What do you get when you combine Cory Linton (previously of School Improvement Network) and AI technology? A new SAAS product founded on the principles of education improvement—of which he mastered in his previous business, built with a new technology to target the employee engagement category. We took edify.ai through our d5 brand design process and created an identity package that matches the energy and personality of the founder with the innovation of the product.
On the west side of SLC (west of 400 West to be exact) is a vibrant, engaging array of various businesses and communities. The River District Chamber of Commerce emerged last year, out of a business alliance of 20 years, to advocate for the businesses and community organizations in the area. In addition to the visual identity, we will be putting up some murals and street art within the River District over the next few months to begin rolling out the new branding.
You might have heard us mention Nature’s Seed in a previous newsletter (we showed you all a glimpse of their soon-to-be website that we designed), and, well, we want to share something else that’s been budding for some time—seed packaging.
Nature’s Seed is a local Utah seed company that sells directly to consumers. They have hundreds of seed varieties, so we were so excited for a chance to refresh the packaging and take on the challenge of creating a streamlined and flexible concept. Plus, our package redesign reflects a fresh and sophisticated look and feel to their current product line. We upheld strategic considerations when it came to implementing the design of the Nature’s Seed packaging from brand imagery to color use for the categories of their seed varieties—grass, wildflower, and specialty—and headed on the challenge of typesetting and communicating the array of directional info for the seed consumer.
A reusable and custom printed cotton bag will be used for the seed bag packaging, which will also look attractive planted around any homeowner’s garage or shed. Super multipurpose. Oh, and Wilson won’t help but continue to peer (more like gawk) over the fence at your bloomin’ yard.
An authentic reflection of your culture, values, and beliefs as an organization.
Before you finish this intro paragraph, write down a description of your firm/company in no more than 50 words. Save it. We’re coming back to it.
What are the “core values” that drive your firm? Perhaps you address your core values in your mission statement. However, if you’re like most companies, you have neither, or you don’t remember because it’s not distinctive and has little relevance to those core values.
Our friend (and client) Tim Williams, a professional services consultant with Ignition Consulting, recommends replacing your mission statement with an articulation of your firm’s purpose. Why does your company exist? Many answer that question by saying, “To make a profit.” Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Profit is not the reason for a business to exist, it’s just a test of its validity.” At the center of your business should instead be a bold emotional reason for being. At the center should be the heart of your brand. Purpose, or a “why” is what gives your business heart, heart is what drives the emotion, and emotion is what gives your brand life. Successful businesses have a purpose, like you’re contributing to a greater cause, rather than simply responding to profit goals or your competitors. To distil your purpose, Tim Williams suggests you ask yourself the following questions:
> Why does this company exist?
> Besides making money, why are we in business?
> What inspires us to come to work each day?
> What is the meaning in what we do?
> What significant contribution does our firm make to the industry, the profession, or the world?
> What would we want to achieve if we knew we could not fail?
> What kind of difference do we want to make?
> What kind of legacy do we want to create?
Your purpose and values are part of your identity, and if you have determined your purpose for being, then your identity is authentic—true to the values and purpose that drive the company. Your brand resonates with authenticity when your external actions align with your internal culture. Your external actions are anything from your website to the charities you support and even to the employees you hire. When those external actions align with your culture, you are authentic and believable. As Marty Neumeier says, “If a brand looks like a duck and swims like a duck, then it must be a duck. If it swims like a dog, however, people start to wonder.”
Whenever we begin a new client relationship, we always visit the offices of the client early in the process. You can tell a lot about their culture and personality by being in the office. Everything from the furniture to what’s on the walls of the cubicles suggests matter of importance. Who are your idols, and what do they say about the personal values of the individuals in your organization? What attracts your best employees? How about your best clients and partners? The teams you put together are like tribes—because you share the same values. One of our best clients subscribes to the same magazines and reads the same books, so it’s no wonder we have a good relationship.
What are your stories that are told and retold around the office or during every presentation? What do those stories also reveal about the priorities and culture of the firm? (I did write an article last month about our client, BrainStorm, and their own powerful story.) If you read closely, you might have noticed that our clients are often unaware of the power of their natural and less formal communication methods. We’ve often used verbatim statements—heard during our one-on-one interviews with clients in the “discovery” stage of our “head & heart” brand design process—for homepage or brochure copy.
What are the defining moments in the life of your company? Additionally, consider why the business was started, what made you seek out an important recruit, and what was your response to a big loss or a big win. How you react to such challenges and choices can define your core values and your authentic identity.
Now, go back to the 50-word description you wrote when you began reading this article. Pull out a copy of your latest proposal and find your mission statement. Do both your description and proposal reflect the core values, culture, and heart of your organization? At modern8, we define a brand in three ways: through emotion—your culture, purpose, values, and beliefs; through strategy—your positioning and competitive advantages; and through design—where both emotion and strategy come together to visually and verbally create an emotional impact. If your review reveals a gap between your true brand and the way you express your brand, then it’s time—for a change.
