pentad gets extended

When Pentad Properties engaged us for brand strategy and design, we didn’t realize that we were dealing with partners who self-described themselves as “alpha-dogs”, and who, despite their mutual interest, are sometimes competing against each other. It made our d1: Discover phase very interesting, to say the least. By the time we got to d3: Depict, we had only barely managed to agree on the name of the company and the tagline, let alone a brand position that made sense. It’s taken some time, but together with their move to new offices, we rolled out the new identity, featuring a symbol and a logotype that contrasts with their previous very condensed typeface, using custom designed extended letterforms. We’re currently working on collateral and their website.

why perception branding?

Your brand is not who you say it is, it’s what they say it is. We preach these words of Marty Neumeier’s, author of The Brand Gap to almost every one of our clients. Have you stopped to think about what your consumers say your brand is? We believe that consumer perception is everything. And perception is within your control.

We know that when companies are successful in developing a brand that focuses on what consumers want in a product, or service, success follows. Consumers will fall in love with your brand, trust your brand, buy your brand, and become ambassadors of your brand.

Consumer perceptions influence behavior, and behavior influences final sales.

When a high level of perceived quality has been (or can be) created, raising the price of your product or service not only provides margin dollars but also aids perceptions. Strong brands command a price premium. A cup of Starbucks coffee is a case in point.

The first step in creating an effective brand is to develop a brand strategy. This is the first goal in our 5d Perception Branding Process. Effective brand strategy provides a central ideal around which all behavior, actions, and communications are connected. We believe that if an effective brand strategy is developed and communicated, it will deflect the competition and differentiate you from all others.

Our goal of the 5d Perception Branding Process is to do just that. Differentiate you from your competition. We like to find what we call, the “Only Only”. The only thing you can claim that your competitors can’t. The competitive advantage and unique value proposition that is yours. And yours alone.

We are designers here at modern8 by background and training, and have a beautiful portfolio just like our competitors. But we recognized is that our clients were asking for something more than just design. They wanted to stand out, to lead the competition, to win. They wanted a brand. So in 2002, we created the 5d Perception Branding Process. We use this to help our clients define their brand position, brand promise, brand personality, and brand identity.

There are 5 steps in this process as the name suggests: Discover, Distill, Depict, Design, and Deploy. The first three steps are the strategic steps. The steps we take to really understand your brand and your objectives. These become your brand strategy. Or brand story. After we have completed these first three steps, we really feel like we understand who you are and who you are trying to reach, and now feel ready to carry those through to d4: design. We feel that to achieve the best design, we need to marry it with the brand strategy. We use the brand strategy as a litmus test against all of the touchpoints we create in d4. From logos, to trade shows, to websites, we use this process to send the right messages to the right audience.

The last stage, d5: deploy, is when the hard work really begins. We guide you through the launch of your brand identity and management of your assets. It is essential that your brand identity has enough resources and support to achieve it’s potential. We provide those for you.

Look for our upcoming series of blog posts where we take an in-depth look at the steps and outcomes of each “d” of our Perception Branding Process. First up, d1:Discover.

less is less (sometimes)

Don’t believe what you see. We are not rebranding ourselves. It was a test. I want you to consider what your first impression was. Did modern8 make a bold design move, dropping all color and sticking with a black and white color palette? Was our choice using Gotham Bold one that made you think we are finally up-to-date in the ever-evolving design world and that we’ve taken our design aesthetic to the next level?

Or are you tearing up, saying to yourself, “I just don’t know who modern8 is anymore.”

We certainly hope the latter. We’re designers. We understand the appeal of minimalist design. But as the minimal logo trend grows, so too does our appreciation of a quality identity; one that truly identifies a philosophy, an industry, a place, or a product. One that is built on strategic reasons that connect with the viewer.

On one of my favorite blogs Brand New, I’ve come across several businesses that have rolled out updated, minimal brand identities. At the risk of starting a war with Canada, I’ve chosen the recent branding of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia as my example.

