotional expectations and becomes a shortcut to recognition and decision-making. For example, Nike apparel and sneakers are easily recognizable because the company consistently features the swoosh prominently on all of their products (and in advertising, store signs, social media, etc.). We associate the swoosh with the quality and power built into the brand, and it informs people how they should feel and act; “Just do it,” according to their tagline.

Any parent can tell you how toddlers can “read” logos, long before they can actually read. My three-year-old daughter recognized the McDonald’s logo long before I ever took her there. She now cries if we pass by the distinctive golden arches and don’t stop.

Functional consistency refers to consistency of action and meaning. Humans require order, and functional consistency provides us with this order. Have you ever had a difficult time finding your way in a hospital? In the book, Wayfinding, the authors point out, “In a [hospital] facility of some 800 beds, no less than 8,000 hours of professional time are lost in redirecting patients and visitors to their destinations.” In the healthcare environment, investing in a wayfinding program is vital because, simply put, when people are lost, money is lost. Functional consistency allows us to leverage existing knowledge about how the design functions. The symbols on my iPhone use the same controls for playing music that videocassette recorders used in the 70s. Such consistency makes the new devices easier to use and learn.

Internal consistency refers to consistency with other elements in the system—your logo is the same online and in print—like designs within a park are consistent with one another. Such internal harmony suggests that the system has been intentionally designed to build trust with viewers.

External consistency means having the same aesthetic design or performance across multiple systems. External consistency extends the benefits of internal consistency across multiple independent systems. This is difficult to achieve, but fast food companies do this very well. Even technology companies, like Microsoft and Apple, recognize that it works. You can go to these businesses anywhere in the world and expect to receive the same service; that they will be using the same equipment, and in the same amount of time you will receive the same product.

In branding and design, if standards exist, observe them. If standards don’t exist, create them. Consider aesthetic and functional consistency in all aspects of design. From the book, Universal Principles of Design, “Use aesthetic consistency to establish unique identities that can be easily recognized. Use functional consistency to simplify usability and ease of learning. Ensure that systems are always internally consistent and externally consistent to the greatest degree possible.”

And remember, your brand is not a diving competition. It is a swimming competition.

To Feel is to Know

I go to yoga every Sunday morning to decompress from the week. Each session begins with a prompt from the instructor to focus on an intention—a reason for being in the moment. My intention varies each week, but it is my own, an opportunity to understand my motivations without judgment. The room is sometimes filled to the point that I’m practically touching mats with the person next to me, but I am reminded we are all here for different intentions and our experiences vary depending on their context.

It is our job as brand designers to understand how context and experiences vary from one person to the next. We may share the same space at one time, but we interpret the surroundings differently. If we want to truly connect on a deeper level with our customers, we need to understand their needs, wants, and desires—in other words, empathy needs to be at the forefront, influencing every decision a company makes, big and small. In a world of competing brands, and brands competing for attention, empathy is critical to making an authentic connection.

Empathy isn’t just feeling compassion for the customer. It is about understanding and anticipating their needs, interpretations, and setting aside your own assumptions in order to gain real insight and develop a brand that is meaningful and useful. In a recent article from Forbes Magazine, Glen Hartman says, “Empathy provides the context for a customer’s experience, which is where the brand can really connect.” But how do we understand context for each of our potential customers? It might seem nearly impossible to understand every motivation of a customer, yet successful companies are working to gather pertinent data to craft individual experiences that provide value beyond making a sale.

So what do you need to know to build empathy within your brand?


This is more than surface research—getting out into the field and connecting with your audience will require time and understanding, but you may uncover motivations and perspectives that can’t be seen with a bird’s-eye view.


Once you understand how your customer sees the world, you can begin building a relationship with them. Connections stem from recognizing emotion and communicating the understanding of that emotion. If brands are crafted from an emotional viewpoint, customers will come back again and again because that brand gets them, and they want to be associated with that brand.


Every day the world becomes savvier and less trusting thanks to years of fake advertising. Consumers want the real deal—no more airbrushing, unrealistic storytelling, and lofty claims. Just last weekend, I was at Target and a lifesize poster of a woman with visible stretchmarks modeling a swimsuit caught my eye. I paused, and immediately teared up. In that moment, Target sent a message of understanding, connection, and realness.


Your brand can’t resonate with everyone, but it should resonate with your target market. Your brand is not what you say it is, but what your customer says it is. If you can foster an understanding of your customer, you can create a brand story around their needs, understandings, and contexts.

Just like my fellow yogi’s, we all have different motivations that drive us to make decisions and engage in certain activities and brands. It is a reminder that we should always help our customers achieve their goals in the moment—by cultivating empathy with every interaction and every move.