The principles of storytelling don’t change in the age of social media.
After five vehicles, I decided I had had enough of expensive repairs, and no longer felt a need for status cars. I walked the short distance from the BMW showroom to the Mini dealership, which is owned by BMW. The Mini, although introduced a few years before, had a story that still rang clear in my head. Instead of the typical ads showing cars curving around mountain roads or stopping in front of fancy hotels, the Mini “Let’s Motor” campaign was built on an irreverent attitude toward big American cars and competitors. Pun-filled billboards and cool magazine ads with pop-up 3D Minis added to the anti-big story. The most audacious visual of all, were the gigantic SUVs driven around Manhattan with Mini’s strapped to the roof. When I bought the car, I was given my own website where I could watch the progress of manufacturing and shipping of my vehicle from England. I became emotionally invested in the Mini story. Clearly, this was part of their brand strategy, and I was all in.
Telling stories are part of human nature. We’ve been doing it for a long time. Mankind has always passed on knowledge, learned lessons and imagined adventures through storytelling. We use stories to give our ideas context and meaning.
A transformative story idea will almost self-propagate and diffuse on its own. This is true in business, as it is in life, and now often relies on social media to spread. Your employees and customers can help, but first, they must understand your story and where it is going. This is particularly a problem with technology companies, where understanding product advantages can be difficult to grasp.
Such was the case with Intel, who in 1990, was an unknown supplier of microchips. A product buried deep inside your computer—which you never saw and cared little about—until Salt Lake City-based, Dahlin Smith White, changed the value perception of the product with their remarkable “intel inside” brand story. Intel is now a $60 billion company and the second largest semiconductor chip maker in the world.
Brand storytelling is not inventing a story. In fact, the very reason your brand exists is due to stories when you describe how and why you developed the products and services you offer. Your solutions and their value is a story itself when told with emotions.
Good storytelling is not just an informational presentation of facts; that may be valuable content, but it’s not storytelling. It’s about emotions and experiences, and it requires certain fundamental elements. The best stories share the following, even when presented abstractly.*
> Setting: The setting orients the audience and provides a sense of time and place for the story.
> Characters: Character identification is how the audience becomes involved in the story and how the story becomes relevant.
> Plot: The plot ties events in the story together, and is the channel through which the story flows.
> Invisibility: The awareness of the storyteller fades as the audience focuses on a good story. When engaged in a good movie or book, the existence of the medium is forgotten.
> Mood: Music, lighting, style of prose and vocal timbre all create the emotional tone of the story.
> Movement: In a good story, the sequence and flow of events is clear and interesting. The storyline doesn’t stall.
The seminal book, Universal Principles of Design, annotates how each of the above elements are used in the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial was designed by Maya Lin, who is best known for creating the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial is a fountain in the form of an inverted, asymmetric, stone cone. A film of water flows over the base of the cone, which contains the names of 41 individuals who died in the struggle for civil rights in 50s and 60s.
Despite the obvious differences between conventional storytelling and a stone memorial, each of the six storytelling elements above, from setting through movement, are present and active in the Civil Rights Memorial.
Use storytelling to engage your target audience in your brand and evoke an emotional response. When successfully used, the audience will very personally experience and remember the story. This is a phenomenon that is nearly unique to storytelling.
*In 2001, Randall Smith, the founder of modern8, had just ended a difficult partnership from a short lived entity. The abruptness and jolt of the split forced Randall to restart and begin again with a fresh perspective. A renewed way of viewing things, seeing things and thinking about things, which required not only a new name but an entirely new philosophy. As a means of revitalizing the marketplace, modern8 was born out of a need that reached beyond just design. No longer were only creative services sufficient. Companies needed more than a logo or a brochure to convey themselves to their customers, but rather a more cohesive, emotional, valuable approach—they needed their brand. In recognizing such a need for businesses, Randall worked to create and deliver a process that could guide, distill and provide the foundation for a company’s brand. Randall created, what modern8 still uses to this day, the Emotional Branding 5d Process, which was a marriage of design services and necessary strategic approaches to achieve shared goals. This process has become the long lasting foundation and approach for modern8, and how we continue to complete every project, big or small.
Our story’s setting took place in 2001 at the time of modern8’s founding. A time and place where the concept of branding was more often than not associated with “identifying cattle” and not for marketing goods and services. The main character is the founder and creative director of modern8, who had previously offered creative services for many years to predecessor companies, but had never thought to combine design with strategic services. The main plot surrounds the unique foundation of a fledgling company that happened due to a swift turn of events and the creation and approach of the 5d Process—a honed integration of strategy and design.