Sure the old logo could have used a facelift, but it was more than a logo. It was an identity. Sure, the new wordmark works as a logo, but does it provide any sense of place identity? I’ll let some of the following comments made by various members of the design community help answer that for you:

The destination brand trend you identify is a depressing one. This is perfectly well executed and devoid of any specific personality whatsoever. It could be any town in Canada, but just as easily a plastics manufacturing company in any town in Canada.


Generic™. Dropping the lighthouse is a mistake.


This is not a bold identity. No risks have been taken. It is not courageous. It is decidedly middle-of-the-road, most likely blunted by a committee who wants to think of themselves as bold but acts the opposite, as not to upset anyone.

-David Michael Moore

ingredient branding

This spring I bought a road bike and spent the summer pedaling my way to health and happiness all around the valley. I tested several different makes and models before reaching a buying decision. Different factors played into the final selection. I had never actually heard of the bike brand before (Time, made in France), so I strongly relied on the opinion of the retailer, but I was already familiar with the manufacturer of the bike’s major components—Shimano.

The Japanese company Shimano, is known for supplying the cycling components to many of the finest bike makers in the world and is an excellent example of ingredient branding, i.e. an essential ingredient or component of a product that has its own brand identity. Chevron’s Techron, NutraSweet and Dolby are other examples of ingredient branding. Each are essential ingredients of the end product and each possess its own independent identity, marked by its own logo.

Because of its unmatched achievement, the most well-known example of a successful branded ingredient originated with an ad agency in Salt Lake City. Before Dahlin Smith White suggested the tagline, “Intel Inside”, no one knew—or for that matter, even cared what kind of microprocessor was inside their computer. With the help of DSW, Intel became the first PC component manufacturer to communicate directly to the computer buyer and eventually became one of the top ten known brands in the world, in a class with Coke, Disney and McDonalds.

Ingredient branding is most useful when it is aimed beyond your immediate customer to a downstream stage of the value channel. For example, Intel’s immediate customer may be Dell Computer, but by communicating directly to the computer buyer, Intel can pull their product through the distribution channel.

A more limited application of ingredient branding is seen in any product or service named, identified and marketed as a distinctive part of a larger brand. modern8 asserts the trademark on its own strategic methodology, the Perception Branding 5D Process™, to bring attention to, and distinguish the service from our competition. Shimano, Intel and even modern8 enhance the value proposition and points of differentiation for all products and services using ingredient branding.

brand architecture

The term “brand architecture” may sound like a mixture of widely divergent disciplines. Actually, establishing a strong firm identity and position is often related to successful brand architecture.

There are two different types of brand architecture: corporate-dominant, and product-dominant. Some companies successfully mix the two using corporate endorsement of different product brands. Corporate-dominant architecture is found more often in business-to-business companies, with fewer numbers of products and clear target markets. Product-dominant architecture is more consumer-based.

We have recently been engaged by a local company that designs and manufactures a wide consumer product line, with different target audiences–from Nordstrom’s to Sam’s Club. In our Perception Branding d5 Process we identified the differences in the products, the buying motivation and retail experience. Not surprisingly, the company maintains a distinctive brand differentiation between their three retail divisions. The products that sell at Nordstrom are physically different and separately branded from those which sell at Rite-Aid. For this client we will maintain a product-dominant architecture to maintain the physical and perceptual differences between different retailers.

Last year we created a new identity for Albion, an international company based in Clearfield, Utah. Albion has three distinct markets that are so independent that customers in each are best left unaware of the other two. Our brand audit revealed disparate and struggling product brands fighting for attention, while the corporate brand became lost in the mix. The direction for our strategy became clear: we created a corporate-dominant structure, even though the target markets are widely individual.