Now, this story of our founding and process development has been told numerous times, most often during in-person and new business pitches. Our story serves as a distinct differentiator between us and our competitors. Although we don’t know how invisible modern8 is when Randall tells the story, we have certainly landed a lot of clients through the telling of it. The story establishes a mood that is both emotional and relatable with much of it visibly evident through the personal conviction of the founder, as well as the value proposition the 5d Process holds. From the heart of the story to the end of the story, there is constant movement that helps to convey who we are, what we do and how we do it. The details are as apparent as the progression and movement of our 5d Process, in obviously, five steps.
Your company narrative matters—it matters a lot. It defines the way your employees interact with each other. It defines the way those employees interact with customers, vendors, etc. It defines the way that you as a leader at this company see your future. And most importantly, it defines the way the public views you. And, the best part is, your narrative can be crafted.
Think about what you know about Apple, the young, rebellious upstart that was founded in a garage. Except, that story is only kinda true. Apple was not founded in a garage at all, but the founders crafted the narrative because they were hell-bent on being viewed as the rebel as they prepared to take on Microsoft.
Now, David and Goliath is a legendary story of titan versus underdog, but Apple’s chance to compete with Microsoft was far from legendary. In fact, Apple almost failed. Steve Jobs hoped to sell the iMac as a direct competitor to the Windows machines that were common in everyday workplaces. The Apple narrative of disruptor and different didn’t fit into that market. After six months, when sales remained sluggish in the conservative business market, Apple’s marketing team recognized a bright opportunity in a completely alternate industry. Designers and marketers, who loved their products. Immediately, they slipped in the doors of the “cool kid” designers at businesses. The do-it-yourself, garage-made, startup company storyline fit in with the designer mentality.
So where does that leave you? It should give you hope that one of the world’s most valuable companies almost screwed up. All is not lost if you screw up in the beginning. The one aspect Apple did not screw up—they didn’t screw up the narrative. They screwed up by marketing their narrative to the wrong people.
This story should leave you with a clear resolve about your narrative. In all honesty, it is simple to make this work for anyone. Seek out out your real narrative. The one that feels authentic, because it is authentic. Because your story reinforces how you were founded and how you will pivot, change or rebrand. Because as Mitt is widely known for saying, “Corporations are people,” and if you’ve ever met a person, who had no story to tell, you would quickly go find someone else who you can actually connect with.
We designed the Tailor Built logo four years ago, when the fledging Utah builder was just beginning. With their homes now popping up all over the Wasatch front, we were engaged to update all of their marketing materials. We took them through our 5d Emotional Branding Process to help us understand how things had changed.
We proposed the simple tagline, “We build. We design.”, which positions the company in a unique space, because most of their competition either builds or designs, but rarely do both. The website design is a progressive, modern solution, keeping their emphasis on modern homes. A hint of tradition is reflected in the slab-serif Clarendon typeface, which is mixed with the more modern Gotham.
The importance of a new brand identity when an existing one has become or outdated, tarnished, or just plain stale is widely understood by the clients who approach us. And their knowledge of the importance of having identity standards—a vital corporate document which we’ve covered in previous newsletters—to maintain a consistent brand look-and-feel is obvious.
However, when they hear about the far more overarching brand bible (or brand book) their reaction is less than thrilled. As part of our d5 process we interview stakeholders and customers to get a sense of internal and external perspective of the company as it exists, audit their existing branding, review the competitive landscape, define their company archetype, and provide strategic recommendations for their future brand; despite this, their lack of enthusiasm demonstrates that their trust in designers is strictly limited to aesthetic matters. It almost feels like a disservice that the result of this massive effort is a set of identity guidelines, if not a mere logo.
That’s why, to make the most out of our efforts and provide the most comprehensive return on our client’s investment, we stress the importance of a brand bible. While it includes everything that is covered in the identity guidelines, it also articulates to the client’s marketing team the base philosophy of the company, reaffirms their position, and is more comprehensive in addressing brand element usage.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF THE BRAND BIBLE:
1) Thou shalt convey the company vision and brand position.
2) Thou shalt display logo specifications, proper usage, and restrictions
3) Thou shalt define the typography and typographic hierarchy of the brand
4) Thou shalt provide primary and accent color palettes profiles
5) Thou shalt direct photographic subject matter, mood, and necessary editing requirements
6) Thou shalt define grid usage and established web or presentation themes
7) Thou shalt include any signage, business cards, letterhead, etc., established using the new identity
8) Thou shalt specify proper corporate iconographic direction
9) Thou shalt, either explicitly or by example, convey brand tone of voice
10) Thou shalt provide adequate examples of all of the above
As comprehensive as it seems, the brand bible is not complete—nor should it be. We prefer to leave some wiggle room when strategizing. That way, rather than being too restrictive, the client can assume some ownership and grow into the new brand. After all, what could go wrong when a bible gets interpreted with a grain of salt?