As indicated by Phillip Kotler in B2B Brand Management, “A key element of success is the framing of a harmonious and consistent brand architecture across countries and product lines, defining the number of levels and brands at each level. Of particular importance is the relative emphasis placed on corporate brands as opposed to product level brands.”

multiple identities

We are a brand design agency. The value of our company’s services–in fact for our whole industry–is based upon this single truth: image is a perception, not necessarily a fact. Buyers cannot know in a factual sense all there is to know about your company. What they don’t know, they might assume with or without any real evidence. These so-formed perceptions are influential to a buyer, just as real factors based on hard evidence are, and may well determine the buying decision.

Phillip Kotler of the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University tells us that usually a company has several different identities: the communicated, actual, conceived, desired and ideal identity. First, you need to know where you are—your actual identity (1), in order to find a way to your desired identity (2). Preferably, the desired identity is also the ideal identity (3). However, what you’re communicating (4) and how people conceive it (5) can be two very different things.

Your identity is made visible in your brand image: your company name, logo, tagline and brand story. Your brand identity is, of course, much more. It is a long-lasting strategic asset that represents the timeless values of your brand and exists in the minds of your customer. Your brand image (names, logos, taglines) is a tactical asset that can change from time to time.

Potential customers, who have never had any contact with your company, may still possess a strong image of you. Without a purchasing experience, image may decide whether they use you at all. That’s why one of the most important goals in brand management is to reduce complexity. Inasmuch as buyers cannot know all there is about your company, and you can’t be all things to all people, it is essential to concentrate your brand message to what is critically important.

marketing-driven or design-driven

Years ago we were working with a marketing executive who managed to repeat the same phrase in every single meeting we attended. She would always work in the phrase “marketing-driven solution”, often in the form of a question. Was our 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? What about that typeface?

That was fifteen years ago. Today, design-driven companies are the topics of conversation. I.D. (International Design) magazine published a list of the 40 most “design-driven companies in America”. Obvious selections were on the list: Apple, Gillette, IBM, Patgonia, 3M. But as business management guru Tom Peters says, “More interesting to me, fully half the companies were service companies. made the list. So did Bloomberg. Also: Federal Express. CNN. Disney. Martha Stewart…even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Note to local readers: that’s the actual quote.)

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 to which those he’s talking to can relate. According to Business Week magazine, this surreptitious approach seems to be working. The new Coke identity work won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions awards program in June.

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”.

Successful marketing-driven companies are in fact design-driven companies, attested by the success of such divergent companies as Harley-Davidson, Target and Nike.

committing to your brand

Last week we presented D3: Depict, the conclusion of our strategic, pre-design services to a large Salt Lake architectural firm. The presentation included our recommendations for brand strategy, including the Brand Promise and new tagline. We now begin the design of a new identity for the firm. In the question and answer period following our formal presentation, someone asked, “Though we have 18 principals here, there are many employees not here. How do we get everyone on board?”

It’s a good question.

Tom Peters, the management guru who wrote In Search of Excellence in 1982, and a highly-regarded business thinker, said that developing a Brand Promise was important and made sense, but unless everyone in the company buys into it, the whole exercise is a waste. He asks, “Does this Brand Promise make sense to you? As individuals? In your daily work? With your clients? Is it genuine, dramatic, an inspiring departure from the past? Does the new ‘story line’ give you goose bumps? Yes, branding is about the logo, the slogan, the marketing campaign, the advertising. But, in the end, branding is about credibility. Do the 99.9 percent of your people who work in the trenches buy the act? Do they live it, with vigor? Do they convey it with passion?”

You always launch a new brand identity internally first. As brand guru, Marty Neumeier says, “The secret of a living brand is that it lives throughout the company, not just in the marketing department. Since branding is a process, not an entity, it can be learned, taught, replicated and cultivated. Continuing education programs can get everyone in the company onto the same page, while seminars, workshops, and critiques can keep outside collaborators singing in tune.” At Ernst & Young an interactive brand quiz was developed to help employees become brand savvy. When employees answered 80% of the questions correctly, they receive a Global Brand Ambassador certificate. At Citigroup, a thought book communicates the central unifying principles of the brand identity program. A brand education program, whatever its form, distributed throughout the company (and with creative partners), develops brand ambassadors and long-time survival of the brand.